Beyond the J&K mandate: What gen-next in Kashmir is looking for
The J&K polls yielded a fractured mandate. However, the results do not capture the underlying ferment in Kashmiri youth who are looking for a future with honour and peace. Whoever offers them that will own the future
As key political players in Jammu and Kashmir jockey, jostle and manoeuvre for government formation, various theories and assertions are being floated about the nature of the mandate given by the people of the state. All these theories pertain to the whys and ifs of government formation given the fragmented mandate.
This mandate is not revolutionary; in fact, it is evolutionary.
The BJP’s rise to prominence in the Jammu division stems from the slow but steady rise of a party which has built its campaign around a quasi-presidential theme with Modi at its centre. This trend gained traction and momentum during the nineties, saw a bit of a hiatus in the first decade of the 21st century, incubated during the UPA’s pedestrian performance in government and then hit its apogee in the middle of this year.
There can be no gainsaying the fact that this trend is structural and is here to stay for a long time. That it would reach the Jammu division of Jammu & Kashmir was a matter of time. The BJP’s stellar performance in Jammu then is no surprise.
In Kashmir, as I have maintained in my columns, mainstream political competition is duopolistic: the main players are the PDP and the NC. The 2014 assembly elections correspond to this duopolistic political competition: the natural laws and norms of politics and political competition kicked in and anti-incumbency, and its corollary, choice, are at play in Kashmir now. Even though the PDP has emerged as the single largest party in Kashmir, the difference between it and the NC in terms of vote share is very narrow. This means that competition is intense and the two parties are neck-and-neck.
Paradoxically, complementing the mainstream political space is the politics, and the sentiment, of separatism. Notwithstanding the massive voter turnout in Kashmir, the sentiment of separatism remains a key structural factor. Ignoring it amounts to the proverbial ‘Ostrich in the sand’ syndrome.
The implication and the inference that can be drawn here would amount to restating the obvious: political space in the state is inchoate and fragmented. The key question here is: given the fragmented political space in Kashmir, who can capture the imagination of Kashmiris?
Consider the mainstream political space first. Here the key actors are Omar Abdullah and Mufti Mohammad Sayeed - the patron of the PDP. Notwithstanding the criticisms directed against Omar, he still represents youth, dynamism and a potentially fresh idiom in the politics of the state. Arrayed against this is the experience and staying power of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. Which of the two can best work for Kashmir? Ideally a blend of both but it will have to be either of the two. Who will prevail may fall in the realm of the ‘unknown unknown’.
Now consider separatism: the dominant sentiment in Kashmir. While there may be a disconnect between separatists and the people of the state, separatism remains an ever present, dominant reality of Kashmir.
Overlaying this political condition in Kashmir is the most critical and delicate feature of Kashmir’s contemporary landscape: structural change in the valley’s demographic, social, political and politico-economic composition. Kashmir is in flux where the older cohort of Kashmiris is gradually giving way to Kashmir’s gen next - the future of Kashmir. This young cohort is highly educated, self aware, aspirational, connected to and aware of the world beyond Kashmir. The aspirations, trajectory and direction of this youth cohort are the key to the future of Kashmir.
Who will they respond to?
This question is a poser but tentative answers may be teased out. First, what this generation will not accept. This young cohort will not accept the politics of the old; neither will they be easily swayed by either catchy slogans of developmentalism and governance. With the passage of time they will demand a fresh and novel approach towards politics - be it separatism or mainstream politics - an approach wherein they have a voice and where they will be heard. Or, in other words, they would want to be treated as thinking, reflective adults.
The politics of paternalism and perhaps even patronage will be a non-starter for this cohort. The nature and substance of politics that they will likely gyrate to would be in the nature of clean politics which accords them a life and future defined by dignity, honour, including an honorable peace, and a future in which they have a robust and vigorous stake. These constitute the basic elements and framework of what the gen-next of Kashmiris want and aspire for.
Whoever gives this young cohort what it wants will have Kashmir in the palm of their hands.
Consultant, Jammu and Kashmir, Entrepreneurship Development Institute(JKEDI)
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