Rahul Gandhi, the young, energetic general secretary of the ruling Congress party, is often seen as India’s Crown Prince, a prime minister in waiting. He proved his mettle in last year’s general elections when the Congress won 21 Lok Sabha seats in the state he was deeply focused on, Uttar Pradesh. Now he’s eyeing another big state where the Congress has been out of power for decades: Bihar. But the question is: why hasn’t he trained his sights on Jammu & Kashmir? Of course, the state is nowhere near as politically relevant for the Indian polity as big states like UP, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh are. But it’s still the head of India, geographically speaking, and also the heart of it, diplomatically and strategically.
The state is also unfinished business as far as Rahul is concerned because his close companion Omar Abdullah (who was apparently installed as Jammu & Kashmir chief minister largely on Rahul’s initiative) has ruined the state with his mis-governance (or, to put it more accurately, complete lack of governance).
The unrest in Kashmir is growing, something which Abdullah blames on his arch political rival Mehbooba Mufti, president of the Jammu & Kashmir People’s Party. Politicians, bureaucrats and intelligence officials are accusing Pakistan of fanning the Kashmir fire through Lashkar-e-Taiba’s network in the state.
But why blame Pakistan? It’s easy to blame Pakistan and its Inter Services Intelligence agency for everything that goes awry. But this ultimately just makes India look bad. A country that aspires to be a superpower a couple of decades from now should have more faith in itself. Kashmir is burning today not because of the ISI or Lashkar-e-Taiba (if that were the case it would mean that the more than half million-strong police, para-military and military personnel deployed in the area had been outsmarted by a few hundred (or at most few thousand) terrorists.
The root cause of the unrest in Kashmir today is not ISI/Pakistan, but the fact that Abdullah’s government is dysfunctional. Rahul needs to intervene in Kashmir, not only because he has effectively foisted on a sensitive border state an under-performing chief minister, but also because he needs to broaden his own political footprint. The sooner he visits Kashmir, the better it will be for him and for the Congress party. After all, the Congress party wouldn’t like to see its heir-apparent confined to UP.