It is not everyday that people across the country adjust their busy schedules to watch a speech by a home minister. In earlier governments, some would have been hard pressed to name the home minister. But Amit Shah’s impassioned speeches in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha were something else altogether.
Shah is known both as the rock behind the campaign of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the party man. Interest in what he would say in his maiden parliamentary speech was a given. And he didn’t disappoint. It was powerful stuff, and had the stamp of not only the party, but also the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). That’s hardly surprising. Both have been consistent and open in their approaches on terrorism and Kashmir.
Consider the first bill tabled. The Jammu and Kashmir (Reservation) Bill 2009 is a logical extension of a facility that was once only given to those who lived along the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir. The original Act of 2004 provided three percent reservation in educational institutions and in jobs, for people living under what is surely the most insecure of environments; where schools are closed during times of tension and underground bunkers are a fact of life.
Shah’s bill extends that Act to the people living along the International Border (IB) in Jammu. Critics will see this as more evidence of a lopsided policy that favours Jammu. The reality is that the IB has become equally unsafe as the LoC in recent years, and no one seemed to care very much about those living there.
Cut to the annual report of the RSS, which mentions an extensive survey of 457 of 701 villages along the border. Thereafter, an organised effort was begun that brought health, single teacher schools, and a battery of other initiatives to the area. Here’s the thing. The BJP does its homework and RSS does the groundwork. The reservation bill was, therefore, a natural outflow from this. One may disagree with much that the RSS propounds. But you can't deny that they do the work other political parties only talk about.
Again, take out the rhetoric and consider another core issue. Shah is right in that earlier governments did not hesitate to use Article 356, which relates to President's Rule. An interesting statistic he cites is that it was invoked 132 times since Independence and 93 times by Congress governments.
That points to consistent failures primarily by the state and then the Centre to provide Jammu and Kashmir with a semblance of governance. Local government in a terror-afflected area can be seen like a kind of radial in a hub and spoke model that should feed development to the ground level, that in turn can help in turning dissatisfaction around.
That effort has been missing for decades, and no state government has made much of an effort to redress this. Simply put, more power at local level, means less power to state bureaucracies and political leaders. That’s not limited to Kashmir, but is true almost everywhere. In a terror-afflicted state, it’s an absolute necessity.
When Shah pointed out that 40,000 such panches and sarpanches have been appointed, the next step is to allow them to work. If they succeed even half way, that will be something of a revolution. And that change can only happen during President's Rule, when the powerful ‘families’ that Shah referred to, and their retainers, goons and the like, are not running things.
However, nothing is easy in Kashmir. The BJP will remember that an effort was made to build local government when it came to power in coalition with the PDP. In 2014, there was a wave of attacks on sarpanches, leading to a mass resignation by local heads, even as posters threatening anyone who took up office came up overnight. Providing security to such a large mass of people is a next to impossible task.
In other words, all of this has been tried before. It’s the classic chicken and egg situation. As Governor Satya Pal Malik said, the challenge is not to kill terrorists, but to kill terrorism. That requires governance. But governance can't take root while terrorists are at large and sheltering behind sympathetic populations. The key is in turning that sympathy towards those trying to set up some governance locally.
Note that the home minster’s visit to the Valley passed off without a call for a bandh or any violence. That could be a result of the concerted drive against Separatist leadership. It could also be that like before, ever hopeful people are waiting to see what’s different in Modi 2.0. Interest may have been caught. The challenge is to sustain it.
Following the same formula, Shah also referred to the development package announced in 2015 and that some 66,300 crore of an 80,000 crore special package has already been sanctioned for various projects. This includes a slew of connectivity projects — like the Zoji La tunnel — that have a distinct strategic signature, and the setting up of IITs, management schools and a massive hospital designed to address the people factor.
Critics will say that the people have heard all of this –and more – before.
The challenge is to deliver, and deliver quickly. Remember the huge sports package which was to bring up Srinagar’s Bakshi Stadium, among others, to world standard? That job, to be carried out by the National Projects Construction Corporation, seems to have got bogged down for unknown reasons. The lesson for all initiatives for Kashmir is that an oversight committee has to wield a whip to ensure projects get completed, and quickly. No amount of speeches, however well delivered, can change the situation. It’s the scaffolding on the ground that matters.
The rest of his speech spoke of Kashmiriyat, Jamhooriyat and Insaniyat, phrases coined by an entirely different leader to address a serious situation. To a large extent, Atal Bihari Vajpayee succeeded in Kashmir because he was so clearly speaking from the heart. The Kashmir Assembly elections will be held at some time down the road. It is then that Shah’s political coming of age at the national level will be judged. A certain grim efficiency may well work in delivering the goods where earlier promises didn't. However, a little heart wouldn’t be amiss.
Updated Date: Jul 06, 2019 20:13:15 IST