Monday, January 5, 2009

Generational Change in Jammu and Kashmir

As expected,no political party has won a clear majority in the 87-member Jammu and Kashmir Assembly.While the National Conference(NC) has emerged as the single largest party,bagging 28,the Congress has again proved to be kingmaker in the recently held elections in Jammu and Kashmir the results of which were declared on December 28,2008.
The NC has retained its tally of 28 seats as in 2002 Assembly elections,while the People’s Democratic Party(PDP) and the Congress,which had an allianceGovernment over the past six years,followed with 21 and 17 seats,respectively.The Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) has sprung surprise by emerging victorious in 11 constituencies as compared to only one in the last Assembly elections.The PDP has gained five seats and the Congress lost three against their previous tallies.
All the three former Chief Ministers---Ghulam Nabi Azad of the Congress,Mufti Mohammad Sayeed of the PDP and Farooq Abdullah of the NC---have been elected.The two sitting MPs from Srinagar and Anantnag constituencies and the party Presidents---Omar Abdullah of the NC and Mehbooba Mufti of the PDP---are also among those elected.
In the last Assembly elections held in 2002,the NC had emerged as the single largest party winning 28 seats,followed by 20 seats of the Congress,16 by PDP,BJP-1,CPM-2,BSP-1,Independence-13,Panthers Party-4 and Others-2.
Mandate for Peace and Development
Going by poll airthmetin alone,the gainers in terms of improved performance are arguably those who exploited the Amarnath issue-related communal divide.The PDP has the largest base in the Valley while the BJP is upbeat in Jammu.Yet,among the political quartet claiming popular loyalties,the NC and the Congress call the post-poll shots.One is the State’s single largest party;the other is kingmaker.Both parties are secular-nationalisy,pan-Jammu and Kashmir forces.That the State’s reins lie in their hands is good for its development road mapas also for a resolution of the autonomy issue.
However fractured the verdict may be,the results truly reflect the ground situation in the State.The can be seen as an attempt by the electorate to discipline the political parties as those forming the Government will have to work within the framework of a Common Minimum Programme(CMP).As the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has mentioned,it did not matter who won and who lost when democracy triumphed in the State.It was one of the most peaceful elections in the country in which people in large numbers voted braving the separatists who had given a call to boycott the elections.The results are a slap in the face of the secessionists who should know that bullets have no place where ballots decide.
But the credit for the State’s recharged political landscape goes less to individuals in the electoral fray than to those ordinary people who defied the winter cold,election boucott calls and terror threats.Throughout the 73-day democratic exercise,voters transcended the inter-community strife that had issued from the Amarnath land transfer issue.In keeping with that spirit,their final verdict is a robust blow against ideological extremism.
The separatists are wondering what went wrong with their best laid plans to thrive in a political vacuum.The hawks blame an absent gun.The doves rue neglecting Kashmiris’s day-to-day requirements.There is more to these confessions than meets the eye.For one,separatism needs to hold the threat of violence over the heads of Kashmiris to remain relevant;for another,India’s would be balkanisers were deluded in believing that bread and butter issues would be overrun by a collective zeal for azadi.
The New CM
The NC leader Omar Abdullah has been sworn in as the new Chief Minister of the State.It is true that during the elections former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah was projected as the party’schief ministerial candidate.The fact that he was fielded from two constituencies also stenghened the belief that if the party won a majority ,he would be the Chief Minister.But in politics,as we know,decisions are taken on the basis of a host of factors.These factors favoured Omar Abdullah and not his father.Whatever victory the party has achieved is on account of the leadership the junior Abdullah provided during the campaign and earlier.
However,Omar Abdullah is not a greenhorn in politics.As a member of the NDA Government’s ministry,he proved his competence as a minister.During a recent debate in the Parliament,his speech was one of the most remarkable.The speech showed that he had a clear idea about the situation in Jammu and Kashmir and how as a leader he should go about in pursuance of the State’s interests.It is this attitude that will stand him in good stead as he takes up the challenge of providing purposive leadership to the State.
In fact,the experience Omar Abdullah gained when he was a member of the coalition Government at the Centre will help him to iron out any differences he has with the Congress in order to provide a stable Government.He should know that in both the Valley and the Jammu region he has strong opponents to reckon with in the PDP and the BJP respectively.
Challenges Before the New Government
The new Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has a huge task on his handsRegional disparities that plague the State have been exploited by some political parties during the last elections.This needs to be addressedin right earnest.Progressive steps are required to ensure that a settlement is reached within the Indian constitutional framework.A new deal for Jammu and Kashmir will take out whatever wind that remains in the separatists’ sails.
Allied to this are the problems of development and governance that came to the fore during the Sangharsh Samiti’s agitation in Jammu and earlier in Ladakh.The new Government will have to keep up the tempo of development programmes that were being pushed during the Governor’s rule now coming to an end.

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