The Hanging Carrot of Greater Autonomy

Published in Kashmir Herald, Vol 4/No. 7, by PROF. K. N. PANDITA.

The tantrum of Greater measure of autonomy to J&K is very much making rounds in the corridors of Home Ministry in New Delhi. From the viewpoint of Congress leadership, there is no harm in discussing the hypothesis with Kashmiri dissident leadership. So far there is no indication that the separatists are willing to discuss the subject. They have once again expressed that even greater autonomy does not meet their aspirations.

The precise position of the separatists is this (a) no participation in assembly elections (b) no participation in civil elections (c) no acceptance of greater autonomy (d) no direct talks with New Delhi without Pakistan’s participation, and (e) no talks with the elected government of the State.

Is this Hurriyat’s agenda or that of Pakistan? The answer should come from the PDP-led government. But their answer in so many ambiguous and misleading hints is that somehow the wishes of the separatists have to be accommodated. The PDP leadership knows how to play with words and phrases and how to camouflage real intentions. Its subtle recommendation to the Home Ministry is offer the carrot to the separatists and we shall then look for the stick.

The refrain of PDP’s initial policy was to apply a “healing touch”. It should now come out with the end – result of that policy. Thousands of militants have been provided with state/central government jobs. The Hurriyat never directed them to refuse the offer of jobs. Rather it very subtly and secretly recommended candidates for employment in various government department and the regime has been obliging them.. However the Hurriyat has seldom condemned the gunning down of any mainstream political leader at the hands of the militants.

The question is what does “greater autonomy” mean in tangible terms? An overview of the present status of the State, at least the Kashmir province, is that it is enjoying more than “greater autonomy” privileges. Economic packages flow in abundance; lack of accountability is the hallmark of centre-state relationship; understanding of sorts between the regime and the separatist-militant combine at some levels is the harsh reality of the ground situation.

What does the regime in Kashmir want to convey to the Indian state by harping on the suggestion of talking to the militants and dissident groups? No convincing answer to this question is forthcoming. Does it mean that the regime wants the centre to make the ultimate concession ?

A feeling is that the earlier euphoria of a thaw in hitherto cold relations between the two countries is gradually evaporating in thin air. The Baghliar project talks have failed. The calm along the LoC has been broken. No progress in bilateral talks on Kashmir is in sight. On both sides statements are issued that they want the talks to continue. Muzaffarbad- Srinagar bus service remains stalled because of technicalities or divergence of views. These all converge into a game of gimmicks in which no side has any trust on the counterpart. The final result of the tamasha of talks is not going to be either encouraging or pragmatic.

In these circumstances, it is important that the regime in Kashmir introduces far -reaching changes in the entire government structure. Restructuring of the State in physical and in administrative terms is to fulfill the essential pre-requisite of good governance. And good governance is what the Kashmiris have been craving for more than half a century. The benefits of various mega schemes hitherto unfolded for the state during this half century are yet to reach the grass-root level. The one mega project, namely the extension of railway to Kashmir, a project that has taken off only recently and in right direction and with right type of implementation has already made a tremendous impact on ordinary Kashmiris. Projects like these, implemented directly under the supervision and control of the Central authorities are the right type of investments that will certainly bring about a change in the mindset of the Kashmiris. That their regimes have been corrupt and imbecile cannot be disputed. Any step taken in the direction of good governance will be rewarding. And in doing so the constraint of centre-state list syndrome has to be put aside temporarily because it did not work the way Kashmiris liked. This is another important and strong reason for suggesting a structural change in Kashmir in terms of administrative regionalizing, political construct and the mechanism of governance. The Union government should constitute an advisory committee to the Home Ministry with the terms of reference of restructuring the State of Jammu and Kashmir geographically, politically and administratively so that sub-regions and oblasts are made more responsive and contributive to the national security and national development at one and the same time.

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