The PDP-BJP coalition is inching towards completion of half of its tenure. After shifting of durbar offices to Jammu last month, the coalition appears to be finding threads to focus on the governance issues. While the committee comprising senior leaders of the two coalition parties met over snacks in Jammu to oversee the functioning of the government, the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti traveled to Rajouri and Poonch districts to meet the people. The efforts seem to be focused on creating an impression that governance was going to be the priority now on.
Three years was a period when late Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, in his maiden tenure as Chief Minister between 2002 and 2005, in coalition with the Congress, was able to create a benchmark for governance. The impact of those three years was so huge that despite remaining partially involved in government for the next two and a half years during Ghulam Nabi Azad’s tenure and in opposition for six years in Omar Abdullah’s period, Mufti could hold his flock together and manage a comeback in 2014 elections. The three years of the new coalition not only wiped off the impact of the previous tenure but crated existential issues for the party. Soon after entering into coalition with the BJP, Mufti lost the plot and eventually became the casualty when he couldn’t maneuver the government as he had cherished to. After his death in January 2015, his daughter met the same fate. She resisted taking over unconditionally but ultimately was seen falling in line to form the government. A mystery that is still unraveled.
One positive with Mehbooba is that she doesn’t feel any imminent threat to her government. The BJP is powerful in New Delhi but at the same time Narendra Modi’s aura is depleting for a host of reasons. Modi’s dictatorial behavior is likely to diminish in the coming years and that would give an elbow room to Mehbooba to focus on some issues she was unable to touch. The sudden and debatable appointment of ‘special representative’ on Jammu and Kashmir Dineshwar Sharma was introduced as one such means to pick up the threads even as the first visit of the interlocutor turned out to be a damp squib. The Chief Minister would like to see the newest intervention as an opportunity to find a toehold for rediscovering the politics her party has lost the grip on over these years. She maybe thinking that the residual three years of coalition can provide the opportunity to offset the impact of the previous years, which have topsy-turvied the rhetorical politics of the ruling party.
It is in this backdrop that on November 23, Mufti announced withdrawal of cases against youths alleged to be involved in stone-pelting for the first time. She was quick to link this ‘confidence building measure’ with Dineshwar Sharma’s suggestion and New Delhi’s ‘commitment’ to creating an atmosphere for sustained dialogue. "It gives me immense satisfaction to restart the process of withdrawing FIRs against first-time offenders involved in stone pelting. My government had initiated the process in May last year but it was stalled due to the unrest," Mehbooba said in a tweet. "It is a ray of hope for these young boys and their families. This initiative will provide them an opportunity to rebuild their lives," she said. "It is encouraging that the interlocutor has started on a positive note. His recommendations are being taken seriously by both the central and state governments," she said.
Booking youngsters in cases of stone-pelting, mostly on frivolous and flimsy grounds, has been one of the issues the Mufti government is grappling with. Out of over 11, 500 such cases, around 4,500 are against those who have been booked for the first time. The amnesty would be exclusive. There is no word on the rest of cases though Mehbooba has sought to link the initiative with her previous announcement in last May on reviewing cases registered between 2008 and 2014.
The announcement came at a time when major offensive against militants is also underway. Since January, 195 militants have been killed and there is hardly any day when a major operation to flush out militants is not underway in any part of Kashmir, especially in southern plains and upper heights along the Line of Control in north. The security apparatus has learned to manage the situation during the encounters and after the killing of militants through heavy deployments and snapping communication lines but this cannot be passed off as change on the ground level. The surrender offer, as in case of footballer Majid Khan of Anantnag, who abandoned Lashkar-e-Tayyeba outfit a week after joining it, following his parents’ pleas, too is being highlighted by the government at large scale.
The amnesty to select ‘stone-throwers’ can be a small step if it is complimented by other initiatives. Before vying for a dialogue with separatists, there has to be a change in the atmospherics. Hundreds of political workers are languishing in jails and police stations despite court orders favouring their release. Mehbooba government can, at least, issue directions to the police not to re-arrest those have been set free by a formal court procedure.
On the governance front, Mehbooba has failed to create an impression. Her directions are not paid heed to by the top bureaucrats. The general administration department has never been in such a shambles, issuing orders of transfers every day and modifying them every week. The number of leaders is increasing in the system and that of workers and doers is depleting. This is the worst crisis a government can ever face. Can Mehbooba bring about any change in the system when the second half, and also the countdown, of her government starts in a few months from now?