K B Jandial
Finally, the two and half months’ long political uncertainty in the sensitive border state of J&K has come to a happy end, thanks to the “positive meeting” of Mehbooba Mufti and PM Modi at 7 RCR, New Delhi on 22rd March, 2016. It is not as important to unearth the “positive” assurances (CBMs) that have been given to Mehbooba Mufti in her half an hour meeting as the breaking of ice between two alliance partners – PDP and BJP which all through maintained that their alliance was intact. It was unique political event in the history of Indian democracy that despite the clear majority of an alliance in the legislative assembly, the State did not have “popular” government since 7th January, 2016 when the veteran leader and Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed passed away. Conversely, J&K has an “unpopular” government (Governor Rule) since then.
Critics and the opposition leaders would empty their armory on Mehbooba (to be the first woman CM of J&K), questioning her wisdom for forming government now without getting concrete assurance from Modi and answer as to why the people were deprived of a “popular” government during this period. They have right to target the incoming CM for delaying the formation of the government and purported lack of confidence and administrative acumen. Be that so, the role of an “unpopular” dispensation that came to fill the constitutional vacuum during this period is more significant.
While Mehbooba was apparently reluctant in forming the government pressure from all sides notwithstanding, a silent majority in J&K is in quandary as to why in the first place there should be any “popular” government as such dispensations have hardly delivered. Vohra rule (Central rule) has impacted the minds of the public.
After a long time, perhaps after Jagmohan’s first incarnation of the an effective Chief Executive of the State in mid-eighties, the people in all the regions are found to be happy as it managed to deliver and that too with the same set of bureaucrats on whom the buck of non-performance in the “popular” rule would stop. One is reminded of the famous emotional speech of Dr. Farooq Abdullah on the intervening night of 7th and 8th November, 1986 after being sworn in as CM following Farooq-Rajiv accord. He had said, “If today elections are held and if Jagmohan sahib and I contest the election, his boxes (EVMs not introduced then) would be overflowing with votes while mine would be empty.” It was an honest admission of the popularity of Jagmohan rule, Farooq saab’s later hatred for him (on appointment again as Governor in January 1990) notwithstanding.
Accepting Governor’s rule as better than the “popular rule” is indeed a new discourse but the fact is that with no political interference and direct accountability, the administration proved its mettle. Earlier, Governor and President Rules were promulgated following “constitutional breakdowns” on account of outbreak of cross border terrorism, other serious law and order situations like Amaranth land row or holding elections. But it was not so this time.
The present one is the third Governor Rule promulgated by N. N. Vohra, a celebrated bureaucrat and security expert, during his tenure. His first such Rule came amidst the razing violence in both the regions on Amarnath land row in 2008 summer that lasted for174 days and ended with coming to power of Omar’s NC-Congress alliance government. That period was marked by continuous violence in both regions on account of an emotional and religious issue of allotment and subsequent its withdrawal, of land to Shrine Board. So, the Governor’s thrust was on handling violence on one hand and on the other, resolving the sentimental issue in both regions. Vohra’s second Governor Rule came on 7th January 2015 when no party came forward to form the government in view of fractured mandate. The stalemate ended with installation of Mufti Sayeed headed PDP-BJP alliance government on 1st March, 2015.
The present dispensation, third in the row, was imposed on 8th January this year when Mehbooba declined to take oath of CM, ostensibly due to the mourning on account of the demise of her father Mufti Sayeed. Initially, Governor did not take any major decisions, even didn’t disturb the administration, hoping that the “popular” government would be in place in a few days. But when it was not so, he and his team started grappling with people’s problems and tried to find solutions. This was showcased as “good governance” in a governance deficit State.
Going by the goodwill generated in all the three regions by Governor Rule, Vohra qualified to be the second Jagmohan. He took prompt decisions on most of the issues that were kept pending and implemented these within the timeline. Many ticklish matters that awaited decisions in the previous “popular” governments got resolved. How the same administration was geared up to deliver in short time, is a case study for future governments. While the popular government’s focus has always been the politics, the Governor’s government’s focus is the people with fast-track movement of files. That made the difference.
One is stunned at the speed the issues were sorted out. There are now hopeful signs of expansion of Jammu airport and Army agreed to vacate at least 2282 kanal unauthorized land under its possession in Kashmir, Kargil and Jammu by March 31, 2016. These used to be constant irritants for successive governments. Army was not demeaned for holding up these lands and as such no politics was played and the army agreed to vacate the land. There was a critical issue of distribution of cash relief among the flood-hit for which too, the Governor got public kudos. Decision was taken in the SAC on February 25, 2016 to distribute Rs.1194 cr. as additional financial assistance to owners of flood damaged houses and affected traders. The distribution work started on March 14 and in 12 days, over Rs 958 cr. was transferred into bank accounts of the concerned house owners and Kashmir’s traders, benefitting 1.72 lakh persons. Why it could not be done in the “popular” government?
Even matters like dredging of Jhelum River that was constantly neglected by the engineers and led to devastating floods in 2014, caught immediate attention. Nearly 8 lakh cubic metre of silt was removed from Jhelum against a target of 10.13 lakh cubic metre by March 2016. Vohra himself made two spot inspections during this period.
The National Food Security Act was implemented even though its approval was accorded during Omar government. Taking note of people’s protest on uniformly fixed monthly ration, it increased from 5kg per head to 7 kg per head so that a family of five gets 35 kg ration every month from April 1 as before. People got happy.
Other important decisions taken included a first ever policy on appointments of Government Advocates, industrial policy, approval of Jammu Master plan, monitoring by CS headed committee of implementation of PM’s Rs 80,000-crore developmental package, termination of services of 100 long absentees doctors , implementation of Free Drug Policy, Amendments to J&K Medical Education (Gazetted) Service recruitment Rules to conform to MCI norms, media policy and self-attestation of documents. Timeline has been given to the administration to complete the departmental enquiries against government servants and issue prosecution in already proven cases of corruption.
Another important decision taken by the Governor was to complete the process of local urban bodies’ elections and Panchayat elections. Following amendment of the J&K Municipal Corporation Act and the J&K Municipal Corporation (Election) Rules, EVMs will be used for the first time in municipal elections. Local urban bodies’ elections are due for five years now but successive governments kept dilly-dallying it. The tentative schedule for elections stood approved.
Interestingly, former CM Omar Abdullah echoed his father’s comments on Governor’s Rule made 19 years ago and said that people are enjoying the Governor rule in the State. Many citizens in both regions are wondering why Governor Rule is ending so soon?
All these actions proved that if there is commitment and sincerity in the top the State administration can deliver. This has put the in-coming Mehbooba government to test to similarly deliver by following the footsteps of the Governor. Politics must take a back seat and so should other unproductive political issues that generate unnecessary passions and polarization on religious or regional lines. Opposition parties would try to drag Mehbooba and her alliance partner on sensitive issues of Article 370, beef, State flag, AFSPA, transfer of power projects and likes but they should avoid getting in to such narrative as these would lead to mutual bickering on one hand and polarization of people on the other.
Similar responsibility is also cast on BJP leadership and Modi in particular to be seen to be helping the State in every possible manner and desist from making controversies every now and then. Both PDP and BJP should keep in mind that educated youth is being attracted to militancy which is showing alarming signs of getting increased public support. How effectively it is handled and how the youth is weaned away from it would be closely watched in the country.
So, Mehbooba has the most challenging task ahead. While Mufti Sayeed was an insightful politician and master of statecraft, she is a naïve in many ways but she has to prove the faith reposed by her father in her. By bringing Baig and Karra on board for continuing alliance with BJP she has shown her political maturity. As Chief Minister she has to make herself acceptable leader of all areas and all sections of the people and not of one region and a particular section of population. For it, she needs to follow Mufti saab’s legacy.
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