Public trust is not won by rhetoric alone
Published on April 02, 2017

Public trust is not won by rhetoric alone

Public trust is not won by rhetoric alone

After the unrest of past year, which actually consumed much of 2016, the situation in Kashmir once again seems drifting towards similar chaos. And again it is the same actors on both sides of the political divide who are involved -- as none of the two sides seem to have drawn necessary lessons from what happened last year. While the separatists are, as always, ready to latch on every single opportunity to precipitate a crisis for the government, the latter too continues to show similar insensitivity and belligerence which had cost it much of face and credibility last year. So as the conditions are at present, Kashmir seems steadily inching towards yet another bout of unrest, even though neither the common people here, nor the government, or the separatists could afford it once again.

It is really unfortunate that unmindful of the changed times and situations, the governments at Srinagar and New Delhi, as well as the separatists have accorded their respective politics the honour of status quo. Still more unfortunate is that it is the ordinary people who have to suffer unnecessary and avoidable trauma that comes as necessary collateral because those at the political helm are resistant to change. No wonder then the sure-loser confrontations involving the state forces and the general public have become a norm.

As the hindsight has it, use of force against the civilian population has always been a readymade trigger for popular anger and unrest, yet the State has continuously refused to use it sparingly and with calculated moderation. No doubt, State has a legal right to use force whenever situation merits so, but this force has also to be legitimate, or else it ends up creating more problems rather than solving any.

Kashmir history bears witness the State’s use of force has always been viewed as “illegitimate and excessive” by the recipient population, and has as such been the cause of constant turmoil here. Despite this being how it is – the State has constantly failed to evolve with ways and means which could undo this popular perception. This is despite the fact that each time the State has resorted to use of deadly force against the civilian population, it has set in motion a chain reaction of recurrent waves of angry public reactions, which in turn result in more use of force and subsequently more public anger and resentment. We have seen this happen all along, past summer being the latest instance. It is a vicious circle, and both people and the governments have fallen into its trap, and both have attracted huge damages.

It goes without saying that peace and normalcy can’t be expected to return to any conflict-torn society unless and until the State is able to re-establish its monopoly over the use of force in a legitimate manner, and of course under terms agreeable to the majority population. It is because of these reasons that it is essentially important for the governments in Srinagar and New Delhi to understand that they can’t go on using lethal force on people, without actually being accountable for it.

In a conflict-ridden state like Jammu and Kashmir, the image and role of the government and its police and other “security forces” becomes all the more important for their overall behaviour and attitude has a big bearing on the contours of peace or confrontation. More humane the State and its armed forces, better chances are there for peace, because corrupt and abusive policing does to conflict what oxygen does to the fire. Any government’s power and authority are at risk of facing credibility crises in the absence of rapport with its domestic subjects, which also undercuts the public commitment to it and its institutions. It is also a major contributing factor for the public’s alienation and leads to a variety of damaging reactions like sharpening the religious, regional and ideological divides as has happened in Kashmir.

People here have lost faith in the government and its institutions, and are now openly defying its writ. And mind it no single party or dispensation but all successive governments are collectively responsible for it. However, instead of acknowledging their own culpability, all the main political parties – NC, Congress, PDP and BJP are slugging it out against each other. With by-elections to two parliamentary constituencies round the corner, all these are engaged in high-pitched rhetoric, trying to fix blame on ‘other’ – and none of these groups is actually talking about how it plans to re-cultivate the lost public trust. And this is really tragic! 

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