Kashmir through fire and brimstone

Written on September 10th, 2007, by K.N. Pandita

The landlocked cold Himalayan region of Kashmir has, for the most part of her history, gone through spells of harsh economic slump and natural calamities like floods, famine and pestilence. The plight of the people has been exacerbated by intermittent external incursions and internal disorder and turbulence. These factors have impalpably contributed to the making of a psyche of deep insecurity and uncertainty. Possessiveness generally stems from insecurity.

The freedom movement spearheaded by Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah in 1930s was the first ever organized political mass movement of the people of Kashmir aspiring to become the masters of their destiny. No such movement was visible in any other of the 560 odd princely states of India. Evidently, the position of a Hindu Dogra Raja ruling over Kashmir with predominantly Muslim population was exceptionally vulnerable. Autocrats are seldom worldly wise and foolhardiness is the trait in their character. Despite that, the movement led by the Sheikh took care to avoid playing the communal card. National Conference’s adherence to the basics of a democratic and secular ideology found favour with the n Indian National Congress, the leading political party of India engaged in a freedom struggle against the colonial rule. Compatibility of ideology brought their leaders closer and they developed sound understanding of their great responsibility towards their people.

The Sheikh’s decision of Kashmir’s accession to India was not an emotional decision. It had very little to do with close personal friendship and understanding between him and Panditji. Some basic principles with far reaching consequences were involved. Sheikh Abdullah was a unique leader standing out conspicuously among a host of leaders in Muslim countries in the region at that time. In a sense he was moving against the tide of the time because of his vision of future not circumscribed by religious, ethnic, linguistic and other factors. He was convinced that Kashmir could wriggle out of thousands of years of poverty, slavery and backwardness only through processes of democratic and secular governance. India promised it. Also a large chunk of Muslim population larger than in entire Pakistan had opted to live in India.

Given the past history of Kashmir, its demographic complexion, the ramifications of partition and creation of a state on the basis of two-nations theory, its aftermath, the Kashmirian psyche and the impact of regional developments, we find strong logic in the Sheikh’s insistence on ensuring some constitutional safeguards for Kashmir in the Indian Constitution. The Accords that followed (1952, 1974, and 1984) plus supplemental constitutional, legal or administrative devices were desirable and also perhaps necessary to streamline relations between New Delhi and Srinagar. It is short-sightedness to call them bargaining chips. Big nations do not “bargain” when constructing the destiny of their people. They deliberate and look in space and time.

Essentially, we have a serious question in this country, that of centre – state relationship. In many federal states, the question of centre-state relationship remains an irritant. It is more acute in India owing to wide scale divergence in the composition of groups of people. While debating the proposition, we need to get out of the mindset of “bossism” and “clientele-ism”. The essential principle of the nature of relationship, apart from patent classical determinants of a viable welfare union, has to be “to one according to his needs and from one according to his capacity.”

We must admit that in terms of experience and political vision Indian political class is inadequately equipped to handle some of her sensitive issues including that of state-centre relations. If the union leadership is obsessed with its centralism, the state leadership is in perpetual dilemma of usurpation of the rights and privileges of her subjects. Both are an aberration. Both need to make space for accommodation by filling the information gap.

Former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao was very right in saying that “sky is the limit” when reflecting on the demand for larger autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir. That is a statesman’s vision. Indian Constitution is neither rigid nor short-sighted. Its founding fathers were fully aware of immense diversity of India. Thus it did provide in principle the accommodative formulae without curbing or axing genuine aspirations of the people. We must try to understand that demanding larger measure of autonomy does not necessarily mean secession from the union: it also does not mean threatening the solidarity and integrity of the nation as such unless otherwise felt. Such apprehensions generally emanate from the closed and narrow mindset.

It should be understood that being proud Muslims, the people of Kashmir cannot be ignored as a component of the vast world Muslim brotherhood. Fortunately, the Indian Constitution is intensely democratic and secular. Where in the Asian region do we find Muslims enjoying as much of political, social and economic freedom as in India? If the Indian Muslims are enjoying the boon, it is not an obligation on them. It is the net result of the system that the people of India including the Muslims voluntarily chose for themselves.

But the system is not to be abused or undermined. It is the duty of the citizens to respect the system and that of the state to protect it against subversion. The Indian Muslims are fully aware of the ultimate benefits of upholding a democratic and secular dispensation that does not in any way interfere with their faith, beliefs and traditions. Many pressures will be brought to dislodge people’s faith in the system. These pressures have to be resisted and the straight path is not to be abandoned.

At the same time, the federating states shall have to take into account the intake capacity for the quantum of autonomy the demand. Foremost condition of the intake capacity relates to its economy. A federating unit’s uniqueness of any denomination melts away under the heat of economic imperatives. It takes a long time to stabilize economic growth and its percolation to the lower strata of society. It may be sensible for economically weaker unites to concentrate on economic build up before jumping on to the luxury of political high ride.

Uniqueness of a federating unit does not mean that it must remain glued to its self-projected profile. In an age of globalization, where walls of separation are pulled down and isolation is eroded, uniqueness should become a catalyst to the enrichment of phenomenal experience. That is of prime importance to beat back economic backwardness. Irritants need to be ironed out and not turned into icons of confrontation.

We are aware that with the rise of militancy in Kashmir, the government adopted two-track policy; meeting the challenge of violence and addressing the issue of economic backwardness. A closer and more intensive look will show that in an overall appraisal, the law enforcing agency deploys minimum force to curb violence. Generally, world history tells us that violence of the scale and nature we witness in Kashmir is met with much more punishing counter violence, though, of course and invariably with disastrous consequences. Nobody will accept that in regard to Kashmir situation security agencies used the state power indiscriminately. This is notwithstanding some aberrations, which are looked into from time to time.

This is not anything like a special favour shown to Kashmir. It is not to tell the militants that the state can come down with a heavy hand if it so liked. Nothing of the sort. It is the democratic way of handling a complaining and disgruntled section of society that has voluntarily or involuntarily resorted to violence out of its share ignorance of the benefits that flow from democratic dispensation. It is the duty of the political leadership to bring knowledge to the people they represent that democracy is a slow but steady process. Therefore before we have corrective camps for the aberration affected militants, we must have such camps for our political leaders. That militancy is on decline after 17 years of activism is the logical conclusion of a State’s determination to deal with issues and irritants in a democratic manner. Only a solution found through that process can be a viable one.

But the most significant aspect of ongoing situation in Kashmir is government’s policy of addressing economic backwardness of the people of the State. The sustained effort made so far has begun to bear fruit though much more remains to be done. The 11000 crore rupees project of bringing railway line to the valley is of greatest significance. Equally, the mega hydroelectric projects taken in hand are bound to change the destiny of the people. The government is the largest employer and over the years, while free education continues up to post graduate level, literacy rate is increasing having reached above 60 per cent. Happily, the state constitution and social practices give full freedom to women for participation in all activities that take the society onwards along the path of development. All this generates hope of a prosperous and vibrant Kashmir beginning to play a very positive role in making India stronger than before.

The opening of link roads to PoK allowing passage across the LoC and people to people interaction have helped a lot in acquiring better understanding of people on both sides of the LoC. This interaction poses a big question to those who travel along the LoC. The question is: should I remain satisfied and content with the life I am living or should I aspire for more? If I aspire for more how and under what circumstances can I see its fruition? These questions are immensely relevant and should be asked again and again and a cool-headed answer has to be brought forth.

When a people develop solid personality and cultivate the quality of self-confidence, no enemy, howsoever cunning and tricky, can venture to mislead them. Parameters of self-rule or larger autonomy etc. have to be well-defined. Nobody from outside is going to define these for us: we have to do it ourselves with eyes wide open and head quite clear.

While normalcy is limping back slowly and while economic development will gain momentum with the passage of time, a host of question will show up and we shall have to answer these. Restoration of normalcy is not the end of our struggle. A large chunk of our population displaced owing to armed insurgency is languishing outside the valley. That situation cannot be allowed to become a permanent feature of Kashmir history. And before a way out is found, we shall have to go into the causes of the happening in order to find a viable solution. A fractured Kashmir cannot remain bandaged for all times. Moreover protection of secularism is as much essential for a minority as for a majority. Secularism is indivisible.

Likewise, we will be face to face with the problem of growing unemployment notwithstanding government’s efforts to provide job to at least one person in a family. This question has to be tackled through reasonable and harmless industrialization of Kashmir. Great care needs to be taken that while industries are set up, no hazards to life are generated and the scenic beauty of Kashmir is not adversely affected. Japan’s experience in this case would be highly useful in identifying the industries. We need large investment from lending agencies world over for agrarian and horticulture development. In short venues of employment have to be created to sustain economic standards of the people.

In final analysis, at this juncture af Kashmir history, we badly need leadership with a vision and ambition. The climate of suspicion, hatred and alienation must come to an end. Kashmir is an internal issue and dragging it all the way to international platforms is not going to help. That only deepens the dilemma of the people. And peoples’ patience has a limit. We in Kashmir have gone through fire and brimstone not once but so many times in our chequered history. We have sometimes voluntarily inflicted pain and suffering on ourselves because we allowed to be used as pawns. In our history of thousands of years, luck and vision of our leaders has now provided us a unique opportunity to throw off the baggage of poverty, destitution, superstition and backwardness and open our eyes in the new dawn of democracy, secularism and pluralism. Let us grab the time by forelock.

(The author is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, University of Kashmir).

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