By K Subrahmanyam
22 Aug 2008, 0010 hrs IST,
A number of people have written on why India should consider allowing the Kashmiris to secede since the widespread demonstrations and disturbances taking place day after day would indicate that they don't want to be part of India. If this logic is to be accepted, Indian Parliament should be wound up since there are disruptions day after day holding up the proceedings of the two Houses. One writer has raised the issue whether the Kashmir problem involves the idea of India. It certainly does, just as the orderly conduct of Parliament also involves the idea of India. Both of them encompass the idea of an India as a pluralistic, secular, federal democracy aiming to achieve justice, equality and fraternity for all its citizens.
The efforts to achieve this aim may not be optimally effective as shown by inadequate governance, to put it mildly. But the challenge facing India is whether we try to set right our governance and improve it or yield to the protesters. Disruption is being made part of India's political culture by most of our political parties. We must ponder over the consequences of yielding to the secessionists in Kashmir and the encouragement it would provide to other such movements elsewhere in the country.
Whether it is disruption in Parliament or on the streets of Kashmir, only a small group or minority resorts to it. The majority remains passive and silent. Those entrusted with the responsibility of enforcing order do not display adequate strength and courage to restore rule of law at the earliest but allow the situation to deteriorate. When Parliament is adjourned without transacting any business for the day or the use of excessive force becomes necessary to disperse unruly crowds in the streets resorting to violence, destruction of public property and casualties, those who engineer the disruptions know full well what the results will be. In fact, they desire those results. The silent majority and the governing authorities in both these cases do not have the moral fibre to assert their will and enforce the rule of law. This is the challenge before the Indian republic whether in Parliament or in Kashmir.
Kashmir has had two elections under international observation and they were considered to be free and fair though there were constituencies where the polling was so low as to indicate that the voters in those areas had boycotted the polls. But such places were few in number. Therefore, we cannot say that Kashmiris have not had an opportunity to elect their representatives or express their views democratically. Only those who advocate secession have not stood for election and demonstrated their strength through a democratic process.
The basic issue is whether the Indian republic is in a position at this stage, 58 years after its constitution, to permit secession of a small portion of its population on the basis of religious identity. The agitation for secession in Kashmir is based on religion and religion alone. But if they were allowed to leave there would be consequences that have to be anticipated. During the partition of the subcontinent in 1947-48, such consequences were not foreseen and the result was a bloodbath resulting in the death of a million people and ethnic cleansing involving 15 million.
Secessionism on the basis of religion from a federal democratic republic, which has assured autonomy to Kashmir, is an irrational act. Such irrationality is unfortunately not the exclusive privilege of one faith only. We have seen the repercussions of events in the Kashmir valley, in Jammu and other places in India. There are forces in India which are likely to take advantage of such secession to unleash massive ethnic cleansing elsewhere in the country.
The values of the republic proclaimed in our Constitution are still to percolate down to the common man who is conditioned by his religious and caste prejudices. The republic envisioned in the Constitution will perhaps take another century to be realised. Allowing secessionism will be a defeat for secularism and that is not acceptable if the Indian republic is to be nurtured and brought to fruition. If a cost-benefit analysis were to be done of the consequences of yielding to Kashmiri secessionism, the likely costs would be much too heavy for the republic. There is the example of Tamil Nadu where the spirit of secession was intense in the decades after Indian independence. Now the former secessionists admit that being part of the Union has benefited the state immensely. There is no reason why Kashmir cannot be similarly brought around.
What Kashmir needs is good and firm governance. A lot more can be done with regard to crowd control without causing too many casualties. But the will to enforce respect for the law has been lacking just as it is in Parliament.
Demonstrations in the streets and consequent violence have become as routine as disruptions in Parliament and various state legislatures.
Not only Kashmir, but violent agitations elsewhere pose a challenge to the idea of India. The country has to seek a comprehensive strategy to deal with this challenge. Yielding to the Kashmiri secessionists is not a solution. It would be the end of the concept of India.
The writer is a Delhi-based strategic affairs analyst.
Source: The Times of India, New Delhi