Centre’s Jammu and Kashmir playbook goes down to the grassroots

New Delhi wants to move away from past set pieces, break political hegemonies and put different actors on the political chessboard

July 21, 2019 11:01 pm | Updated July 22, 2019 10:42 am IST - New Delhi

The Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly. File

The Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly. File

This Parliament session saw the extension of President’s Rule in Jammu and Kashmir by another six months. At the same time, Union Home Minister Amit Shah spoke of devolution of powers and grassroots democracy in the State for which panchayat and urban local body elections were held last year.

Extending Central rule while promoting grassroots democracy may appear to be contradictory, but the decisions taken under the rule of the Governor and now of the President give some understanding of the method in what the Centre is attempting in the State.

The Centre’s approach seems to be to concentrate on delivery of basic services without the intervention of local worthies and in a rule-based manner; removal of the vast discretionary powers of the political executive (already enshrined in governance reforms in other States); and devolving enough funds to local governments so that, if not creating a completely new political landscape, then at least green shoots of an alternative political discourse will flourish.

Governance reforms

Many of the over 300 decisions taken by the State’s administration in the past year are already part of the governance framework of other States. From something as basic as the Budget Estimation and Management System (BEAMS) for expenditure management and transfer of expenditure allocation from the planning and development department to finance to elimination of interviews for employment in Class IV category, several reforms have been implemented. Significantly, the State also got its first Anti-Corruption Bureau, with six new police stations under its remit. Income-tax searches and an RBI-led audit on the Jammu and Kashmir Bank and arrests among its top management has shaken the Valley, as it is the main banking entity in the State maintaining commercial relationships with a wide section from the working class to the political elite and even separatists.


The action on the bank in particular is being watched carefully in the State, with the mix of politics and big money being a potent force that could damage many reputations and have an impact on the political landscape.

Panchayat elections as an idea for local self-governance and connecting with the local people is not new. The Manmohan Singh government had tried it too, with the previous elections held in 2010. This time around, the elections will be followed by the flow of ₹2,400 crore in funds from the 14th Finance Commission’s award and an additional ₹900 crore from Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS).

New patterns of power

The Centre’s hopes are, however, pinned more on the political dividends accruing from at least some of the over 4,000 sarpanchs elected developing enough ambition to enter State politics through the Assembly elections.

The larger plan is to break the stranglehold of existing political hegemonies and replace them with new ones, a process that has been done in other States by the BJP in terms of the caste dominance of Jats in Haryana, Marathas in Maharashtra and other communities in various States.

However, much depends on just how much these efforts will end the alienation felt by the youth of the Valley and whether or not Pakistan decides to escalate matters. As a domestic policy, however, it is clear that the Centre wants to move away from the set pieces and put in place different actors on the political chessboard, actors who would be not only new but also devise new moves.

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