Sunday, July 11, 2010

The ethic of irresponsibility

Omar Abdullah, the telegenic chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir, certainly has many faults, but discourtesy cannot be counted among them. His record as CM is mixed at best, and this blog has always regarded young dynasts with cynicism. But throughout his political career (now over a decade in frontline politics), the son of Farooq and grandson of Sheikh Abdullah has displayed a commitment to civility that is all-too-rare in our public discourse. This commitment lends itself to effective bipartisanship (a concept virtually unheard of in today's Indian political scene). The present situation in J & K, the worst since the summer troubles of 2008, owes more than a little to Omar's inexperience and lack of political skill. But his decision to call an All-Parties' Meet is, I think, an admirable one.

Unfortunately, this meet is rendered meaningless by the decision of the Leader of the Opposition, Mehbooba Mufti of the People's Democratic Party (PDP)- and, by extension, her father, alcoholic former CM Mufti Mohammad Sayeed- not to attend the conference. This is despite the intervention of the Prime Minister, who called Mehbooba to implore her to attend.

The PDP argues that to attend would give the Omar Abdullah government undue legitimacy. But it already has that legitimacy, in the form of a clear electoral mandate and a significant (coalition) majority in the assembly. By continuing to call for the premature resignation of an elected government, by using the politics of street populism over responsible parliamentarianism, the PDP is just as guilty, if not more, than the National Conference (no matter how incompetent its decisions, such as requesting Army help in Srinagar, are judged) of failing to solve the present malaise.

The abdication of its duty by the elected opposition is an utterly pervasive disease in Indian politics. It is visible most noticeably, of course, at the Lok Sabha level, where the Opposition inevitably chooses the parliamentary boycott or, failing that, the Bharat bandh, over the legislative debate. Yet it is equally true in every state in the country. It is just that Mehbooba's abdication of this duty is likely to have disastrous and even bloody consequences, so fragile is any state of peace in the Valley. All our states would benefit from bipartisanship and a responsible Opposition, but without these things, Kashmir is always in danger of a return to outright chaos.