Governor, 'root causes' matter
In his reasoning on his November 21 decision to dissolve the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) legislative assembly, Governor Satya Pal Malik states, "The fragile security scenario in the state of Jammu and Kashmir where there is a need to have a stable and supportive environment for security forces which are engaged in extensive anti-militancy operations and are gradually gaining control over the security situation."
Presumably in the quick time lag between his receipt, on social media (since the fax was reportedly left unattended on a holiday), of contending claims to form the government, he was able to consult his very able Advisor Home, K Vijay Kumar, and also receive the input of the unified headquarters. This would have been remarkably efficient of his administration, particularly since in his clarification on the fax machine he informed that all staff were away observing the holiday.
It is apparent that the security rationale of the governor is an after-the-fact rationalisation. There is no call for tapping security counsel on a political matter. He is essentially playing into security minders' hands in saying democratic oversight of operations dilutes security.
When the Governor was appointed, the perception management exercise had it that a political governor was being appointed for the first time in over three decades. The subtext was that he would be better able to concentrate on the political context of the problem in Kashmir, though he indicated that conflict resolution was outside his domain (being handled by a Union minister-of-state-level special representative).
The security aspect is overseen by Delhi, since the army was once again a lead player and can only be expected to begrudgingly concede to a khaki-clad adviser home a coordination authority. In Delhi, it cannot be Rajnath Singh overseeing the state, since the army - outside his remit - is upfront and engaged. Kashmir, being an internal security matter, the ministry of defence is not in the lead either. Therefore, the buck presumably stops at the prime minister's office, with Mr. Ajit Doval, in overall charge. His sharing of an alma mater, Meerut University, with the governor perhaps helps the old-school ties bypass institutional arrangements. In any case institutional integrity has not detained the Modi government any.
Since the governor in the centralized Modi system is unlikely permitted unilateral decisions, narrowing down whence his decision emerged is an entry point into assessing its worth.
When the state government was in position, the bean count had the following figures: 110 in 2014, 113 in 2015, 165 in 2016, 218 in 2017, and 81 in 2018 (as of May 27). The up-to-date figure is 206 killed this year, making for some 115 militants killed under governor's rule since June. There is a marginal difference (average of about 5 per month) between the killings under a democratic dispensation and under an unelected Delhi-appointed governor.
This implies that the security forces were a law unto themselves, answerable to Delhi, even when an elected administration was in place. What the governor is suggesting then that the 'stable and supportive environment' is one in which democratic oversight - amounting to pinpricks by the state administration over piffles as human rights - is dispensed with altogether.
The situation has evidently deteriorated: the formulation 'gradually gaining control over' suggests as much. The killings of innocents such as relatives of police men, though the handiwork of the terrorists, is example. Informers are also being killed and the terror multiplied by the manner of their death being broadcast on social media. This is of course evidence of desperation of the terrorists, cornered by anti-militancy operations. Since some 157 youth reportedly signed up for the militancy this year, and there are some 290-320 militants (including Pakistanis) around, the bean count registers will continue their tinkle. More of the same can be expected indefinitely, even as the governor's rule transits to president's rule followed by state elections sometime summer.
Counter-intuitively, this is just what is needed by the ruling dispensation in Delhi. Polarisation of the national electorates - the need of the ruling party - calls for this. The demands on polarization have gone up owing to economic non-performance. The fallout on the national security scene is that it be kept simmering but prevented from boiling over. War drums with Pakistan - sounded from time to time by the army chief and the northern army commander - need to be usable, if inactive. Muslim bashing is proving counter productive ever since India acquired the tag, lynchistan. Muslim Kashmir and the reliable Pakistani bogey help with polarization.
Strong man Modi cannot be seen indulging in conflict resolution. There needs instead to be a conflict ongoing for him to measure up to his image. To recall, the image was built on his handling of the Gujarat 'riots', which witnessed, in the official count, a 1000 dead. The Wuhan trip of the prime minister suggests a timely acknowledgement that playing kabaddi with China is fine across the line of actual control, but Doklam-like incidents could cost him his image. The image was most recently dusted up at the photo opportunity at the feet of the world's tallest statues, that of the original strong man, Sardar Patel. An internal conflict but well under control, as in Kashmir, fits the bill.
As can be seen, the horizon of the ruling party does not go beyond the next elections. This is advisedly so since the aim is to get to the two thirds mark to reconfigure the Constitution. This means having Article 370 in its sights, with Article 35A currently in the cross hairs. The wider goal means marginalisation of indigenous parties. This explains seemingly innocuous tactics such as references of Pakistan links retracted good humouredly once the intended damage is done. A state assembly controlled by would-be quislings, supported by the ruling party, is preferred.
The ideological imperative therefore explains the governor's decision and its security rationale. The security establishment needs to stand up against parochial party interest trumping national interest. A non-ideological security input could have highlighted the strategic imbecility of meddling in Srinagar. India's continuing to do so despite knowledge of outcomes of earlier forays meets Einstein's definition of insanity: doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result.
The immediate operational level security situation that seized his attention is at the cost of the strategic and the long term. Instead at his - strategic- level, a politico-strategic perspective must inform decisions. The Governor's decision provides tinder for insurgency. Just as dissidents cite the first Jagmohan foray among root causes, the dissolution decision will figure high in the insurgent advertisements here on. It is a blow to the widely held Azadi concept. The Azadi that people ask for is the freedom of democracy, even if imperfect, but as obtains elsewhere in India. The dissolution is an undemocratic imposition, which even if incident elsewhere in India periodically, is particularly insensitive to India's record in Kashmir.
Root causes instead call for political solution. A first step is in eschewing wilfull misrepresentation of Azadi. India refuses to acknowledge this, self-interestedly viewing Kashmir as a developmental problem amenable to economic solutions or a security problem with a military-friendly solution. Minimally, refraining from egregious political hurt to Kashmiris is necessary.
Good sense can be incentivized by highlighting that strategic costs are in a continuing and heightened insurgency. The political price is in aggravating the lurch of Indian polity towards the right. The catch is that this is precisely what ideological national security minders are seeking. The answer is in democratically showing them the door at the earliest available opportunity coming up mid next year.