The Demilitarization Politics in J&K- Part 1

During the last one month, there has been an upsurge in the demilitarization debate in Jammu and Kashmir. A section within the Kashmir Valley has been advocating demilitarization. The significance of this upsurge is that it emanates from the government’s coalition partner – Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and his daughter Mehbooba Mufti. The Prime Minister has categorically rejected this demand saying that the time is not ripe. The demand is so intense that there is a fear it may ultimately lead to a break up of the PDP-Congress coalition leading to early elections. Why is the PDP insisting on demilitarization? What are its compulsions?

While the PDP has been talking about demilitarization, the pressure on the Congress government at the State and Union levels is recent. The PDP even boycotted a cabinet meeting called by the Chief Minister for his failure to take the initiative to demilitarize J&K. Four reasons can be identified to explain this PDP hysteria.

First, the forthcoming J&K legislative assembly elections in 2008. Though the National Conference (NC) lost its popularity in the 2002 elections, it remains the largest party with representation from all three regions – Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. The PDP gained at the cost of the NC, but only in the Kashmir Valley; it remains weak in Jammu and Ladakh. The NC is reorganizing itself now under the young and energetic leadership of Omar Abdullah. Unlike his father, Omar has a clean image and is making a serious attempt to regain lost ground. Most of those who voted for the PDP in the 2002 elections did so not because they supported Mufti or his daughter, but because they were disillusioned with the NC.

Second, the PDP could not achieve much during its three years rule between 2002 and 2005. Its ‘healing touch’ policy, initially received widespread support that it could not address day to day problems nor improve human security. While there was an expectation in the PDP that its coalition partner, the Congress would allow it to continue after 2005, the latter wanted to adhere by their understanding and made Ghulam Nabi Azad the Chief Minister. For the first time in the history of Kashmir, the chief minister does not belong to the Valley. Thus, the PDP was seen by ‘Kashmiris’ as supporting a non-Kashmiri Chief Minister.

Azad may not have reformed the governance processes in J&K, but has certainly improved it. More importantly, even his harshest critic will agree that Azad has a clean image and is seen as a person trying to achieve something positive, given his limitations. His bold steps include emphasis on the economy, communications network and reorganization of administrative structures and creation of new districts. In terms of governance, his government is better than that of his coalition partner. If this trend continues, the Congress has more to gain than the PDP.

Also PDP cannot afford to be seen to be close to Congress, if it hopes to seek votes within the Valley. For all practical purposes, the PDP has given up on establishing itself in Jammu and Ladakh. Closer to the election, PDP demands will become shriller vis-?-vis its coalition partner – the Congress.

Third, the PDP is desperately looking for a slogan that could get votes in the forthcoming elections. Initially, it focused on "Self Rule", which remains an empty rhetoric due to the failure of the PDP to explain what it means. On the other hand, NC’s slogan has been consistent with autonomy. It has been clearly spelt out and articulated by its leadership as also in the legislative assembly resolution passed in 1998. Omar Abdullah has commented that the self-rule formula of the PDP is nothing but a rehash of NC’s autonomy proposals. Other PDP ideas including joint management and common currency did not receive much attention even within the Valley. With the recent emphasis on human rights violations after the unearthing of targeted killings and fake encounters in J&K, the PDP leadership sees the demilitarization slogan as an opportunity to start preparing for the next elections.

Finally, the Union government’s decision to allow Mirwaiz Farooq to visit Pakistan has bolstered his faction in the Valley. The political gossip is that if New Delhi reaches an understanding with the Mirwaiz faction, it may even reschedule the elections to an early date. At the bilateral level, the Indo-Pak peace process, though slow, is also proceeding ahead. Any further success will only add to the Congress credit.

The PDP believes that its emphasis on demilitarization will address the above issues. Will it succeed? Will this shrillness destabilize the government leading ultimately to the dissolution of the Assembly and early elections? The next article will discuss this.