Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Kashmiri Biryani

Omar Abdullah becomes the latest native son and heir to the Abdullah dynasty to assume the position of chief minister of Kashmir. This of course follows that many analysts and experts are calling has been a highly successful round of state-wide elections in Kashmir – despite the call by radical separatists to boycott the elections. With a turnout that saw over 50 percent of Kashmiri voters turn out to exercise their franchise, the conflict-ridden state once again ushers in a new era of coalition government - and perhaps rightly so.

After appearing triumphant by winning 28 seats in the state assembly, Omar Abdullah’s National Conference (NC) party has reportedly reached agreement with the Congress party – which won 21 seats - to form a coalition government in the state. Indeed, with the People’s Democratic Party and the BJP winning 21 and 11 seats respectively, the state will also have a healthy opposition to keep the government on its toes.

The Abdullah family imprint, of course, goes back to prominence of Omar’s grandfather – Sheik Abdullah – who did much to promote the cause of Kashmiris. Succeeded by the towering Farooq Abdullah, Kashmir underwent a period of relative harmony, economic growth, and development. The decade of the 1970s and 1980s especially saw literacy rates rise and young Kashmiris enjoyed unprecedented levels of access to higher education. Economic conditions remained relatively stable as considerable government efforts saw large investments in infrastructure development including gains in housing and access to electricity in previously remote areas of the state.

Yet, history has a tendency to play cruel tricks. More than anything else, it was widespread resentment against Farooq Abdullah and, interestingly enough, the Congress party’s manipulation of local politics that triggered intense conflict in the Kashmir valley in the later 198os. Exploited by various extremists, separatists, and conditioned by regional contingencies, the flare-up in Kashmir remained stoked and tenuous.

Perhaps the Abdullah-Congress alliance will prove more worthy this time around and carry out the will of the people with a greater sense of temperance and transparency, and once again restore the progress the state experienced in the decades of the 1970s and 1980s.

Through their preference for the NC and Congress, at least the Kashmiri voters have made it known that – more than any other entities and persuasions – they prefer moderate and pragmatic politics. What they want now is for their elected leaders to address their needs. It is not violence or extremism that they subscribe to. Much like Kashmiri biryani itself, they have called for a flavourful confluence of pragmatic forces – both those in government and in the opposition - to, again, renew the vigour of this Indian state.

G. Krishnan