“You can sway a thousand men by appealing to their prejudices quicker than you can convince one man by logic.” - Robert A. Heinlein
I wish I could epitomise my reaction to Amit Shah’s recent address in Baramulla with a different quote or aphorism. But what we witnessed was the much expected use of unsubstantiated polemic against local parties to cover for his party’s own failures in Jammu & Kashmir, especially after the abrogation of Article 370.
Anyway, for starters, while it is always respectful to pause for the Azaan, the party’s media ecosystem celebrated it like a huge PR stunt. With regard to the venue, surprisingly Baramulla was chosen over Srinagar for this supposedly grand event. Maybe this was done on the inputs of the party’s B-team and C-team who wanted to press their home-turf advantage in the area.
“Democracy has reached the villages of Kashmir under Modi” stood out as his most ironic remark, as it comes at a time when democratic politics remains completely suspended in J&K. Today’s J&K is in fact a grotesque cross between a bureaucratic behemoth and a police state, where the common public finds itself languishing in the corridors of a Kafkaesque labyrinth. It was in fact the National Conference government under Farooq Abdullah that passed the J&K Panchayati Raj Act in 1989, and brought democracy to the very grassroots of the state, four years before Panchayati Raj under 73rd amendment came into force in the rest of India.
Vilification of Political Parties of J&K
But quite visibly, the most favourite theme of the Home Minister’s address was the repeated vilification of the established political parties of Jammu & Kashmir. Interestingly, one of these two parties was in power 8 long years back while the other one was, a few years back, in coalition with the BJP itself.
Going by his narrative, these parties seem to have ruled over a stone-age era realm which was suddenly ushered into modernity by the BJP.
However, socio-economic gains like literacy rate (77 percent), infant mortality (less than 20), life expectancy (74 years) and population growth rate (11 percent) could not have been achieved with the wave of a magic wand overnight. This is the result of arduous work by successive past governments over a long time horizon. In response to Shah’s challenge seeking a list of accomplishments, Farooq Abdullah has already released a thorough (but not exhaustive) list of major accomplishments of our past governments.
Rather than acknowledging the sacrifices that members of the local political parties made during militancy, the Home Minister instead repeatedly blamed their leadership for having handed over the means of violence to the youth! Over 7000 NC workers, 18 MLA’s including 4 cabinet ministers, and one parliament member were killed during militancy. My own father Ghulam Nabi Shaheen who was the Youth National Conference President and a legislator then (23rd May 1998), was attacked in Srinagar’s Qamarwari area, and lost one of his legs. Militancy brought with it an unimaginable struggle for him each and every day, a haunting childhood for me and my brother, and a home full of broken dreams for my mother.
However, after long and arduous efforts of the past governments, the 90’s era militancy had been successfully extinguished by the early 2000s. But it suddenly came back to life in 2016 under the rule of Shah’s own party. Subsequently, the ghastly Pulwama attack that created near-war tensions in the region, also took place under the very nose of their own administration.
Economic Development in J&K
When it comes to economic development, it is very disappointing that even after 8 years of being in power (first as part of the coalition and later as administrators of the UT), the Home Minister continues to speak in future tense regarding jobs, development and infrastructure projects. Supposedly, ‘a 56000 crore investment has arrived in J&K which is going to create 5 lakh jobs for the youth’! Most of these promises may fructify on some dreamy, distant date in the future but until then, they may form the meaty, appetising part of speeches.
The harsh reality of our job market is that the administration has failed to conduct even the most routine recruitment exams for various government positions with integrity, itself citing irregularities and eventually scrapping the process completely. This has left thousands of qualified youth and their families in the lurch. While Shah gleefully cited the figures of the recent tourist footfall, portraying them as metrics of normalcy and prosperity, the less glamorous horticulture sector which is the larger contributor to our economy has been reeling under artificially created pressures. This sector is deliberately being put under supply chain bottlenecks causing losses worth millions to our fruit growers across the valley.
There is a huge gap between the set narrative and the ground reality in J&K. For me, it has barely come as a surprise that the Home Minister has chosen to peddle a clichéd story in which the local leaders are wily, decadent and corrupt, while his own lot has suddenly shined the light of progress and prosperity on an otherwise miserable population. How many takers this concocted story has in Jammu & Kashmir, only time will tell.
(Sarah Hayat Shah is a political activist in Jammu and Kashmir. She also heads the IT/SM Wing for the Jammu & Kashmir National Conference (JKNC) currently. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)