Beyond alliance agendas in J&K

The death of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Chief Minister of a contrary coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir, and the delay in his anointed successor assuming office, has touched off wild conjecture. Everyone is busy interpreting Mehbooba Mufti’s mind. But there are challenges of greater moment facing the State.

In September 1948, as the first war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir drew to a close, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah spoke to Josef Korbel, first Chairman of the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan, of his conviction that Kashmiris would be better off with India, and of his dilemma, as undisputed leader of the Kashmiri section of a multi-ethnic State, on the choices before Kashmir:

“I have meditated about four possible solutions to our problem. First or second — accession to India or Pakistan through a plebiscite. This could not take place in less than three years, because of the destruction of the country and the dislocation of its population. Even then it would be difficult to ascertain impartially the wishes of the people scattered over large areas and possibly subjected to intimidation. Would such a plebiscite be democratic, and would India or Pakistan accept the verdict?

 “Third, there is a possibility of independence under the joint guarantee of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the Soviet Union. I would be willing to meet the leader of Azad Kashmir, Ghulam Abbas... But should even Kashmir’s powerful neighbours agree to give us a guarantee of independence, I doubt that it could last for long. There is in my opinion, therefore, only one solution open. That is the division of the country. If it is not achieved, the fighting will continue; India and Pakistan will prolong the quarrel indefinitely, and our people’s suffering will go on.”

Troubles past and present

That ‘suffering’ has never really ended. But the aspiration to freedom (azadi) never waned. Is this dream of azadi not then simply the free and open practice of democracy?

Insofar as India and Pakistan are concerned, their dispute over the territory to which the Sheikh referred stands resolved in concept, as clear from former Foreign Minister of Pakistan Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri’s Neither a Hawk Nor a Dove, having been agreed upon and acknowledged by all parties, including the Kashmiris. The problem then lies within the State and must be addressed by stakeholders therein.

Here, unnoticed outside the Valley, as militancy waned, the dream of azadi has dissipated into a powerful undercurrent swirling around the two principal religious trends that have characterised India’s Islam. On one side is the inclusive tradition of convergence and growth, characterised by Kashmir’s own Sufi evolution. On the other is the pan-Islamic tradition best characterised in its extreme by the rise of al-Qaeda and then the Islamic State — the retreat into exclusivist ideology in the belief that insularity will purify, consummation of the thinking that had led to the partition of India — a road that Kashmir had decisively refused to take in 1947. The increasing frustration of Kashmir’s youth is exacerbated by the failure of the Peoples Democratic Party-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coalition government to deliver on any of its promises, followed by the imposition of Governor’s rule and so, by implication, direct rule by a BJP government at the Centre, together with persistence of corruption in government. It is leading the youth into the maw of radicalisation and relapse into violence.

The situation of the Kashmiri Pandit community illustrates this fatal trajectory. There has been talk of the return of Kashmiri ‘migrants’ to their homes in the Valley since the elected government took office in the State in 1996. The close of the 1980s saw Kashmir spiral into a tailspin of violence, suspicion and dread. An ethnic conflict was given a religious colour by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. By 2008, the Pandit population in the Valley, assessed by their Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS) as having numbered 75,343 families on January 1, 1990, was reduced to 651 families. Nearly 70,000 families had fled in the turmoil of 1990-92. But the bulk of the emigration thereafter, over 3,000 families, happened when violence had been brought increasingly under control.

The Prime Minister’s successive packages for the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits, announced in 2004 and 2008, through the issue of identity cards, had given the migrants much-needed recognition. But the National Democratic Alliance initiative of 2015 for rehabilitation was arrived at without consultation with the community. The ground situation in the Valley may not reflect a threat to returning Kashmiri Pandits, a return that is widely welcomed by Kashmiris but without any public reassurance, raising misgivings in an already tremulous community. And therein lies the vital challenge; the failure of the people of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) to take responsibility as citizens of the State instead of depending for action only on the government, which is then denounced for failure. And successive governments in J&K have only fed this sorry state of mind.

Let a thousand flowers bloom

The State must be opened up to foreign direct investment, accompanied by a fillip to start-ups and development of the much-talked-of smart cities. These can be the new townships. This will encourage young Kashmiris, Pandit, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist or Christian, many of whom have achieved excellence in their ventures elsewhere, to return to invest in Kashmir, providing occupation and living space. There is a widely held belief, shared by the State’s own political leadership, that J&K is short of resources and must depend on the Centre’s largesse to survive. But this is because the State’s present governance structure is ill-designed and obstructive of enterprise.

Yet the unexplored dimensions of the State’s resources have the potential to make J&K India’s showpiece. There can be opportunity for investment in its rich resources: forests, with their vast variety of rare timber ranging from birch and walnut to poplar and willow; tourism; plentiful water sparkling in lakes, rivers, streams and mountain torrents, with the potential to generate hydel power that can supply the north-west of the subcontinent and Central Asia. Young Kashmiris are coming together to discuss these possibilities in an international business conference titled “Ideas” in Pahalgam on February 23. The objective is to launch a Start-up Kashmir to catalyse high-growth entrepreneurship in the State resting on a firm technological base.

The government has earlier sought to exploit these resources but this was by means of monopoly. This has left a detritus wherein the only gainful employment available is government service. This in a State which, for centuries, located as it is in the cusp of the fabled Silk Road, had been the hub of commerce and industry. Today, with the slogan coined by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the need is for minimum government, maximum governance, with the government playing its role as facilitator and regulator, but little else. As peace returns increasingly to Kashmir, is it not time that it joins the world in marching to the economic revolution that all Indians look forward to?

Fixing the fault lines

But this will be impossible if the relationship between the two principal communities of the State continues to reel under threat. The results of the 2015 elections to the State Assembly dramatically manifested this breach dating from the fallout of the Amarnath Yatra in 2008. And the communal situation in the State has only deteriorated since.

On the continuing application of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act to the State, no guidelines, instructions or even rules have been issued by the government regarding its implementation in J&K, albeit in 1997 the Supreme Court had decreed a number of dos and don’ts for the enforcement of the law. Although the Army may have instructions or general orders on how powers must be exercised, these can hardly be a substitute for statutory rules, enforceable by courts of law in a country which prides itself on the rule of law.

Meanwhile the State government has continued to persist with its own Public Safety Act, 1978, allowing for unrestrained arrest and unlimited detention, making it the most draconian of its kind, even with amendments by the Omar Abdullah government in April 2012 to debar its application to minors, a method used against children by that very government in the demonstrations of 2010.

In sum then, Kashmir today is outwardly at peace, but violence hovers. Pakistan’s appeal and that of separatists is on the ebb, but Kashmiriyat is now only a sad memory. India is indeed seen as a land of opportunity, but is also seen by Kashmiris as a Hindu nation. And given the State’s experience with economic packages, the answer can hardly lie in guarantees of implementation of government-administered programmes.

But azadi, the theme song of Kashmir’s political trajectory, is winnable. India is indeed the land of freedom bound into a nation unparalleled in the world in the extent of its diversities in language, culture, caste and creed held together simply by an idea, the idea of India. This may be placed in the context of the decentralisation now mandated by the Constitution, making every village a self-governing unit. Public participation in governance is not yet a reality in J&K. But the instrumentalities exist through institutions of decentralisation, transparency and accountability. The most viable scheme of decentralisation presented to Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s round table in Srinagar in 2006 was the one devised by the last government led by Mufti Sayeed. And every village has common land or shamilat, which can become grounds for dissemination of economic opportunity to the languishing but qualified youth of the State through rural business hubs centred on investment in information technology, the timber industry or in the development of tourism facilities. Therein lies the way to the future.

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