Disaffection is Rife in Kashmir

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As a concerned citizen of our great country distressed by the developing social and political divisions that menace the continuity of our nationhood, I have been active participant in groups like that of retired civil servants who see ourselves as a bastion of constitutional values, which we have spent a lifetime in seeking to maintain. But whereas civil servants might see themselves as protectors, the guarantors of the constitution in a democracy are none other than the people themselves of whom the nation is constituted. 

Apart from making our voice heard through statements, letters to the highest in the land and appeals to the public through the media I consider that it is necessary to work directly with the citizens. And of these an important constituent is the people of Kashmir, a distinct cultural and political entity with a special place in India’s constitution but among whom today disaffection is rife. 

It was not ever thus. My memories of serving in the state from the late sixties into the closing of the last century vary from a calm placidity to violent eruption of which I have written in articles and a book. In that process I have developed an attachment for a people wronged and a passion for redemption-‘dukkha’ in Buddhist parlance.

So  it is to the Kashmiris that I turned returning to  a Vale which I have always held as my own to meet friends once again and because of my own experience not only in participating in India’s vibrant democracy but thanks to responsibilities assigned to me during my career from working on policy in the Prime Minister’s Office down to holding elections in Srinagar, Poonch and as far away as Lakshadweep, in helping structure that democratic regime, discuss with those who would care to listen the great power that they can wield through participation in democratic governance, which begins with a process of choosing fit representatives through an election. Again I know from experience that this has not always been true. But at least since 2002, other than attempted browbeating in some elections, at par with democratic requirements have repeatedly been held, but public participation has at best been spotty. 

Misconceived policies have in the past three years set back a situation slowly on the mend after a breakdown in 1989-90. This period had begun to see a slow but sure restitution of support for the national cause with the public increasingly seeking remedy for grievances through the established system, despite its failings. Yet, in direct consequence to forcible repression youngsters, the future of the country, have been taking to violence with spiralling casualties among the youth and in the security forces, exacerbating bitterness, precipitating even outright hatred. Elections have seen diminishing public participation. 

And so, on the suggestion of Dr Farooq Abdullah, friend and candidate from Srinagar it was to Kashmir that I flew. By the time I arrived the elections in Baramulla and Srinagar were over, but Dr Abdullah assured me that my visit would be reassuring. 

Although a single Parliamentary constituency the Election Commission of India had in its wisdom decided to stagger the elections in Anantnag over three phases-26th, 29th April and 6th May. Why it chose to do so coming after its repeated breach of constitutional mandate in not holding elections to the last Lok Sabha altogether in Anantnag requires explanation. Except for a few disruptive incidents that were to mark the ongoing 2019 elections not unusual for elections in other states and certainly far fewer that those that marked elections in Bengal and the northeast, Kashmir remained throughout my visit serene and despite the devastation done to its environment by an uncaring government, exquisitely beautiful. The government is busy spending its money building cafeteria on the bund, where construction is prohibited, already replete with the best cafeteria in town, while roads stay potholed. 

I drove in a Scorpio lent by a friend through potholed downtown and countryside amid birdsong and rain past bunker and building occupied by security forces bordered with fortification and barbed wire rolling on to sidewalks with large signs of ‘Welcome’ emblazoned on the gateway machine guns poised with alert guards pointed at any that might make so bold as to approach.    

I stayed at my former colleague and friend’s residence in Rajbagh where many came calling from Hawal, Idgah and Bemina in Srinagar, from Sopore, and from Karimabad, Pulwama whence hails the policeman who sparked the ongoing disturbances by stealing three rifles from the guardhouse of the then minister in the coalition government Altaf Bukhari. Among my visitors was Shah Faesal, the former IAS officer, now an aspiring political leader, together with other former colleagues. I called on former CMs Dr Farooq Abdullah and Omar, on the Mirwaiz of the Jamia Masjid cathedral mosque of Srinagar and an old friend Sajad Lone leader of the  Peoples’ Conference who spoke glowingly of prime minister Narendra Modi. The meetings were entirely cordial. I also called on the families of imprisoned political leaders who received me in their homes and treated me to generous hospitality, as is Kashmir’s wont, despite their distress. 

I then walked about Srinagar and drove to Doabgah in the suburbs of Sopore, to Naganar beyond the township of Kangan en route to Ladakh, and finally to Pulwama, much in the recent news. All was peaceful and quiet with people going about their business in good cheer. In Pulwama I sat at the Circuit House located next to a CRPF Battalion HQ with the usual “Welcome” sign replete with armaments. Groups of persons from social activists to students to businessmen from the towns Tral, Newa and Pulwama came calling. Major concerns were unemployment, lack of development and all pervasive security issues. Pulwama, a bustling and prosperous town is smouldering with resentment at what the citizens perceive as neglect of basic needs by government and politicians. The roads are potholed and Pulwama has no power grid. Petitions to government have been fruitless. The Lassipora Industrial Complex launched with much fanfare is dysfunctional with most units closed out of fear. But the overall complaint was unfulfilled promises made by elected representatives, corruption at every level and the callous treatment by officials from which citizens were unprotected. This has brought indifference to elections, which are expected to bring more of the same

My refrain to the citizens of Pulwama and elsewhere was that I sympathised with their plight, which having served in their administration in good times and bad I had every sympathy for. But the remedy lay in securing for themselves the freedoms guaranteed by democracy, which begins with elections but includes transparency and accountability. Therein lies the remedy for unfulfilled promises. If they feel denied the freedom-azadi if you will-of true democracy, redress lay not with the gun to which too many have turned , but in the electoral process, which enables them to turn out the wasters and bring in achievers. The Right to Information legislated for the state by the Omar Abdullah government has given the citizen the right to question. But they must first elect those who will do the questioning on their behalf in the legislative halls of government. The unanimous complaint was that all governments elected had placed the interests of the Union government before the interests of the Kashmiri. All the leaders that I have mentioned were unanimous that for them the interests of the people will come first. And I offered those I met to be interlocutor with the MP that they chose to elect so that they will get their answers. 

Have I been foolish?  I should like to think not, and that both the ordinary citizens that I spoke to and the political leadership will rise to each others’ expectations opening a new chapter in the history of the state


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