Through the prism

Jammu and Kashmir: The Politics of Flood

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Will PM Modi be able to work the same magic in Kashmir, as he did in 2001 in Kutch?

The rains have stopped. The water has receded. People have been rescued. Some have fled the city, but many continue to stay behind to gather the pieces. The damage has been done. The picturesque city has become a city of despair.

And with being a city of hopelessness, it has also become a hotbed of politics. The flood has seemingly changed something in Kashmir.

A state prone to violence and terror has tragically, after succumbing to nature’s fury, is now becoming a playground of politics. This is India. Nothing stays ‘apolitical’ after all. Everything is political. Kashmir’s disaster is no different.

From get go, some news-starved commentators had started doing political calculations. It came in heed with Narendra Modi’s quick response to the J&K flood. After all last year, when Uttrakhand was destroyed by the rains and floods, it took days for Manmohan Singh to understand the scale and gravity of the situation. Unlike Manmohan, Modi took the initiative immediately with himself coordinating the government’s response to the region’s worst flooding in more than half a century. Declaring the state calamity as national calamity, announcing a relief package of Rs 1,000 crore, surveying the damage by air and holding meetings to ensure residents receive food, water and shelter, he impressed everyone. He acted and did what was expected out of him to do. This is the responsibility, the duty of the Prime Minister of the country to take a toll of the situation, which has engraved his country.

However, the process of rebuilding the city could very well be labelled as ‘political’. It is not surprising, after all by the end of the year, J&K would have gone to elections.

That is why the flood fury could be a usable news for the parties and the politicians of all sides. It may become the excuse for postponing the elections. The buzz around is that a Presidential rule might even be imposed in the valley for six months, putting on hold the elections. What would this mean then?

With Congress missing in action, people’s over spilling anger with Omar Abdullah and his National Conference Party’s misrule for most of its 67 year existence, and the current mismanagement with the flood, he and his party could find difficulty staying afloat. This could well give an opportunity to the BJP to establish its foothold. J&K/Srinagar, which enjoys the special status, has been ignored by the central ruling. It could therefore well become the political, administrative laboratory for the Central Government, Modi and for the BJP president, Amit Shah.

It might be the first of the biggest problem that has come across Modi in his four months as Prime Minister. But PM Modi is no stranger to such situations.

During the time of Keshubhai Patel, Gujarat was failing in relief and rehabilitation of the cities that were hit by the earthquake. Modi that time was a minister in Keshubhai’s cabinet. He was so annoyed with the unresponsive action that he complained to the senior leaders of the party in Delhi. Soon after, Keshubhai was sacked and Modi was anointed as the Chief Minister. In his time, Modi played an instrumental and key role in rebuilding the city. In no time, the cities were rehabilitated and had begun to prosper. Many had started calling the quake as a ‘blessing in disguise’.

Now India may lack the resilience to build back a city from destruction, but somehow building back Kutch could be seen as a model example of rebuilding. It therefore, provides an opportunity for the central government, the BJP to showcase to the Kashmiris and to everyone the resilience, and its commitment in striving to work for its people. Of course there is a difference in the situation of Kutch and Kashmir. For once, Kashmir’s flood is partly a man made calamity. It was a tragedy called by men themselves. Jean Jacques Rousseau had rightly recognised that if nature made the wound, it was human beings themselves who had held the knife. We saw it in Uttrakhand and we see it again in Srinagar. The stubbornness of the people to live along picturesque coastlines and the river valley aggravates the problem. It provides for the developers to backfill and build on wetlands that would otherwise act as natural flood buffers. In the aftermath of two such tragedies, it is needed that the government keeps in mind the danger which building along the river line posses.

The tragedy also allows PM Modi and his sarkar to re-build a model smart city. After all it is one of the top priorities in PM Modi’s ‘TO DO’ list – building 100 smart cities. Srinagar may not have been in the consideration, but the otherwise calm Jhelum’s unruly behaviour of engulfing the city with its waters, has given a chance to Modi and his men to build the city back to its glory.

So will PM Modi now be able to work the same magic in Kashmir as he did in 2001 at Kutch? Coming days will tell. Modi’s sarkar initial response has been more efficient and quicker. And there has been a start but it’s a long road to recovery.

Either way, elections happen or they don’t happen it will be a politically charged winter in the valley. And along with bringing the city out of its nightmare, there will be a shift in the political dynamics of the valley.