Friday, 22 March 2019

Can Shah Faesal bring the winds of political change to Kashmir?

The year 2019 had an ominous start in Jammu & Kashmir under conditions of rule by Delhi with the six months period of governor’s rule transitioning into President’s Rule for the first time in 22 years on December 20. With the Election Commission of India deciding to not hold simultaneous elections to Parliament and to the assembly on security grounds, President’s Rule may well end up being extended in case the incoming government at the Centre takes its time to settle in and decide on new dates.

This extension of rule by Delhi has one bright side. It gives Shah Faesal’s newly-launched political party, Jammu and Kashmir’s People’s Movement, time to find its feet. Launched on March 17, it gets off to a flying start fielding candidates in the parliamentary elections, including possibly Shehla Rashid, the Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader who shot to fame in the episode of alleged sedition in 2016. Its plunge would provide it an indication on the political winds that it could in the breather between the two elections build on or course correct.

The new political party ticks all the right boxes in its vision document, pledging to make people “politically empowered, economically prosperous, socially emancipated, ethically evolved, culturally enlightened and environmentally conscious”. It comes as a breath of fresh air in otherwise rather bleak prospects in Kashmir over the coming summer.

The jury is still out whether Delhi’s rule can be brought to a close any time soon. The last time in the early nineties it lasted six years. The bypoll in the Anantnag constituency, vacated by Mehbooba Mufti on taking over as chief minister in 2016, became the longest delayed bypoll since 1996, being postponed thrice over on security grounds in 2017. The bypoll in the Srinagar constituency held in April 2017 had a record-low seven per cent turnout. The urban local body elections in October last year witnessed a further fall, with Srinagar City recording merely two per cent polling. A low turnout in assembly elections could prove embarrassing for India and show up the hardline in Kashmir as politically vacuous.

The latest round of troubles in Kashmir, dating to the killing of Burhan Wani in July 2016, have registered an uptick with the Pulwama car bomb terror attack on February 14 and by security forces killing at least 18 terrorists in J&K since then. The latest incidence of the hardline is in the banning of the Jamaat-e-Islami, despite its distancing itself from terror long back.

Since the summer would be in full swing, the prospects of Pakistan-supported infiltration would be higher, as would violence indices. The recent India-Pakistan crisis may prompt Pakistan to be more proactive than it has been lately in its proxy war. All this would increase the likelihood of the next Union government — even if it is a second term for Prime Minister Narendra Modi — considering postponing the assembly elections. This is even thought the current position of the Union home ministry is to hold it in June before the spell of President’s Rule ends in early July.

People staying away from polls would also reflect their disaffection from the nature of democratic politics in the state. This is already seen in the insurgency being largely centred in south Kashmir where people were angered by their chosen party, Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party, aligning with the Bhartiya Janata Party to form the government. The BJP pulled the rug from under the PDP in June last year.

Soon thereafter, rumours were rife that the BJP connived with Sajjad Lone — whose party had just two legislators — and potential PDP defectors to attempt to form a government. Finally, in November, the governor dissolved the assembly under circumstances in which rival claims were made through social media.

Faesal’s arrival on the scene in a political avatar after leaving the administrative service helps with alleviating this bleakness. His topping of the civil services 2010 batch served as an inspiration to Kashmiri youth back then. He hopes to repeat the same a decade on. It remains to be seen if he can live up to his slogan, ‘Ab hawa badlegi’.