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Coming a full circle in J&K

Reports say that so far some 400 persons have been killed in J&K this year, more than half of whom were militants.

Coming a full circle in J&K

Let down: Local youth may be taking up the gun, but are not a threat as they are untrained. But they do indicate the failure to remove the causes of militancy.



Manoj Joshi
Strategic affairs expert 

Reports say that so far some 400 persons have been killed in J&K this year, more than half of whom were militants. This is the highest toll since 2009, when the figure was 375 for the whole year, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

But this is only one measure of the failure of the government’s policy. Another was visible last week when Governor Satya Pal Malik dissolved the Assembly that had been in suspension since June, in somewhat murky circumstances. Mehbooba Mufti, the PDP leader, said she had had to tweet her party’s claim to form the government because she could not reach Raj Bhavan either by phone or fax. With 28 People’s Democratic Party (PDP), 12 Congress and 15 National Conference legislators, Mehbooba’s  group had a clear majority in the 87-member legislative Assembly. 

In the meantime, surprise, surprise, Sajjad Lone, the leader of People’s Conference, which is close to the BJP, did manage to have a telephonic conversation with the Governor to stake the claim of his party. Lone has just two MLAs, though he claimed the support of the 26-member BJP group and 18 unspecified legislators.

For this reason, perhaps, the Governor decided to dissolve the Assembly and call for fresh elections in the state. Since the tenure of the Governor’s rule will end next month, the state is likely to go in for a spell of President’s rule.

In some senses the circle will have then turned full. Persuading the politicians of the Valley to participate in the elections took a major effort on the part of New Delhi between 1993, when militancy was defeated and 1996 when Farooq Abdullah and the National Conference first refused to participate in the Lok Sabha elections, but were later persuaded to join the contest for the subsequent  state Assembly polls that the NC won hands down.

Even though the Congress had won four of the six Lok Sabha seats, the Lok Sabha outcome had not really been credible. It was only when the NC rejoined the electoral process for the Assembly elections that a measure of integrity was given to the elections. 

This was even more true, six years later in 2002, when the NC and the newly formed PDP participated in the Assembly elections that were termed by many as the fairest ever to have been held in J&K till then. The reason was that there were now two strong contending Valley parties aligned openly to the Indian Union. This time around, the PDP emerged as the winner in a coalition with the Congress. The main thrust of the militancy may have been defeated at this time, but the levels of violence remained high in the state, often targeting those being perceived to be close to India.

And now we have a situation that could see prolonged President’s rule because New Delhi believes that minus the encumbrance of a state government it will be able to ‘sort things out’ in the state.

That is not likely to happen because the Union government actually has no political plan for the state. It has a tactical military plan which involves the physical elimination of the militancy. But here, too, there is no strategic plan. Killing militants doesn’t mean much in a situation where very clearly the situation has degenerated to the point where militant recruitment has been rising, rather than declining. Further, where between 1993 and 2014, Pakistani jihadis kept militancy afloat, now, there has been a sharp increase in locals joining it. According to one assessment, 164 persons joined militancy till the end of October in 2018. In 2017, 128 had reportedly joined; in 2016, 84; 83 in 2015; and 63 in 2014. These figures bring out the fact that the so-called ‘Operation All Out’ military effort to wipe out militancy may have had the opposite effect.

True, these local youth, often driven by their emotions, hardly pose a threat to the security forces. They are largely untrained and eliminated quite quickly, but they do clearly indicate the failure on the part of New Delhi to build upon the successes of the security forces and remove the underlying political causes of the militancy.

New Delhi’s problem is that it has nothing to offer but an unrelenting military face. The BJP does not believe that the state needs any kind of autonomy, so, there is nothing by way of a political formula that it has on offer. The matter of autonomy is more an issue of perception than reality, in other words, it is the things that New Delhi says and the gestures it makes towards the Valley that are important rather than the substance. But the Union government is unable to do this because the BJP’s local unit in the state is committed to a hard line against militancy and given its outstanding performance in the 2014 state Assembly elections, the BJP believes that it is close to being able to actually form a government in the state, never mind that it has little support in the troubled Valley.

Just what the party will do were it to actually come to power and form a government in the state is not very clear. Given its unpropitious performance as a coalition partner of the PDP in the 2014-2018 period, it is likely to make things worse.

Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi

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