Jammu: It is a rare moment when politicians of Jammu and Kashmir, cutting across the mainstream political spectrum, openly express their helplessness to influence a change in the state that has been torn apart by turmoil and militarisation over the last three decades. That moment came on Friday when the former chief minister and Leader of Opposition Omar Abdullah stood in the state Assembly to launch a scathing attack on Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.
Invoking the legendary German character Faust who, despite being highly successful yet dissatisfied with life, makes a pact with The Devil for exchanging his moral integrity and his soul in exchange for worldly gains, Omar compared the alliance of Peoples Democratic Party, of which Mehbooba is the president, with the BJP, as a pact of Faust with The Devil.
"Let us be honest," Omar said in the Assembly during his 45-minute speech, "What sort of logical conclusion will you give to Shopian case when 47 out of 50 requests for prosecution of armed forces (allegedly involved in gross rights abuses, including murder, according to Jammu and Kashmir government probes) have been rejected by Centre since 2000 and three are pending."
While Omar’s admission of guilt on the floor of the house is an indictment of the failure of the elected governments in Jammu and Kashmir in giving justice to the people victimised by the 'black sheep' in armed forces over the last three decades, it also explains why the ‘impotent’ regional mainstream players don’t enjoy a whiff of credibility or faith among the people.
The revocation of Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which gives sweeping powers to the army during counter-insurgency operations, also provides them with impunity from prosecution in civilian courts, if they were found to be involved in rights abuses. Omar’s remarks in the Assembly only reaffirm the common belief that when it comes to dealing with the rogue elements in the armed forces deployed in the state, their hands are tied.
In his wax-eloquent speech, Omar squarely blamed the coalition government for the recent civilian killings, particularly in Shopian district, which he said is a “stark reminder of the reality of our time in which we live”. Omar said it has become a new routine of government to cage people in their homes on every Friday by imposing curfew and restrictions, “People have been barred even from offering Eid prayers.”
In her defence, Mehbooba again reiterated that the law will follow its own course. “We have lodged an FIR but I want to say this here that if there is someone who makes a mistake, there is a law for them. That doesn’t mean everyone in the army is same or every soldier is an offender. These are the same forces who have brought a sense of security among people,” Mehbooba said.
But it’s not the AFSPA alone that has exposed the inability of the mainstream parties, like the ruling PDP and National Conference, in ensuring justice for the victims by punishing the culprits in uniform. There have been others occasions also where the state government has been literally forced to eat its words in the face of the pressure mounted by the armed forces to have their wishes granted while operating in Jammu and Kashmir.
Take the issue of the high ground in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district, for example, where the army occupies more than 2,000 kanals of land. While the decision to free a fertile 454 kanal patch at Fatehgarh from military occupation was taken years back with the then chief minister Mufti Sayeed even setting up deadlines and the Prime Minister's Office also intervening, the army refused to oblige and has not even paid the rent to the landowners.
The sheer powerlessness of Kashmir’s political class is also reflected in their dealings with the governments at the Centre. While the PDP may have found it convenient to form an alliance with the party which is ruling at the Centre, its proposals for the social, political and economic empowerment of the state have not evoked much enthusiasm from the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
From the refusal to return two key power projects to the state government, presently under the operational control of the NHPC, to the “deliberate cuts” in power infrastructure development component in the prime minister's Rs 80,000 crore plus package, the war of words between Mehbooba and Omar is also an indicator that the Centre puts its interests ahead of the interests of people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Kashmir’s politicians may squabble inside and outside the Assembly, and bring each other down for petty gains, but in the process, they are slowly shredding the trust of those people who elected them in the first place. If Omar and Mehbooba can’t give justice to victims of abuses by armed forces, pray, who will? This should worry us all.
Updated Date: Feb 04, 2018 08:16 AM