Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Leadership Challenges in a Coalition

Shuhab describes various challenges facing the incoming Chief Minister

(Shuhab Hashmi, 39, was born in Baramulla, and graduated from the Degree College in Sopore, and completed his M.A. from the University of Kashmir. He is a Columnist, and in his spare time enjoys reading, discussions and traveling.)

Problem path for Omar Abdullah

Omar Abdullah's landing in the most coveted post in Jammu and Kashmir is being seen as the continuation of the transformation that has been witnessed in Indian politics with the new generation taking over the responsibility of affairs.

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee even quoted Omar's example during an interaction in Chennai on January 8 and made it known to people of India that the probability of Rahul Gandhi taking up the top job of Prime Minister in the country is highly likely. He was visibly upbeat while saying that one of the most important states in India was now being governed by a 38-year-old youth. Earlier this distinction was associated with Prafulla Kumar Mahanta only, who became Chief Minister of Assam in early 80s at the age of 30. So all eyes are set on Omar; set to see whether he is able to deliver on ground or not.

But given the fact that this scion of Abdullah family is not heading a single party government but is tied to the wedding knot of coalition between National Conference and Congress, things may not as easy as they may appear. Congress has a dubious distinction of making and breaking the coalitions in the state. History of Kashmir politics is a testimony to that. Though Omar wanted to start the innings on a high moral ground and with an indication of his being impeccable in dealings and execution but the tatters have started becoming visible. Leaving politics in Jammu and Kashmir aside, as it may not be the area where he would immediately burn his fingers, governance is something people have started looking at. The governance which is needed in the State at this juncture, and about which Omar and his father, Farooq Abdullah talked enough during elections, is the biggest challenge before him. To see that dream of people come true, the main stumbling block to be overcome is the menace of corruption in the state for which politicians, bureaucracy and the people are equally responsible, as they supplement each other to feed their interests.

It is a fact that Omar is dependent on Congress for its support to run the government and he cannot dictate to his coalition partners, especially on the issues of choosing the people for pivotal positions or assigning the ministerial berths. But the message, which has gone down to the people on the first day, is that the coalition will not be as clean as one could expect. There were many surprises, and shocking ones, as the people who are tainted and have been involved in scandals have found their way to the cabinet. One of them who grabbed the top job in the Congress was under fire from his own party's MP who levelled serious charges against him. The other one had to resign as a sitting MLA levelled charges of corruption against him on the floor of the House. What is the outcome of investigations into that matter is not known, but of hand it has sent a signal about how the new dispensation is going to take off. Against these choices the Congress sidelined one of its most reputed leaders, Chowdhary Mohammad Aslam, who returned to Assembly for the sixth time and has been Speaker of Assembly besides being Pradesh Congress Chief. Another junior-most MLA was inducted in the Cabinet only to cool down tempers between the two leaders who had fought elections in the adjacent constituencies. These choices in any case are not acceptable to ensure a system of transparency and corruption free government. This is also a fact that these ministers were duly elected by public but that is not the measuring rod for being above board, that too with latest controversies surrounding them.

This is the first uncomfortable situation Omar might be facing though publicly he would refuse to indulge in the issue saying that it is Congress' prerogative. The Congress culture which has its imprint in the state comes with these "misadventures". Going by the reports, the Congress has also bargained heavily on portfolios and has staked claim for the most of the developmental ministries, which are considered to be "lucrative". Here they have a point that they sacrificed the Chief Minister's post for six years. But putting the right man in the right job should have been left to the Chief Minister who has to lead the team in a crucial state like Jammu and Kashmir. Omar is very much confident in saying that he has stitched the coalition at the highest level in Delhi and what according to him "Mufti could not do in 20 days I did in less than an hour". His friendship with Rahul Gandhi did work out the coalition arrangement, but will that cast its shadow on the functioning of the government at the state level is difficult to predict. The way the Congress in the state has started behaving in the coalition arrangement, there seems to be no guarantee for a "clean and transparent" government.

Omar, at his maiden press conference in Jammu, on Friday, parried questions on the issue as he was in company of this "tainted lot" only and does not want to push to the wall his coalition partners. In his own way he is handling the situation in the manner, which would befit him at this juncture. But he has to keep an eye on the system, which he is to lead. For this, strengthening the State Vigilance Organisation and State Accountability Commission (SAC) should be his top priority. He has conceded that SAC has no teeth and its parameters need to be changed.

However, he has to see that it does not become a redundant body as it is right now, like the State Human Rights Commission, which recommends action to the government, but nothing actually happens on the ground. For him, the real challenge is clean government and not the politics as he himself says, "Separatists are demanding Azadi from New Delhi and not from the J & K Government". So Mr. Omar Abdullah let you not disappoint people on governance front; politics will be taken care of by those who can handle it!

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