Confirmation of Omar Abdullah&’s charge that New Delhi “listens” only when Kashmir is burning is available from the lack of response to his rather ominous statement a few days back advising the Centre not to take the present calm “for granted”. It is true that the Chief Minister has failed to provide the competent governance that is the best “counter” to public frustration and alienation.
It is equally true that he tends to overdo the part he demands the Centre play in resolving all problems. Yet there can be no denying that the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir&’s special status is for New Delhi to work out. Maybe he expected too much after the rather successful visit of the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi; he certainly was entitled to hope the positive atmosphere that prevailed would have influenced the national leadership to believe it was an opportune time to take the process forward. Alas that was not to be, and another episode in the 66-year-long tragedy serial has been played out: which authenticates Omar&’s theory about New Delhi&’s “misconception” that peace in Kashmir was permanent.
Oblique endorsement of that came from a key Army commander, in an independent media interaction, mentioning an increase in the number of militants awaiting infiltration opportunities.
Both emotional and articulate, Omar would secure public resonance for his contention that, “By design or default we have given this impression to the people in the state that we only engage with them when there is trouble.” If New Delhi cared to calculate the number of reports, from a range of agencies, that have been ignored it would realise how counter-productive has been the ploy of appointing panels as a fire-fighting measure: hopes are raised, contemptuously dashed.
The resentment has accumulated over the years, long before Omar assumed authority, and the sores keep festering. We once had a minister for Kashmir affairs, the present Prime Minister had set up a set of expert groups, then the non-official group claimed to have come up with promising proposals after several visits (at sarkari expense).
A sense of betrayal is inescapable: Narasimha Rao declared the “sky is the limit”, Vaypayee spoke of insaniyaat, Manmohan Singh has uttered similar sweet-nothings. In a shift in stance triggered by ground realities, Omar has diluted his demand for scrapping AFSPA to modifying some of its more harsh provisions. Again, no response. All creating conditions in which pleas for “autonomy” could well revert to screams for azadi.
Tasks before Mahanta
The crisis in the Asom Gana Parishad following the drubbing it received in the recently-held Guwahati Municipal Corporation elections seems to be steadily getting worse. Hard on the heels of seven senior members quitting the central executive committee last month, comes the report of Atul Bora, one of the party stalwarts, resigning and switching his allegiance to the BJP.
Bora deserted the party in 2000 to form the Trinamul Gana Parishad but returned to the parent body on its 23rd foundation day in October 2008. So did the splintered AGP (Progressive) headed by Prafulla Kumar Mahanta. Those who have resigned so far want senior leaders to step down to pave the way for young people to join, rejuvenate the party and reassert the relevance of regionalism.
By implication, it means a change in the top hierarchy. Mahanta (now AGP chief) faces a difficult task in restoring the party to its original shape. For one, he no longer enjoys the people&’s or the party&’s confidence after he tarnished his image as well as that of the party&’s when a secretariat employee in 2001 alleged she had married Mahanta (then chief minister) at a temple in Mumbai in March that year after a two-year affair.
The AGP lost the Assembly elections that year, and when Mahanta found it difficult to continue as party chief, he quit in December 2001. The AGP, however, accepted him after he “exonerated” himself of charges, which he described as “concocted, imaginary and baseless” and that she had exploited his "generosity". Of greater significance is the fact that the All Assam Students’ Union, whose agitation against illegal immigration brought student leaders to power in 1986, has distanced itself from Mahanta since 1990 after his government failed to implement the Illegal Migration (Determination by Tribunals) Act, 1983 (repealed by the Supreme Court in 2005). If Mahanta fails to rejuvenate the party, it could well ring the death-knell of the biggest regional party in the North-east.
Disgruntled AGP members are attracted to the BJP because of its determination to stop illegal migration if it comes to power . The present BJP state chief, Sarbananda Sonowal, was Aasu president for several years and chairman of the North East Students’ Organisation before joining the national party a few months before the 2011 Assembly elections.
It is he who had filed a petition to the Supreme Court for repeal of the IM(DT) Act. If the AGP is to reassert itself, it needs to align with other regional parties and come to terms with segments of the population on common problems.