Omar Abdullah is the most fortunate of all chief ministers. Thanks to an
enduring third-fourth generation friendship between the Abdullah dynasty and
the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, he not only has direct access to 10 Janpath but also
a warm friendship with Rahul Gandhi, the man whose wishes are commands for
everyone in the Congress party. No chief minister in the country, no senior
Congress leader, enjoys such unconditional support from the Congress high command.
For example, the prime minister and the home minister publicly
supported Omar when large sections of the Kashmiri populace rose in revolt
against him in 2010.
That is why it is puzzling that he has made the withdrawal of
the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) such an unpleasant controversy
involving a public confrontation with the army chief as well as the defence
minister. If he was serious, he would have first withdrawn the draconian Public
Safety Act - a J&K Act using which his government has arrested thousands of
teenagers in Kashmir on charges of stone
pelting. He does not need the Centre's permission to do so.
Most people in Kashmir
think that the AFSPA issue is meant only to distract attention from the 120
avoidable killings during the 2010 agitation, and also the governance deficit
he is widely held responsible for. Most of all, he has put a lid on the issue
of his alleged involvement in the mysterious death of his party colleague Syed
Mohammad Yousuf. To top it all, he has won the support of all hues of
separatists. They are enjoying the spectacle of the army made to feel like an
occupation force and an open tussle between the home and the defence minister.
Not too long ago when the PDP had asked that
the AFSPA be revoked, Farooq Abdullah had hit out at them saying: "Those
who want AFSPA withdrawn should first surrender their own security." Do we
take it that Omar is ready to move around without any security in the three
districts from where he wants the AFSPA withdrawn?
The AFSPA can be revoked by the governor of
J&K or by the central government at the recommendation of the J&K
cabinet. If Omar were serious about withdrawing it, he would have first built a
consensus on this issue in his own cabinet. J&K Congress leaders have
openly expressed their displeasure at Omar making a full-blown media
controversy without even informing them about his intent.
Omar does not trust his cabinet colleagues, he could well have got the Congress
high command to get the home ministry, the defence ministry and the army chief
to agree to a mutually acceptable decision. In 2003, the PDP-Congress coalition
managed to revoke POTA without needless controversy because the then chief
Mohammad Sayeed, prepared the ground for it and presented it as a
The AFSPA should not be continued with. The
sooner the J&K police is equipped to take charge of security and law and
order issues, the better. However, during the past few years, the people's
anger and mistrust have been primarily directed at Omar's regime and the
J&K police, not the army.
In 2010, the ire of stone-pelting mobs was
directed at ruling party politicians, the J&K police and the CRPF - not at
the army. When Omar asked the army to intervene to put down the protests, the
army chief refused, telling Omar that handling public protests was the job of
the ruling administration. After great persuasion, the army agreed to no more
than a flag march on the outskirts of Srinagar.
Today, the army enjoys
far more goodwill in Kashmir than the current
political regime. The breakdown of governance has meant that villagers often
approach army officers for grievances regarding civic amenities such as
restoration of water supply and electricity. They don't go to their political
representatives or local officials because the army is more responsive. During
the years when the Abdullah family had abandoned the troubled Valley and made Delhi and London their home, the army, through
the Sadbhavna mission, partly filled the vacuum created by the breakdown of
civic infrastructure. It built schools, health centres, mini power projects for
rural electrification and roads. It had to take over many of the tasks meant to
be performed by the civilian administration and political leadership.
This is not to deny that the army is
implicated in several cases of human rights abuses. But it is not a rogue
organisation. It has built more self-correcting mechanisms than most of our
political parties. It has punished several officers guilty of abusing power. In
contrast, the wrongdoings of the J&K police and the state bureaucracy go
The army has learnt a lot from its mistakes.
But Omar and his party don't feel the need to learn any lessons; they can
always count on the support of the Congress high command to bail them out of
their self-created messes.
The Indian army will happily quit Kashmir if
the political establishments in Delhi and Srinagar are convinced
that its services are not needed. All they have to do is to take a considered
decision through due process instead of subjecting the army to needless public
humiliation and controversy.
First published by Times of
India (See link: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-11-18/edit-page/30410703_1_afspa-omar-abdullah-pdp-congress )