The cancellation of the block development council (BDC) elections after being notified last week was yet another reminder of the grim state of governance in J&K. For most of the post partition history, Kashmir has remained well aware of the wheels within wheels but they have rarely exhibited the retardation as they showed last week. Regardless of the impact that the decision will have on the Panchayat Raj System in the state, it speaks volumes about the successive state rulers’ failure to protect the fig-leaf of autonomy that has historically sheltered them and their political identity. Although taken under ‘coalition compulsion,’ it would have looked more respectful had it been taken after a fierce debate on the floor of the house. The decision will create impact on two fronts. Firstly, on the administrative front, suggesting that it is Congress that is calling the shots. Secondly, on the political front, where it indicates that National Conference is incapable of taking any decision that Congress dislikes.
The larger reality in J&K is that it is Congress that is enjoying power. From the vital berths in the cabinet to the scale of influence it wields in pitch-forking individuals to key positions, Congress is making best of this coalition. An alliance that lacks any common minimum programme, unlike the earlier one, has its fulcrum resting on two friends – Omar and Rahul. In his last visit to the state, Rahul Gandhi asserted that the relationship between Gandhis and Sheikhs would continue. In their speeches, both men remembered their fathers and grandpas, suggesting the bonhomie will continue. Presuming that the relationship continues, it will occasionally have groves and gulfs like BDC polls. It happed with Sheikh in 1953 and later in 1976; with Dr Farooq in 1984 and now it is the generation next that will create its own historic references.
Congress, in the given situation, will continue playing kingmaker in J&K. But the larger issue is how the regional parties in J&K would continue taking Congress along without compromising on the issues that matter the most to the state, at least from the point of view of PDP and NC. Last time, it was PDP that faced a severe crisis on the issue of state subjects. This time, it is the same humiliation that Congress extended to NC. Besides, Congress has ensured that there was no forward movement on the centre-state relations for which one of the five Working Groups of the Prime Minister has submitted a report. A committee that is following the issue at governmental level is witnessing frequent delays as Congress is unwilling to sign on dotted lines. While Congress will ensure that nothing happens in J&K that does not fit the national outlook of the party, regional parties must make themselves more intelligent to ensure that they get what they require. Autonomy may not be a desperately sought commodity in Srinagar but for the ruling party, it is vital for its survival.