If demonetisation and GST implementation are anything to go by, when the Narendra Modi government takes a big transformative decision, it only looks at first order effects, ignoring the far more important second and third order effects that start playing havoc later on. Twenty-three days after Article 370 was abrogated, it is time to ask if the Modi government has lined up the next steps in Kashmir, and if so, then what are they. In many ways, we seem to be experiencing the same disregard for second and third order effects now in Kashmir, with the initial (good) effects of Article 370 abrogation dissipating and tougher dilemmas setting in.
A likely ‘unbalanced’ assembly
Consider first what we can guesstimate based on available evidence. The governance of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir will almost certainly be delegated to local councils. The fact that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the National Conference (NC) boycotted these elections, which threw up a whole new rung of leadership, means that the new leaders have indeed been identified.
Then there are the 24 seats allotted to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. In the post-delimitation 114-member assembly of Jammu and Kashmir, these 24 seats, which the Modi government has maintained will remain vacant “until the area…ceases to be so occupied and the people residing in that area elect their representatives”, could be given to “nominated members”. That is, if the Modi government is tempted to “nominate” members for these seats, it could identify Pakistani dissidents from those areas.
It seems almost certain that when the delimitation happens, the 90 seats will get split between Jammu and Kashmir (with a possible bias towards Jammu). But this is where the “nominated” members could ensure a marginalisation of the Kashmiri political elites. In effect, political careers of Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti are finished; even if they are not, the leaders most certainly will not have any powers. Why?
Because the top administrative level in the Union Territory will be filled by a new Jammu elite supported by “nominated” members from POK. With the lower rung of municipal corporators, which is where all the money-making happens, now closed off – not just to the Muftis and the Abdullahs but also to the Hurriyat leaders – there will be a significant shift in the region’s politics. The former mainstream political elites will no longer be able to sponge off central funds from the top nor raise funds from the bottom.
Seems a bit like Chanakyan genius, doesn’t it? Except it isn’t.
Dealing a hard hand without thought
This is where the second important wheel in the clog comes in: the role of Indian security forces and the intelligence apparatus that have been incentivised and corrupted by a conflict economy and which never understood the meaning of good governance to begin with.
Consider what has happened so far. In order to keep some 10-100 thousand miscreants at bay, the Modi government has shut the communication network in the whole Valley. As discussed before, this is obviously counterproductive not just in terms of security but also in terms of population management. People may tolerate the restrictions for a while, but at some time, the ban will push them over the edge. Moreover, our forces and the police have never actually understood carrots and sticks: evidenced by the arrest of a doctor, urologist Omar Salim, Monday. By all means, target the stone-pelters, but why arrest a man making a public request? What message does this send?
Worryingly, an anonymous, but clearly well-informed, piece that came out a few days ago seemed to throw light on the extent to which the security apparatus of regime ancien in Kashmir has been compromised; in fact, it is being empowered by the new dispensation. For their part, this same old guard was “cannibalising members of the old corrupt gravy train into the new corrupt gravy train”. The article also proceeded to give the examples of Shah Faesal and Shehla Rashid in addition to several others.
Government supporters would say this is not the case. Their main argument is that unlike the previous counter-insurgency attempts that would be followed by the election of same politicians, the entire ecosystem has been targeted this time: newspapers that used to coordinate stone pelting and tacks according to some; banks that were used for money laundering; mainstream political parties that indulged in corruption in dispensing central governments funds; and the Hurriyat which received money from Pakistan.
They would also contend that unlike 1987, when the opposition felt it had no options and thus turned to terrorism (the Muslim United Front’s Syed Salahuddin who went on to head the Hizbul Mujahideen while the MUF largely became the present-day Hurriyat), the Muftis, the Abdullahs, the Geelanis and the Mirwaizs have been part of the gravy train for so long that despite having no options, they will prefer a cushy life to one of exile and hard work at the behest of a capricious and murderous foreign government. Moreover, this felling of the old leaders has allowed a new crop of leaders to grow.
A lacking security apparatus
To a large extent this is true; but just like the central government, this narrative too falls into the same trap, where the Intelligence Bureau and the Jammu and Kashmir police are assumed as straight players that haven’t been incentivised and corrupted by a conflict economy. Even assuming they haven’t been corrupted and accepting that intelligence gathering is by nature a highly amoral, dirty game full of shades of grey, the bureau and the police still need to be reined in, of which there are absolutely no signs. It is pertinent to ask then: under what principle of counter-insurgency or good governance were Shah Faesal and Shehla Rashid detained, under what circumstances were they released, and how was it different from the case of Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, and how is the re-arrest of Shah Faesal justified while Shehla remains loose? At some point, the Modi government needs to introspect.
Be it the counterproductive communications blackout, the arrest of doctor Omar Salim, the unanswered questions of the arbitrary arrest and release and re-arrest of political leaders, and a lackadaisical approach in dealing with the Intelligence Bureau and the Jammu and Kashmir police – one is forced to conclude that the Modi government simply hasn’t thought things through as thoroughly as it should have. Only time will tell if things get better in Kashmir, but if they do, while half of the credit must go to the government, the remaining half should be reserved for sheer dumb luck.
The author is a senior fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. He tweets @iyervval. Views are personal.