Smart Agenda

Ideologues of two parties spent two months drafting a ‘smart’ accord. Win-win for both involving give-and-take, many ask if this North Pole-South Pole regime can deliver what it has promised. Shah Abbas compares the two different documents that led to Mufti’s rise to the throne in 2002 and 2015

Mufti-Sayeed's-MinistersDays before Jammu University’s Zorawar Singh Auditorium housed swearing-in ceremony, a mystery man was tasked to work behind the curtains to bargain with the Bhartya Janta Party (BJP). A political grapevine is: it was People’s Democratic Party (PDP) patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed who had authorised the man (a Mumbai-based businessman) to mediate between two polar political ideologies.

With talks at peak, it was the time when the two party emissaries – PDP’s Dr Haseeb Drabu and BJP’s Ram Madhav – were busy negotiating with each other. Instead of meeting the duo, the man had many meetings with BJP stalwarts like PM Modi, LK Advani, Amit Shah and Arun Jaitely.

By then Drabu had sleepless nights negotiating with the BJP. Even after having twenty rounds of hectic parleys, the deadlock wouldn’t end. “The whole game revolved around Drabu,” a PDP insider revealed. The mystery man did his bit to break the ice, he said.

Once the ice broke and eventually melted away the two polar ideologies, Drabu and Madhav came up with the “smart” document, many describe “historic”. The smartness of this document lies in the fact that it enables both the parties to satisfy their respective constituencies – “quite smartly” – to govern the Jammu and Kashmir state.

But both Drabu and Madhav knew that it was never a cakewalk for them. Intensive deliberations, discussions and debates had already made the duo to bin nearly a dozen drafts before zeroing in on the final draft of Common Minimum Programme (CMP).

Before drafting what is now termed as “Agenda of Alliance”, PDP formed a committee with the idea that the track-II process will be followed up by a structured process. But when the primary connection fetched the final product, this ideation was given up. By that time, Mufti was no more a ‘reporter’s nightmare’. He had broken his lull. “It is a comprehensive document, which contains political agenda,” he was heard saying, “and came up after two month long protracted negotiations.”

As the “smart” document of Mufti 2.0 was made public, it promised that the state government will be transformed into a “Smart Government” which will be proactive, transparent and accountable. Further the document underlined the purpose of PDP-BJP coalition Government: “The government will be empowered to catalyse reconciliation and confidence building within and across the Line of Control (LoC), and will create an enabling environment for all round economic development of the state and prosperity of the people.”

By invoking former BJP PM Vajpayee’s “Insaaniyat, Kashmiriyat aur Jamhooriyat” trilogy, the CMP maintains: “The coalition government will facilitate and help initiate a sustained and meaningful dialogue with all internal stakeholders, which will include all political groups irrespective of their ideological views and predilections.”

Many commentators are already calling it the “smartest” part of the “smart” document.

Mufti-Sayeed-Oath-CeremonyIt advocates a dialogue to build a broad based consensus on resolution of “all outstanding issues of J&K” (though skips to mention the issues, perceived differently in unionist and separatist camps). And about the political issue of Kashmir, the CMP has adopted phraseology – that BJP and PDP easily interpret it in their own ways. This is where, many believe, PDP behaves as if it has complete backing of the Hurriyat Conference.

Besides vowing to construct a tunnel on Mughal road for “better connectivity and alternative routing”, the highlight of “North Pole South Pole” CMP is the vow to explore modalities for transfer of Dulhasti and Uri hydro power projects to Jammu & Kashmir as suggested by the Rangarajan Committee Report and the Round Table reports. It has also promised to secure a share in the profits of NHPC emanating from J&K waters and will stress to revise all royalty agreements.

Interestingly, the previous government also had many times demanded the return of the hydro power projects by terming Indus Water Treaty as “anti-Kashmiri”. Notably, the demand for power projects return was formally made by Mufti in last regime which led to the creation of a committee by PM. Now, this document doesn’t make a demand, it gets the demand into an agreement.

The CMP has in addition claimed for a share in one of the six Ultra Mega Thermal Power Projects and demanded an allotment of a dedicated coal mine in Madhya Pradesh to J&K with coal reserves of not less than 150 MMT for setting up a pit head thermal plant with equity support from Government of India.

The point to be noted is: With power portfolio rests with BJP, PDP seems to have played a masterstroke by putting the ball in BJP’s court.

Also, the CMP stresses upon New Delhi on Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) issue, akin to arguments of former CM Omar Abdullah. But before taking any decision about the AFSPA revocation, the Mufti-led coalition government promises to review the security situation in the state thoroughly. “The coalition government will examine the need for de-notifying ‘disturbed areas’,” this is how the coalition will take the issue head-on. But Dr Drabu said in a press conference earlier that the state government wants to make it a process rather than an event. That is perhaps why the PDP demand seeking a time frame was pushed to making it a situational linked process.

Politically, both PDP and BJP have held a different view on AFSPA. BJP favours it, while Kashmir wants it to go. Similarly, BJP presses for abrogation of Article 370 against the wishes of Kashmiri unionists. The twin issues have been smartly handled in CMP by both alliance partners; though many believe: PDP has diluted its stand on controversial AFSPA, whereas the BJP has taken a complete U-turn on Article 370.

But that doesn’t stop some to give credit to the brain behind the document for literally forcing BJP to surrender on Article 370 – the issue the party made a rallying point for over 60 years.

Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed told reporters that he as head of Unified Headquarters is in a position to decide on the de-notification of disturbed areas. Insiders said he is keen to use this option very shortly.

“The Agenda is essentially about upholding status quo on all major issues,” believes Kashmiri journalist Parvaiz Bukhari, “including the constitutional provision of Article 370 that gives the region autonomy (special status), the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act that protects the security forces from prosecution and the status of refugees from West Pakistan in the state.”

However, the most pro-Kashmir and pro-people point of the CMP according to many commentators is demilitarizing and subsequent returning of lands (presently under the occupation of security forces) to their rightful owners. But not everyone will be able to retain their lands, as ‘hitch’ in CMP is: “The lands won’t be returned where retaining them is absolutely imperative in view of a specific security requirement.”

NN-Vohra-looks-at-Narendra-Modi-as-he-hugs-Mufti-Mohammad-Sayeed-on-the-Oath-Ceremony-on-March-01,-2015Also, the CMP promises to protect and foster ethnic and religious diversity by ensuring the return of Kashmiri Pandits with dignity based on their rights as state subjects and reintegrating as well as absorbing them in the Kashmiri milieu.

Besides, the CMP vows to develop Srinagar as “Greater Srinagar” and Jammu as “Greater Jammu”. It has a target of rebuilding Shehr-e-khaas as a “heritage destination” by dovetailing craft heritage and tourism and making Dal Lake a world heritage site, besides promoting the Dogra Heritage and Ladakh’s Hemis festivals.

But as the focus has shifted from government formation to the issue of governance, Mufti assures that Kashmiris shouldn’t be apprehensive about BJP. “Let me assure people of Kashmir,” he said, “I along with my colleagues will protect political rights and also bring development and smiles to their faces.”

However, the son of a religious preacher in south Kashmir’s Bijbehara town, Mufti was also at centre-stage in 2002 by leading an alliance with his parent political party (Congress).

In 2002, the “healing touch” in PDP-Congress CMP hogged much headlines. Besides peace and normalcy, the 2002 CMP also promised curbing corruption akin to 2015 CMP. Also, similar to PDP-BJP CMP, the PDP-Congress CMP too promised to review the operation of all such laws (including AFSPA) “that have been used in the past decade to deprive people of their basic rights to life and liberty for long periods of time, without due legal process”.

Revocation of POTA in the State was one achievement of PDP led coalition government in 2002, as promised by then CMP. It happened almost instantly. But Mufti dithered on AFSPA. He, however, did made some efforts to get some changes after he transferred power to Ghulam Nabi Azad. There was a series of meetings and exchange of letters which led to some symbolic gestures on reduction of troops but did not move ahead as he could have anticipated.

It was promised then that all cases of custodial killings and violations of Human Rights shall be investigated and the guilty will be punished. Special schemes to rehabilitate former militants were announced. And like in 2015 CMP, the return of Kashmiri pandits was also reaffirmed in 2002; besides creating suitable conditions on line of control. Transparency and accountability figure in both 2002 as well as in 2015 CMPs.

The promise of establishing “Ehtisab” for enquiring into complaints received against Chief Minister /Ministers and legislators, however, never saw the light of the day.

The promise of an equitable share of resources available for development in the three regions of the State –Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh was also made in 2002 like in 2015; just like thrust in employment and welfare of the youth.

And like in 2015, high priority to the development of power resources of the State and to extend the benefit of electricity to all villages of the State was also given in 2002 CMP.

The Government strove for the extension of scheduled tribes status to the Pahari speaking population of the State in 2002, which they are again promising in 2015.

Many have started pinning hopes on Mufti’s second stint as J&K’s chief minister given the track record of first three years of his governance between 2002 and 2008. On development front, there are high hopes that Mufti should live up to his promise.

Already, his direction to police “not to create fear” in public has instilled the memories of his earlier innings when he did change the daily security “threat perception” across Kashmir. And, one shouldn’t forget that it was during previous Mufti government that witnessed amicable Indo-Pak relations; besides “space” was given to separatists – something which PDP-BJP CMP promises in 2015 as well.

But to sell what many call an “unholy alliance” in a strife-torn Kashmir has its own costs with many calling it a “sell-out”. However, Mufti, like a seasoned politician, ‘read the public pulse’ and issued a statement: “The credit also go to Pakistan, Hurriyat and even the militants for allowing the first normal elections in Jammu and Kashmir after 1983.” And thus Mufti tactfully attempted to avoid the fate of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah after signing Indira-Abdullah accord.

“Mufti faces challenges that are even more daunting than the ones encountered by the Sheikh and his son Farooq Abdullah,” believes Iftikhar Gilani, Bureau chief DNA India. “Mufti could well have finished the BJP’s arguments on Article 370 forever, by getting them to commit in writing that the present position will be maintained on all the constitutional provisions pertaining to J&K, including the special status in the Constitution of India.” These written promises (CMP), Gilani believes, have generated an atmosphere of hope and injected an element of optimism where none existed in a substantial section of the population in the state: “Now, wisdom demands that we give this unique alliance a chance, as Kashmir today stands at a crossroads.”

Amid all this, the mystery over the Mumbai-based mystery man persists. The PDP insiders say the man was used to establish contacts with the new faces in BJP as Mufti knew only Advani and Arun Jaitley in the party. But after doing some quick permutations and combinations, the man vanished from the scene suddenly like he had appeared.

Perhaps the anonymous man too deserves a credit to achieve what Ram Madhav calls “unthinkable and unimaginable”.

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