COLUMN SERIES | A Shift from Reactive to Proactive

Last year in August, when the Article 370 was scrapped, of the many reasons that the government cited for scrapping two were; that it impeded the pace of development in the state and that it gave rise to terrorism. A year after it was scrapped, it becomes important to examine what this decision has helped us to achieve? Have we been able to usher development in the region? What is the nature of this development and how far-reaching is it? Has it settled the age-old conundrum? Let’s do an objective review – without bias.

To be effective, all development gets initiated with a well-thought out and meticulous blueprint. Sharing the blueprint with the 1.25 crore population would ideally be the first and the foremost confidence-building measure taken by New Delhi. It could have been done soon after the initial post-abrogation ripples settled last year.

Instead, what we see is a rollout of policies and orders in a staggered fashion. Some of these orders include the one on domicility, allocation of mine excavation, houseboat policy for world-famous houseboats in the Dal Lake, stray announcements pertaining to 50,000 Kashmiri Pandit temples and so on. Such disparate policy decisions, perhaps, will encounter a challenge from the systems point of view.

A systems approach to development emphasizes the need to embrace an integrated plan, since individual systems and stakeholder groups impinge on one another in complex ways. Announcement on piecemeal basis and whimsical roll-out of projects makes for poor symbolism and leaves citizens and enthusiasts confused. There must be a limit to testing a citizen’s patience.

Development in Kashmir needs a blueprint which should be nailing down the key priority areas in different sectors. Lessons in governance drawn from across the world reveal that all said and done nothing pleases the citizenry more than proactive development. Proactive development is best achieved when the citizens collaborate actively.

One year on; what the citizens are expecting collectively is a measurable difference in the quality of their lives, which is yet to come. But they still hope that the long wait might  finally fructify into something that is a win-win for all. A holistic developmental framework is a right vehicle on this journey.

It is also the right time to begin gathering extensive data on the UT, across diverse socio-economic and socio-cultural parameters. This will help to create a massive lake of baseline data. This data can be deployed by planners and bureaucrats to devise solutions for a host of areas – from healthcare to education and from employment to agriculture. There must be equal emphasis on urban and rural areas. Such real-time data can help create real-time solutions to real-time problems.

For instance, a good data management strategy can involve segregating the areas of development and followed by micro-segregating those into even smaller portions. Each of these micro segments can be further split into measures over time – immediate, short-term, medium-term, and long-term. These measures can be divided into a set of activities that can help best achieve the intended outcome. Each of these activities can be mapped at regular intervals to contain deviation and pilferages.

At the same time, we must bear in mind that Kashmir is not a linear problem – it is not only a problem of violence; it is also a problem of the grassroots. Both need to be tackled at the same time; and one not ignored at the cost of another. Said that, development cannot be achieved by dropping just about anyone who shows the slightest inclination to manage affairs in Kashmir. Arm-chaired Kashmiris must not be expected to deliver much since their disconnect with the grassroots is as much that of arctic ice from the Himalayas.

Most of them have neither lived nor mingled with Kashmiri crowds in the recent decades, and we are expecting them to deal with Kashmir and Kashmiris without knowing them much. If these deployments are done for posturing, such posturing would eventually be detrimental to the long-term growth and peace of the region.

Scratch the surface and it is not difficult to understand that Kashmiris have been known to be very sentimental people; hurt their sentiments and they will remember you for ten lives; respect their sentiments and they will be indebted for entire span of the current one. You only must know where to draw the line.

Most governments tend to ignore this reality while dealing with Kashmiris. The administrative structure that the central government puts in place should be designed to have a wide array of developmental scientists, economists, bureaucrats, psychologists, and thought leaders who rise above parochial narratives and usher a performance-driven and time-based governance. In dealing with Kashmir and Kashmiris, one needs as much wit and wisdom as political skill.

Force may put Kashmiris down temporarily, but not get them out for ever. A resilient lot, Kashmiris have braved a lot through history, but risen time and again. Cracking into Kashmiri psyche properly can be the gateway to solving any levels of complexities arising out of the Valley.

Also, one of the biggest mistakes that successive governments in New Delhi have been making is to ignore the voice of the youth of the Valley. Here too we need a strong framework that is able to gather the aspirations of the youth right from the village-level to the block and the urban areas. To begin with, the government could have appointed any research group or social scientists to see what does an average 25- year-old youth from Kashmir expect from the Indian nation? The government could have also tried to assimilate an understanding of what a poor father of three in some decrepit part of Kashmir feels for his children and his family. Grassroots data gathering is primary for any proactive development.

The talented and thoughtful Kashmiri youth can be motivated and hand-held to embark on a path to entrepreneurship. From the cultural, artistic, ethnic, or tourism point of view the region offers countless opportunities. The government needs to be proactive to tap on each opportunity tactfully. Data on youth and their aspirations need to be matched with the actual entrepreneurial potential on the ground. A well-planned entrepreneurial strategy can not only employ people but also enable them to become employers.

Over the past one year many enterprising youth who had forayed into startup domains had to wind up. Broadly, 70 percent of Kashmir’s youth are below the age of 35 and 63 percent of them are below the age of 30. The human potential of the youth in helping transform the union territory is unquestionable. Must we add 78 percent of the valley’s total male population is literate, and the literacy rate among unemployed male youth aged 15-24 is above 93 percent.

Also, think of any other union territory, and you come across its character. Why does Jammu and Kashmir, that invited guests from the world over, appear characterless now? It is as much a responsibility of New Delhi as it is of its citizens to accord it a character again. Effective leadership is the need of the hour to accomplish this.

Embracing a new developmental framework also means that the political narratives and political structures can change. The government can create a robust communication framework, within the holistic developmental framework, which can help define myriad things – from people to people communication to  government to people exchanges.

For a government determined to prove that UT-hood is not a mere symbolic gesture the climb is steep and challenging. But this can be an easy walk if it is able to interpret the signs accurately. This is perhaps a turning point in the history of Kashmir that will define its future. The government can use this opportunity to latch on to the developmental train and herald a new future for the region and the valley. Kashmir is now poised for greatness and we must not fritter away the opportunity. Let’s act.

Dr Sanjay Parva is a Kashmir-born writer and thinker  and Dr Asim Chowdhury an academic and independent researcher. They can be reached at iknowparva@gmail.com.