The people of Kashmir have given India yet another chance to work out a reasonable, equitable and a long term solution to the 60-year-old problem. It is just as well that better sense prevailed in both the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference and the Congress and they have chosen the right man to usher in the changes.
Omar Abdullah brings several strengths to the office of the chief minister. He is young, and hence embodies the idealism, earnestness, and freshness of youth. He carries a clean image unsullied by the dirty waters of politics. He does not carry his father’s baggage: implementation of Prevention Of Terrorists Act (POTA), the institution of Special Task Force and the discredited 1987 elections. And he is a man of ideas. He understands what the state needs of him and what New Delhi demands of the state. His biggest challenge would be to balance the two strings and ensure that they don’t pull in opposite direction.
An even bigger challenge that the elections have thrown up is for the Union government to understand that this opportunity should not be squandered away by petty politicking or trying to break the Separatists’ ranks by playing one against the other.
Also as the new chief minister gets busy with the issues of governance, New Delhi should not fool itself by believing that the Kashmir issue will resolve itself. As several commentators have been saying, and as indeed Omar Abdullah told FORCE on the eve of polling in Srinagar city (see interview), “It is not that people do not agree with their (Separatists’) point of view or that everybody who voted wants a solution within the Constitution of India. But this (the elections) showed people’s desire to negate the Hurriyat propaganda and use their vote constructively.” And constructive engagement is what New Delhi should be getting busy with, both with the elected representatives of the Kashmiri people and others who have worked on permutations of autonomy, self-rule and so on.
Any regular Kashmir-watcher knows how little it takes to swing mood and situation in the state. In the summer of 2008 when FORCE visited the Valley and wrote Changing Kashmir on the cover (June 2008), the state was flushed with tourists and the main political parties, J&K National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) were already in the election mood even though the schedule had not been announced by the Election Commission of India. The Separatists were despondent. Sajad Lone of People’s Conference told FORCE, “Eighteen years of violence has taken the toll on the people. They are tired, they have lost a lot and they now want to get on with their lives. But this does not mean that the sentiment for freedom is dead. Perhaps, people are waiting for a new leader, who can bring new hope with him.”