Though the Indian government has been successful in establishing a transparent electoral process in Jammu & Kashmir, the governance deficit that was the most needed currency to integrate the mindset prevailing in the Valley has not happened. People needed development after years of Pakistan sponsored militancy. People needed jobs. And people needed a government that sounded and acted caring enough on these basic needs of life. Figures show the process has failed to take off.
In 2004, the Central Government had announced a package of Rs. 24,000 Crore for J&K reconstruction. The main emphasis was to be on employment generation and infrastructure development. Of these Rs. 24000 crore, only Rs. 7800 crore have been released so far and just half of the projects announced have been completed (and it is 12 years already!).
Udaan, a Central Government initiative, was extended to J&K in 2012 with aims to train and employ some 40,000 Kashmiri youths. The state has been able to reach out to just 8000 youngsters so far. Also, there have been reports that the Kashmir youth is not interested in low paying jobs being offered.
J&K’s unemployment rate is 5.3 percent. According to an NSSO report released this February, India’s urban unemployment rate was 3.4 percent while the figure for the rural India stood at 1.7 percent. This gap tells tales especially when we see that J&K drags on its growth figures – some 2.5 percent lower than the national average.
That is a real worry for a state where 70 percent of its 12 million population is below the age of 31, i.e., 8.4 million. Reports say as much as 7,00,000 of the working age youths are unemployed in the Valley. A report by Mercy Corps, a US based agency, scales up the unemployment figures in the Valley to as high as 48 percent. And why it becomes the root cause of periodic cycles of unrest, triggered by the developments like Burhan Wani’s encounter killing or death of civilians by the security forces, becomes clear by the fact that the Valley has around 30,000 militants roaming in the society. They are either out on bail or have served their terms.
The huge pool of the unemployed youth is a goldmine for them to harness and that is what they are doing, especially after the tough measures adopted by the security forces that have significantly reduced the infiltration from across the border, and thus the availability of the foreign militants. Pakistan and the terror handlers based there now have adopted the strategy to recruit local youth and the ongoing unrest over Burhan Wani’s killing would only serve their purpose.
The government of India needs to crack down here. It needs to establish its connect with the Kashmiri youth in order to disconnect them from the radicalizing machinery of terror handlers like Hafiz Saeed and Syed Salahuddin. How can the government of India do that?
Make them more invested in India’s future. Make their dependence on India mutual. Create the atmosphere where they can look up to – for jobs, for future security – let them feel for Delhi in the same way as they feel for Srinagar. Motivate them to fan out of J&K for their career prospects. Give them inspirational stories like Shah Faesal, the 2009 IAS topper. Don’t single them out if they become over expressive at times like Shah has been in the recent unrest episode. See it in the context that 10 candidates from J&K have cracked the civil services examination this year. Even the 55 vacancies of the Indian Army last year attracted over 20,000 youths to the recruitment centre. So, there is a need and you need to be there to cater to it – in order to win them.
The Hizbul Mujahideen led terrorism that began in 1989 has killed some 90,000 people in the Valley. The terrorism years built on exploiting the secessionist sentiments of the so-called separatists that was basically fuelled from Pakistan with its state actors like ISI and various terror handlers acting as proxies. Now that we are in an effective situation to keep an effective check on these activities – India can effectively deny the terror handlers and Pakistan the local, physical access to the Valley – we need to begin on a process of reconciliation. And the primacy of that lies in ignoring “who did what”. Don’t we know that “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”?
After 27 years, it’s a new generation in J&K now – and the population is youth driven. Its concerns would be entirely different from the generation that helped build the wave of militancy in the Valley, a generation that cannot be expected to show their kids the right way – the path to reconciliation with India. It has left the Valley youth alienated. They don’t know where to go. If they have to look up to someone, they have figures like Salahuddin whose family is comfortably settled in J&K with its members in government jobs or Burhan Wani’s father, a school teacher. They are fighting the state while living off its perks. So, it’s all muddled up.
The government needs to exploit those concerns first – the primary concerns of the youth we all know – jobs, career and future security. Give them avenues for these faster than the separatists reach out to them to radicalize. Take care of the aspirations of this generation and J&K is yours as any other Indian state is. The Indian security forces are now capable enough to guards its borders effectively so AFSPA can safely be removed from the internal parts of the state.
It’s like who will take the first step first – and Delhi should take the first step as a big brother. It will go a long way in patching things up. If Pakistan can ratchet up its propaganda machinery, why can’t we match it up, why can’t we overdo it? Prime minister Narendra Modi has announced an ambitious package of Rs. 80,000 crore for J&K but he needs to ensure that it reaches out to the intended beneficiaries and reaches out fast. Of the Rs. 80,000 crore announced, the state is expected to get Rs. 6,000 crore this year. Both the governments, at the Centre and in Srinagar, need to see that they take the immediate measures to sooth the nerves and development is the best diversion for it. And while doing so, they need to act tough to check out the leakages and official corruption that the state saw in the relief and rescue operations in the aftermath of the devastating 2014 floods that plagued the whole operation.