New Age Islam
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Current Affairs ( 1 Jan 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Politics at the crossroads of past and present

Praveen Swami


Kashmir’s National Conference–Congress alliance government must rewrite history — or the coalition will end up repeating it.


“Hard political reality,” Farooq Abdullah had said of his decision to sign an accord with the Congress in 1986, against his own instinctive judgment.


On Tuesday, as his son stood shoulder-to-shoulder with former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad to announce the formation of a new National Conference-Congress alliance, it is certain that Dr. Abdullah would have recalled that moment.


December’s National Conference-Congress alliance could demonstrate that history repeats itself: the last alliance between the two parties ended in a rigged election which prepared the ground for jihadists who had for decades been working to legitimise their war against India.


But it could also offer unique opportunity to erase the bitter legacy of the past, not the least because Jammu and Kashmir — like India as a whole — has been transfigured since. Neither party today is a hegemonic entity — and both have learned, through bitter experience, that breeding communal pets in the backyard is a dangerous pastime.


Ever since the falling-apart of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in 1953, relations between the Congress and the National Conference had been fraught. The National Conference represented the distinctness of Kashmiri identity; on occasion, it used communal ideas and themes to reach out to its audience. The Congress, in turn, saw itself as the sole credible defender of Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to India and proved increasingly willing to use Hindu chauvinism to further that cause.


Both the Congress and National Conference fought the 1983 elections on communal lines. In alliance with Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq — father of the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference chairman, Umar Farooq — Dr. Abdullah gave his campaign an expressly Islamic colour. In one pamphlet, the National Conference equated the Congress with Maharaja Hari Singh, who had “enslaved the Kashmiris.” Prime Minister Indira Gandhi used identical tactics to push forward the Congress’ pursuit of power. She campaigned against the Resettlement Act, which would have allowed Muslim Partition refugees to return to Jammu and Kashmir and reclaim their properties. As the author and journalist Tavleen Singh has noted, Mrs. Gandhi sought to persuade Jammu voters that they “were really a part of Hindu India and had, therefore, been neglected by Muslim Kashmir.”


Inflammatory tactics paid off: the National Conference won 46 seats, all in Muslim-majority constituencies, while the Congress picked up 23. However, the Congress continued on with a campaign designed to annihilate Abdullah. His alliance with Mirwaiz Farooq — who was, ironically enough, to die at the hands of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen assassin —was characterised as anti-national. Sikh religious camps held in Jammu and Kashmir were described as state-sponsored training centres for Khalistan terrorists. Much of the propaganda was deceitful — the Congress itself, after all, had sought an alliance with the Mirwaiz — but it prepared the ground for the dismissal of the Abdullah government in July 1984, months after he sponsored a national opposition conclave in Srinagar.


“I am not worried about democratic norms”, Indira Gandhi was reported to have said to a confidante, “I am not going to kiss Kashmir away because of them”. She almost did. Dr. Abdullah’s brother in law, Gul Mohammad Shah, took power with the support of a dozen National Conference rebels. Still sardonically referred to as the Gul-e-Curfew, or ‘Curfew Flower’, Mr. Shah presided over a regime that remained paralysed by popular protests. New Delhi, though, refused to blink even after Indira Gandhi’s death. In October 1986, Dr. Abdullah buckled in, and agreed to an alliance with the Congress.


But Dr. Abdullah’s decision, as the scholar Navnita Chadha Behera has argued, vacated the opposition to the religious right. His actions allowed the birth of the Muslim United Front — a coalition spearheaded by the Jamaat-e-Islami, whose most visible face then, as now, was Kashmir’s Islamist patriarch Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Its partners included bodies like Qazi Mohammad Nisar’s Ummat-e-Islami, which had defied a ban on the sale of meat on the occasion of the Hindu festival of Janmashtami; the neoconservative Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadis; the Islamic Study Circle; the Muslim Education Trust; and Abdul Gani Lone’s People’s Conference.


In the 1987 elections, a panicked National Conference-Congress alliance unleashed large-scale rigging: rigging most experts concur served only to legitimise jihadists who characterised India’s democracy as a dead-end, since the MUF would at best have won some twenty seats. Ever since the mid-1970s, Islamists and their patrons in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate had been waiting for just such an opportunity.

A checklist


Three major strategic challenges lie ahead for the new alliance government in Jammu and Kashmir if it wishes to avert a similar descent into chaos: challenges that will prove even more difficult than its immediate priority, providing transparent, development-oriented governance.


First, and perhaps most important, is the deteriorating regional strategic environment means the state government cannot take peace, the keystone of the political process which brought it to power, for granted.


Eight years ago, the Jaish-e-Mohammad attacked Parliament House in New Delhi. In an effort to avert a war with India, former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf promised to rein in jihadist groups operating in Jammu and Kashmir. While President Musharraf’s actions against jihadist groups were, at best, fitful, he did ensure a substantial reduction in cross-Line of Control infiltration, leading to year on year reductions in violence. In 2008, just 89 civilians were killed in terrorism-related violence — the lowest figure since the long jihad in the state began two decades ago.


But ever since January, there have been signs that Pakistan’s posture is changing. Pakistani troops and jihadist initiated a series of clashes along the LoC, undermining a ceasefire that went into place on New Year’s Eve in 2002. Pakistan’s defiant rejection of global calls to punish the jihadists responsible for November’s massacre in Mumbai could also suggest that the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate — and perhaps the Army establishment in general —have decided that hostilities with the enemy to the east could provide a tool with which to escape the dangerous war within. If so, real trouble could lie ahead.


Second, the new government will have to find means to rein in Jammu and Kashmir’s increasingly influential Islamists — as well as their Hindu chauvinist counterparts. In 2002, the People’s Democratic Party prepared the ground for its growth by positioning itself as the inheritor of MUF. Like the MUF, the PDP positioned itself as a party which spoke for ethnic-Kashmiri concerns, which were marketed as Islamic in character.


While the PDP’s affiliation with the Jamaat-e-Islami was a positive development for the long-term re-institutionalisation of democracy in Jammu and Kashmir, Islamists proved adroit in using the space opened up by the PDP to impose their agenda upon the state. In 2006, groups linked to hardliners like the Tehreek-i-Hurriyat chief Syed Ali Shah Geelani — with the tacit support of the PDP — succeeded in casting a prostitution scandal in Kashmir as a battle between Islam and an immoral modernist order imposed by India. Later, Islamists ran large-scale campaigns against the presence of economic migrants from the plains — who were alleged, among other things, to be vectors for HIV, perpetrators of rape and child sexual abuse, and pushers for drugs and alcohol.


PDP politicians chose not to confront the Islamists. Instead, the party lurched into a cycle of competitive chauvinism, in an effort to appropriate the Islamists’ causes and use state power to realise them. Hindu fundamentalists in Jammu, in turn, used this campaign to initiate their own communal programme, built around cow-protection and opposition to supposed ethnic-Kashmiri expansionism. In the summer, these tensions exploded in the form of protests for and against land-use rights to the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board — with terrible consequences.


Rather than hoping to appropriate their opponents’ religiosity, the National Conference and Congress would be well advised to use economic instruments to build bridges to the urban petty bourgeoisie and rural elite who make up the bulwark of the religious right. Hinduism and Islam, for the classes which backed the PDP and the BJP, are instruments to legitimise the protest of a threatened social order against a modernity which threatened to obliterate it. In urban centres, this coalition has the growing support of a class of disenfranchised young people who are witnessing the death of the artisanal and trading occupations of their parents but have neither the skills nor resources to compete in the new world.


Finally, the National Conference-Congress alliance will have to push forward the pace of dialogue on Jammu and Kashmir’s constitutional future. Both parties must use the medium of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly to initiate a dialogue that acknowledges the multiple voices and concerns that exist within the state. Failing this, the debate over Jammu and Kashmir’s future would be waged solely by the PDP on the one hand, which in a recent document called for trans-border institutions to share sovereignty in the state and the BJP, which has been demanding the abrogation of Article 370.


In critical senses, then, the National Conference-Congress alliance stands at the crossroads of Jammu and Kashmir’s past and present. Both parties must work to rewrite history — or will, sooner rather than later, end up revisiting their tragic past.

Source: The Hindu, New Delhi



by Manoj Joshi


Once again democratic elections have proved to be the life- blood of Jammu & Kashmir. For a while, last year, it appeared that nothing could stop the state’s self-destructive plunge into chaos.


The Sangh Parivar’s irresponsible counter- agitation on the Amarnath land issue tipped public opinion in the Valley in favour of the separatists led by the most- hard-line of them all — Syed Ali Shah Geelani. But, the voters have spoken. The 62- odd per cent that have voted have clearly laid out an agenda which we can live with.


Clearly, that agenda is centrist and secular. The elections have also provided us with a leader whose family roots take him to the very origin of what is called the Kashmir “ problem” and whose personality is well- suited to respond to the twin demands of roti, kapda aur makan , as well as a political settlement based on a restoration of genuine autonomy to the state. There is only way to go: forward. By now we have gathered an enormous of data on what can be done in the state. And what does the data say ?



First , though 60 years have passed and a huge volume of water has flowed down the Jhelum, the state has not yet had a closure on its political demand of some kind of a distinct political status vis- à- vis the rest of India.


Second , status quo ante is not possible. There are many, especially in the security establishment, who believe that with the decline of armed militancy and Pakistan’s difficulties, India has the opportunity to return things to what they believe was the “ pristine state” of pre- rebellion Kashmir.


Unfortunately, things have not been pristine in J& K, ever. There have been periods of relative peace — 1953- 1964, 1975- 1983 — but mostly there has been an undercurrent of turbulence which goes back to the 1930s. In the two decades since 1989, the cultural and social fabric of the state has been ripped so thoroughly that there can be no return to the past. As it is it will take a herculean effort to repair the trauma caused by the death and violence that has visited the people of the state.


Third , notwithstanding this, the political fabric of the state has shown remarkable resilience. The recent election and its outcome reveals that the centrist and secular forces retain an edge over those who would seek to split the state, or run it on theological lines.


Fourth , notwithstanding pundits who say that the result represents a decoupling of the demand for aazadi with the roti, kapda, makan issues, the election signals a desire of the people of the Valley to seek a political settlement of their grievances.


Fifth , that India’s physical control of the Valley cannot be shaken by any armed movement. In the heady days of 1990, when thousands of young men went across the Line of Control for training, everything seemed possible.


Jehadis had driven the mighty Soviet armies from Afghanistan, indeed, the Soviet Union itself had collapsed. With insurgency raging in Punjab, perhaps a push could lead to the dissolution of the Union of India as well. That did not happen.


Sixth , India can absorb anything Pakistan can throw at it in J& K. Pakistan first used the pro- independence JKLF’s enthusiastic cadres to launch the rebellion and then sought to subsume it under the banner of the pro- Pakistan Hizbul Mujahideen.


These forces were leavened by hardened Afghan cadre sent by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Afghanistantrained groups of Pakistanis in the Harkat- ul- mujahideen and Harkatul- Ansar. When even these flagged, Pakistan sent in the Lashkar- e- Tayyeba. But the ISI could not replicate its Afghan success because there was no way it could push stand- off weapons into the Valley, as it was able to do in Afghanistan.


Seventh , we know that J& K is not a religious or ethnic monolith. Its varied ethno- religious composition requires special political attention and that the numerical majority of the Kashmiri- speaking Muslims should not be translated into political overlordship over other regions.


Eighth , we know that though the entire world community considers Jammu & Kashmir to be disputed territory, there is a broad consensus that the state’s international boundaries should be drawn along the Line of Control. Disturbing this could cause uncontrollable political eddies not only in the state but throughout the Indian subcontinent.




With these verities which would now appear to be immutable in the near term, there is no reason why those — including self- professedly the Pakistanis — who see themselves as wellwishers of Jammu and Kashmir cannot press ahead this year and bring the long- running political dispute in the state to a closure.


The election outcome offers a last chance of sorts for an internal settlement.


Militancy may have been defeated by a blood and iron policy, but the Amarnath agitation has shown us the abyss that remains.


That the separatists could transform a trivial issue like the transfer of a small piece of land for housing Amarnath pilgrims into a huge agitation, betokens the distance that needs to be covered to address the political demands of the people of J & K. Since 2004, we have witnessed a process between India and Pakistan that acknowledges that the dispute needs settlement. Whether or not the Indian and Pakistani governments are strong enough to effect a compromise remains to seen, and at least in the Indian case, it’s clear that the government is not so weak that a compromise is unavoidable. Though a formula that can be hailed, or at least be acceptable in New Delhi, Islamabad and Srinagar still remains to be worked out, a commonly accepted diplomatic process is underway.


The problem today is the state of Pakistan. The dragons teeth it had sowed have grown into monstrous jehadi warriors. These now menace not just India and Afghanistan, but Pakistan itself. The loss of Indian authority in the Valley of Kashmir will not lead to the aazadi of Kashmir, but its immediate Talibanisation.




Till 2005, the ISI had the Lashkar- e- Tayyeba firmly under its control. But after the earthquake in the region, the Lashkar has taken a life of its own as a major social and political force in the Azad Kashmir area. Lashkar militants have major camps there, supported by a growing web of educational and medical institutions that provide the people of the region the only services they get any way.


The decline of militant violence, the serious efforts underway by India and Pakistan to resolve their differences, the political temper of the state, as reflected by the elections, indicates that we are at the cusp of a historical moment.


While the negotiations with Pakistan continue apace — and their parameters have been well established— there is need for New Delhi to press ahead with a plan for achieving closure of the domestic debate on Kashmir’s status.


Fortuitously, the state is set to get a chief minister who may be able to provide not just the good governance needed by the ordinary Kashmiris, but the background to press the political settlement that was aborted in 2000, when the BJP- led NDA government rejected the autonomy report prepared by the National Conference government and adopted by the J& K state assembly.


In the years since, all that we have learnt is that the BJP has no new answers for Kashmir and that its single- minded focus remains on the grievances of the Jammu region.


All the cards are now open on the table. What we need is the political will to move forward. The price of procastination will be steep because Kashmir remains the poison pill stuck in the throat of “Emerging India.” Source: Mail Today, New Delhi