Peace and Jobs

By: Khursheed Wani

On March 7, a sizeable number of youngsters gathered in the backyard lawns of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s official residence on Gupkar Road. She told this rare gathering of benign youth that if they help her in establishing peace, she would go to Delhi and request Prime Minister Narendra Modi to come to Kashmir and announce jobs for them.

This noteworthy bargain is a commentary on Chief Minister’s position. Few months back she said unrest in Kashmir has weakened her position and she is unable to convince Delhi on developmental aspects of Kashmir. Is it an admission that Center has put her on notice?

It warrants a curious analysis of Modi and his representatives’ visits to Kashmir. Last time Narendra Modi arrived here was in November 2015 when Mufti Muhammad Sayeed was ruling Kashmir. That day, he publicly announced that he does not require advice from anybody on Kashmir. It was a snub to late Mufti who had, a few moments earlier, sought to make Modi understand the essence of engagement within Kashmir and with Pakistan. Many analysts in Kashmir believe that the snub took a heavy toll on Mufti. He died just two months later. Modi skipped offering condolences to Mufti’s family by flying to Srinagar. He saw them off at Delhi airport, instead.

When Modi became prime minister in mid-2014, he was frequent visitor, breaking all previous records of any prime minister visiting the embattled state. During campaigning he would land in J&K over the drop of a hat, literally.

When a massive rebellion erupted in Kashmir following the killing of Burhan Wani, Modi toughened his stand. Leave alone visiting Kashmir, he did not mention the situation, actually a macabre dance of death and destruction, for several months. Instead, he dispatched home minister Rajnath Singh thrice. Singh’s last mission was in September 2016 when he led a parliamentary delegation that failed to cut ice with the dissenters. That was Rajnath’s last Kashmir visit.

Mehbooba has surpassed Omar in being the weakest chief minister. She acquired it much faster than her predecessor. In his last visit to Kashmir, Rajnath assured the stability of her government. The situation was in many ways similar to 2010 summer when Omar was presiding over culling of youngsters. Both times the all-party delegations led by home ministers of the time arrived and ensured stability of the respective governments in the larger ‘national interest’.

The fall of government would have given a sense of victory to Kashmiris, a psychological conquest that Delhi would never like to award. The Center’s benevolence to allow her continue reduced her to the weakest position though for the interests of the BJP, Delhi could have ill-afforded to look for other options.

Mehbooba started her innings on a weaker wicket. For three months after Mufti’s demise, she talked about the ill-treatment meted out to him, about raw deal for Kashmir and breach of promises on implementation of the Agenda of Alliance. The center did not ‘seriously’ respond to her uttering till on a March 2016 morning she arrived at Modi’s residence and announced to takeover. What led her to concede is still not known but it is evident that the compromises are always done at a cost. Last month, she re-inducted a seemingly estranged member of her party into the cabinet. The grapevine was that the same minister was ready to step into late Mufti’s shoes a year ago if his daughter delayed the takeover.

Mehbooba has four years left for completion of her term. She is grappling with many challenges:  renewed militancy, managing youth unrest, getting displaced Pandits home. On the militancy front, her government has adopted a proactive approach. Counter-insurgency grid is robustly reactivated. To the gathering of youngsters in her backyard she sternly said that tich tich (a reference to guns) would not be tolerated.

The question is whether the youth believe what they heard. Just two days after her interaction, a 15-year-old boy Amir Nazir Wani, a student of class IX was killed following an encounter near Awantipora. The security agencies may attempt to absolve themselves from the charges of murder by referring to stray bullet, but the locals have no iota of doubt on the identity of who fired. Mehbooba can deal with militants with iron fist but can she handle the impact of dispassion among the people against their killers?

By the way, Prime Minister Modi is arriving, possibly next week, to throw open the Nashri tunnel. Let us wait and see what he announces.

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