File Photo: Mir Imran/KI
The PDP-BJP regime made promises aplenty when it took power two years ago. Has it delivered on any?
Two years is a reasonable time to assess a government’s work, or at the least get a measure of its overall direction. As the PDP-BJP regime in Jammu and Kashmir completes two years in March, how has it performed? Specifically, how is implementation of the Agenda of Alliance, the coalition’s governance blueprint, going?
Not well, really. Little, if any, progress has been made on most of the key promises made in the AoA.
Revocation of AFSPA
Take the removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act from Kashmir. Even two years into its term, the PDP leadership is desperately seeking to buy ever more time to show any perceived progress on the emotive issue.
About AFSPA, the AoA reads: “The coalition government will examine the need for denotifying ‘disturbed areas’. This, as a consequence, would enable the Union Government to take a final view on the continuation of AFSPA in these areas.”
While the central government led by the BJP, not unexpectedly, has vocally opposed removal of the draconian law, the PDP on its part hasn’t done much either. The AoA mandates the state government to review the application of the Disturbed Areas Act – the basis for imposing AFSPA – but the Mehbooba Mufti regime has not even talked about it so far.
On July 24, 2016, the chief minister had suggested experimentally revoking AFSPA from certain areas as a step towards improving the situation. “As far as AFSPA is concerned, we are not saying it should be revoked in one go. But, as a test case, if it is revoked slowly, it can be seen how the situation remains in such areas,” Mehbooba had remarked a day after discussing with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh the aftermath of the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani. There was, of course, no response from New Delhi to the demand.
On January 16, 2017, the chief minister climbed down from her position as she conditioned the revocation of AFSPA on the restoration of peace in the valley. “Revocation of AFSPA depends on the competence of the security forces. Their success in maintaining peace, curbing infiltrations will pave way for the revocation of AFSPA,” she said in her reply to the Motion of Thanks on the Governor’s Address to the assembly. Going down another step, Mehbooba argued that the footprint of security forces shrinks “naturally” in a “peaceful democratic set-up”. “It has been accepted by every party here that in a peaceful democratic set-up, the footprint of the security forces reduces naturally.”
The drastic change in Mehbooba’s stance in a span of six months reaffirms it is the BJP that holds the key to power, and effectively extinguishes any hope of the withdrawal of the military law in the near future.
File Photo: Mir Imran/KI
Resumption of Dialogue
The AoA lays out the ways to engage both the separatist leadership and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir dispute. “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. This dialogue will seek to build a broad based consensus on the resolution of all outstanding issues of J&K,” the document states.
Till date, not even an offer of dialogue has been made to the separatist camp, however. The closest Kashmir has seen to a dialogue over the past two years was a series of discussions between a “non-governmental” group led by BJP grandee Yashwant Sinha and the separatists during last year’s unrest. The BJP, however, made it known that it had nothing to do with Sinha’s initiative.
Similarly, far from facilitating a dialogue with Pakistan, the PDP watched as relations between New Delhi and Islamabad worsened. In fact, PDP leaders have made statements that give lie to their AoA assurance that they “will seek to support and strengthen the approach and initiatives taken by the government to create a reconciliatory environment and build stakes for all in peace and development within the subcontinent”.
Mehbooba, in particular, has been scathing in her attacks. On June 14, 2016, she mocked Pakistan by saying, “Nothing is manufactured there. They import everything, including big cars. From a needle to an airplane, they import everything”. Another time, she accused the country of being hypocritical. “Today when a Kashmiri child takes up a gun, they call him leader and say he is doing good, but when their own children, some from madrassas, take up guns, they attack them with drones and hang them in military courts. I feel Pakistan, which is viewed by people of Kashmir with sympathy, has this time committed excess. If they instigate our children to pick up guns and then say you will become our leader if you get killed in an encounter, then I think they need to change this policy.”
This represents a major policy departure from her father and predecessor Mufti Sayeed, who never publicly admonished Pakistan.
In September, Mehbooba justified Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to not attend the SAARC Summit in Pakistan. India, along with Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan, stayed away from the eight-nation summit, apparently to protest the host country’s unabated support to terrorism. “SAARC was to happen in Pakistan and I hoped that our PM will get an opportunity to go there but how will he go? Under what circumstances will he go there,” Mehbooba said, endorsing the Modi regime’s view of Pakistan.
Strengthening of Article 370
The AoA promises, “The present position will be maintained on all the constitutional provisions pertaining to J&K, including the special status in the Constitution of India.”
Since the document was drafted, the PDP has reiterated that status quo will be maintained on Article 370, but its ally has shown no inclination to move on from its traditional stance of Ek Vidhan, Ek Pradhan. On October 26, which the BJP observes as J&K’s Accession Day, the party sent a message to its coalition partner that it was committed to the ideological issues of abrogating Article 370 and Article 35A, and “liberation” of the Pakistan occupied Kashmir. In a seminar titled “Accession of J&K to India is full and final”, BJP spokesman Varinder Gupta said the special status enjoyed by the state under Article 370 had encouraged separatist ideology in the valley. “We want to make it clear that abrogation of Article 370, revocation of Article 35A and liberation of PoK are the unfinished agendas of our party,” he said, describing Article 370 as a historical blunder that the BJP was duty-bound to rectify.
Playing with words, the chief minister, on January 10, 2017, called for the complete “emotional and psychological” integration of the state with India, and asserted that Article 370 would not be a hurdle in this endeavour, but a bridge.
“When people of BJP talk of Article 370, they talk of technical integration. We have to make them understand that we also want that Jammu and Kashmir should fully integrate with India emotionally, technically. We are already a part of this country. Who can deny that,” she said while replying to a debate in the assembly. “But have we emotionally joined that integration completely which we should have done emotionally and psychologically? No. But that is what is needed, in which (Article) 370 is not an impediment but 370 is a bridge which connects us.”
To political analysts, Mehbooba’s statement dangerously echoes former Indian home minister GL Nanda, who, on 4 December 1964, told the Lok Sabha, “The only avenue of taking the Constitution (of India) into Jammu and Kashmir is through the application of the provisions of Article 370. That is the only way of bringing back the Constitution to J&K. It is Article 370 which provides for the progressive application of the provisions of the Constitution to Jammu and Kashmir... Article 370 is neither a wall nor a mountain but that it is a tunnel. It is through this tunnel that a good deal of traffic has already passed and more will.” As AG Noorani puts it, “to abuse Article 370 unconstitutionally to destroy it.”
Expansion of LoC Trade
The AoA was quite when it came to trade across the Line of Control. It promised to “strengthen cross-LOC trade, encourage civil society exchange, open new routes”. Nothing of the sort has happened.
Like on other issues, the PDP leadership has taken refuge in statements, appeals and suggestions. On June 14, 2016, Mehbooba hinted that more crossing points could be opened along the LoC for greater movement of people and goods to and from Pakistan Administered Kashmir, and banking facilities could to be made available for the trade.
“The state government has taken up the matter regarding opening of more cross-LoC points with the Centre and I am sure there will be positive movement forward on the issue as serious discussions are on in this regard,” the chief minister informed the Legislative Council, adding that in her meeting with Rajnath, she had pitched for opening of Suchetgarh-Sialkote, Kargil-Skardu, Nowshera-Mirpur, Gurez-Astoor-Gilgit, Chhamb-Jourian cross-LoC routes, among others. “I am hopeful that, if not all at a time, one or two at a time will be opened, so that we can send Basmati from Jammu to there,” she said.
Nothing happened. Yet, on November 28, Mehbooba again met Rajnath as well as Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and asked for opening of more cross-LoC trade and travel routes to increase people-to-people contact. More than a demand, it sounded like a plea.
Recently, the Governor’s Address to the assembly mentioned exploring the possibility of opening seven new cross-LoC routes, four of them for people, mainly families divided by the ceasefire line, during 2017.
As for the trade, there has long been a demand to allow more items to be sold and brought and for the provision of banking facilities. But after two years, the PDP-led government is still pursuing what was settled in the AoA, and was reiterated in the Governor’s address. “A list of 21 more tradable items has been submitted to the Government of India for taking up this matter with the Government of Pakistan,” the governor said.
While she has failed to boost cross-LOC trade, Mehbooba has strangely stated that India can counter the China Pakistan Economic Corridor with a India-Kashmir-Central Asia corridor proposed by her. Speaking in the Assembly on January 17, she said, “I feel Jammu and Kashmir could become a corridor between two emerging economic hot spots – South and Central Asia – to forge regional cooperation, energy transformation, trade and transit in the region.”
Her statement quickly became a butt of jokes on social media, with people terming it as a daydream. “Any such route still has to pass through Pakistan Administered Kashmir (Gilgit-Baltistan). How on earth will she bypass it. Maybe she has plans to build a flyover,” mocked one social media user.
Status of West Pakistan Refugees
Perhaps the only achievement of the Mehbooba government has been the fulfilment of the promise made to West Pakistan refugees. Then again, it was the main poll plank of the BJP, not the PDP. So, it was done with ease.
Last December, the central cabinet approved a Rs 2,000 crore package for these refugees. Not content with this, the government then started issuing identity certificates to the estimated 36,384 families that migrated to Jammu from West Pakistan in 1947, 1965 and 1971. “As an immediate settlement at the rate of Rs 5.50 lakh has been provided in favour of each of the 36,384 families which have been found eligible through the laid down procedure,” the governor recently informed the assembly.
Issuing identity certificates to the refugees turned into a major controversy, however, as the separatist leadership and the civil society denounced the move as an attempt to change the demography of Jammu. They asked why the refugees needed separate identity certificates when they already had Aadhar cards.
Pakistan, too, issued a strong worded statement. Foreign Office spokesman Nafees Zakaria said, “Reportedly, PDP-BJP regime…in violation of UNSC Resolutions, has started issuing domicile certificates to non-Kashmiri Hindus in Jammu region. The move is part of the regime’s nefarious designs to change the demographic composition of the territory.”
To douse the fire, the government’s spokesman Naeem Akhtar clarified that the identity certificates would not grant the refugees the right to vote or seek employment in the state. “These certificates will help them get jobs in the paramilitary forces and other central government establishments,” he said.
The BJP had promised the West Pakistan refugees identity certificates and grant of domicile. Despite vocal opposition, it has delivered the first. How long before it fulfils the second?
Given that the PDP seems to ceded all authority to its ally, it may only be a matter of time. As senior National Conference leader Ali Mohammed Sagar recently remarked in the assembly, “The home ministry sends direct orders to divisional commissioners to issue domicile certificates to West Pakistan refugees. Where is the state government? Who is the boss here?
Setting up of AIIMS
Providing a breather to Mehbooba government, the Modi regime has finally decided to set up All India Institute of Medical Science in Jammu as well as the valley. The BJP was initially reluctant to establish AIIMS in Kashmir, and wanted the institute to go to Jammu alone.
Replying to a question in the assembly on January 10, Health Minister Bali Bhagat said 1,907 kanal land is being acquired in Awantipora for setting up the AIIMS. Already 1,309 kanal land has been transferred to the Health and Medical Education Department, and Rs 24 crore have been released in favor of Collector Land Acquisition, Pulwama, “for disbursement of compensation for the balance quantum of 598 kanals”. In Jammu, the premier institute will come up on 1,951 kanal land at Vijaypur in Samba. Rs 2,000 crore each has been earmarked for establishing the two institutes. Although the projects are far from breaking ground, at least the process has started.
Return of Power Projects
More than any other issue, return of hydel projects from the NHPC is a barometer of the PDP-BJP government’s success. The AoA pledges to “explore modalities for transfer of Dulhasti and Uri hydro power projects to J&K as suggested by the Rangarajan Committee Report and the Round Table reports. Revise all royalty agreements”.
But two years into the government’s term, the return of the power projects remains a distant dream.
The last, and only, formal meeting the state government had with the Union power minister over the issue was on 16 March 2015, which indicates that it has put the issue on the backburner.
Major hydel projects in J&K except Baglihar are owned by the NHPC, and the state is compelled to buy electricity, produced by its own powerhouses, from the central corporation.
File Photo: Mir Imran/KI
Recently, in a written reply to National Conference MLA Devender Singh Rana’s query whether the Mehbooba government had formally approached the Centre for the transfer of hydel projects, Minister for Power Nirmal Singh, who also serves as the deputy chief minister, said, “The transfer of power projects is an important part of the developmental agenda of the coalition government. As mentioned by the Finance Minister in the Power Budget speech for 2015-16, the government will actively pursue the transfer of hydel projects from the NHPC and the Budget provided funds for meeting the operation and maintenance cost of such power projects to be transferred from the NHPC.”
He continued: “On March 16, 2015, the Deputy Chief Minister and the Finance Minister met the Union Power Minister and impressed upon the need for transfer of the Dulhasti and Uri hydro power projects from the NHPC. Subsequently, the Deputy CM has raised the issue in various power ministers’ conferences. The state government is actively pursuing the transfer of power projects.”
The only hint that something positive is happening on this front has been the earmarking of funds for meeting the operational and maintenance costs of the power projects in the current budget.
Although Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal has rejected the possibility of transferring the power projects to the state, Mehbooba is said to have secured a concession from the central government in the wake of the 2016 unrest.
The coalition government is demanding the return of Dulhasti, Salal and Uri projects from the NHPC, apparently to secure a certain amount of autonomy in the power sector. The state government, which is spending Rs 12,000 crore annually to purchase power, wants its own power development corporation to take up future hydel projects.
The coalition hasn’t done any better on other issues listed in the AoA. The return of Pandits, for one, was botched up when the government sought to identify land for the creation of exclusive Pandit enclaves, infuriating the separatists and the civil society which compared the proposed colonies to Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine.
Similarly, the PDP-BJP regime has failed to make progress on what was touted as a complete programme of relief and rehabilitation for the families affected by the 2014 flood. The AoA asserts that “the Government of India must fully fund the rehabilitation and reconstruction plan”. The belief at the time the AoA was drfated was that the Centre would provide at least the Rs 44,000 crore package demanded by the previous government. What the state got instead was less than a twentieth.
Not surprisingly, as political observers point out, the PDP leadership is left making excuses. “This government started out with the promise that the coalition was formed for the huge benefit of people. But till date we haven’t seen anything being done that benefits Kashmir. When you ask them, their main excuse is that they didn’t have time as they were either out of power when Mufti Sayeed died or time was lost in the summer unrest,” said a Professor who teaches at the University of Kashmir. “All this government is being remembered for is controversies – Sainik colonies, Pandit colonies, chief minister’s milk and chocolate remark, brutal pellet firings, unending curfews, Sarfaesi Act, grant of identity certificates to West Pakistan refugees.”
There is generally mistrust between people and government in Kashmir, and the working of the PDP-led coalition isn’t helping, Prof said. “Kashmiris traditionally view everything with suspicion and even rumours are sometimes treated as gospel truth. Right from the beginning, people feared that the agenda of the BJP was something else and this Agenda of Alliance was just a fig leaf,” he added. “And each passing day only confirms the suspicion.”