Think the Unthinkable
By Vir Sanghvi
August 16, 2008
Have you been reading the news coming out of Kashmir with a mounting sense of despair? I know I have. It’s clear now that the optimism of the last few months — all those articles telling us that normalcy had returned to Kashmir — was misplaced. Nothing has really changed since the 1990s. A single spark — such as the dispute over Amarnath land — can set the whole valley on fire, so deep is the resentment, anger and the extent of secessionist feeling. Indian forces are treated as an army of occupation. New Delhi is seen as the oppressor. There is no engagement with the Indian mainstream. And even the major political parties do not hesitate to play the Pakistan card — Mehbooba Mufti is quite willing to march to the Line of Control.
At one level, the current crisis in Kashmir is a consequence of a series of actions by the Indian establishment. New Delhi let the situation fester until it was too late. The state administration veered between inaction and over-reaction. The Sangh Parivar played politics with Hindu sentiment in Jammu, raising the confrontation to a new level.
But we need to look at the Kashmir situation in a deeper way. We can no longer treat it on a case-by-case basis: solve this crisis, and then wait and see how things turn out in the future. If the experience of the last two decades has taught us anything, it is that the situation never really returns to normal. Even when we see the outward symptoms of peace, we miss the alienation and resentment within. No matter what we do, things never get better, for very long.
It’s not as though the Indian state has no experience of dealing with secessionist movements. Almost from the time we became independent 61 years ago, we have been faced with calls for secession from nearly every corner of India: from Nagaland, Assam and Mizoram, from Tamil Nadu, from Punjab etc.
In every single case, democracy has provided the solution. We have followed a three-pronged approach: strong, almost brutal, police or army action against those engaging in violence, a call to the secessionist leaders to join the democratic process and then, generous central assistance for the rebuilding of the state. It is an approach that has worked brilliantly. Even in, say, Mizoram, where alienation was at its height in the 1970s, the new generation sees itself as Indian. The Nagas now concentrate their demands on a redrawing of state boundaries (to take in part of Manipur), not on a threat to the integrity of India. In Tamil Nadu, the Hindi agitation is forgotten and in Punjab, Khalistan is a distant memory.
The exception to this trend has been Kashmir. Contrary to what many Kashmiris claim, we have tried everything. Even today, the state enjoys a special status. Under Article 370 of our Constitution, with the exception of defence, foreign policy, and communication, no law enacted by parliament has any legitimacy in Kashmir unless the state government gives its consent. The state is the only one in India to have its own Constitution and the President of India cannot issue directions to the state government in exercise of the executive power of the Union as he can in every other state. Kashmiri are Indian citizens but Indians are not necessarily Kashmiri citizens. We cannot vote for elections to their assembly or own any property in Kashmir.
Then, there is the money. Bihar gets per capita central assistance of Rs 876 per year. Kashmir gets over ten times more: Rs 9,754 per year. While in Bihar and other states, this assistance is mainly in the forms of loans to the state, in Kashmir 90 per cent is an outright grant. Kashmir’s entire Five Year Plan expenditure is met by the Indian taxpayer. In addition, New Delhi keeps throwing more and more money at the state: in 2004, the Prime Minister gave Kashmir another $ 5 billion for development.
Kashmiris are happy to take the money and the special rights but they argue that India has been unfair to them because no free political process has developed. And, it is true that we have rigged elections in Kashmir. But, it is now nearly a decade since any rigging was alleged. Nobody disputes that the last election was fair. Moreover, even though the Congress got more seats than the PDP, the Chief Ministership went to Mufti Mohammad Sayeed as a gesture.
Given that Kashmir has the best deal of any Indian state, is there anything more we can do? Kashmiris talk about more autonomy. But I don’t see a) what more we can give them and b) how much difference it will make.
If you step back and think about it, the real question is not “how do we solve this month’s crisis”? It is: what does the Centre get in return for the special favours and the billions of dollars?
The short answer is: damn all.
As the current agitation demonstrates, far from gratitude, there is active hatred of India. Pakistan, a small, second-rate country that has been left far behind by India, suddenly acts as though it is on par with us, lecturing India in human rights and threatening to further internationalise the present crisis.
The world looks at us with dismay. If we are the largest democracy on the planet then how can we hang on to a people who have no desire to be part of India?
The other cost of Kashmir is military. Many terrorist acts, from the hijacking of IC 814 to the attack on parliament have Kashmir links. Our response to the parliament attack was Operation Parakram, which cost, in ten months, Rs 6,500 crore and 800 army lives? (Kargil cost us 474 lives.) Each day, our troops and paramilitary forces are subjected to terrorists’s attacks, stress, and ridicule.
So, here’s my question: why are we still hanging on to Kashmir if the Kashmiris don’t want to have anything to do with us?
The answer is machismo. We have been conned into believing that it would diminish India if Kashmir seceded. And so, as we lose lives and billions of dollars, the Kashmiris revel in calling us names knowing that we will never have the guts to let them go.
But would India really be diminished? One argument is that offering Kashmiris the right to self-determination would encourage every other secessionist group. But would it? Isn’t there already a sense in which we treat Kashmir as a special case? No other secessionist group gets Article 370 or so much extra consideration. Besides, if you take this line, then no solution (autonomy, soft borders etc.) is possible because you could argue that everybody else would want it too.
A second objection is that Indian secularism would be damaged by the secession of Kashmir. This is clearly not true. As history has shown, Indian Muslims feel no special kinship with Kashmir. They would not feel less Indian if some Kashmiris departed.
Moreover, too much is made of the size of Kashmir. Actually secessionist feeling is concentrated in the Valley, an area with a population of 4 million that is 98 per cent Muslim. (The Hindus either left or were driven out). Neither Jammu nor Ladakh want to secede. So, is the future of India to be held hostage to a population less than half the size of the population of Delhi?
I reckon we should hold a referendum in the Valley. Let the Kashmiris determine their own destiny. If they want to stay in India, they are welcome. But if they don’t, then we have no moral right to force them to remain. If they vote for integration with Pakistan, all this will mean is that Azad Kashmir will gain a little more territory. If they opt for independence, they will last for about 15 minutes without the billions that India has showered on them. But it will be their decision.
Whatever happens, how can India lose? If you believe in democracy, then giving Kashmiris the right to self-determination is the correct thing to do. And even if you don’t, surely we will be better off being rid of this constant, painful strain on our resources, our lives, and our honour as a nation?
This is India’s century. We have the world to conquer — and the means to do it. Kashmir is a 20th century problem. We cannot let it drag us down and bleed us as we assume our rightful place in the world.
It’s time to think the unthinkable.
Independence Day for Kashmir
By Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar
17 Aug 2008
On August 15, India celebrated independence from the British Raj. But Kashmiris staged a bandh demanding independence from India. A day symbolising the end of colonialism in India became a day symbolising Indian colonialism in the Valley.
As a liberal, I dislike ruling people against their will. True, nation-building is a difficult and complex exercise, and initial resistance can give way to the integration of regional aspirations into a larger national identity — the end of Tamil secessionism was a classical example of this.
I was once hopeful of Kashmir's integration, but after six decades of effort, Kashmiri alienation looks greater than ever. India seeks to integrate with Kashmir, not rule it colonially. Yet, the parallels between British rule in India and Indian rule in Kashmir have become too close for my comfort.
Many Indians say that Kashmir legally became an integral part of India when the maharaja of the state signed the instrument of accession. Alas, such legalisms become irrelevant when ground realities change. Indian kings and princes, including the Mughals, acceded to the British Raj. The documents they signed became irrelevant when Indians launched an independence movement.
The British insisted for a long time that India was an integral part of their Empire, the jewel in its crown, and would never be given up. Imperialist Blimps remained in denial for decades. I fear we are in similar denial on Kashmir.
The politically correct story of the maharaja's accession ignores a devastating parallel event. Just as Kashmir had a Hindu maharaja ruling over a Muslim majority, Junagadh had a Muslim nawab ruling over a Hindu majority. The Hindu maharaja acceded to India, and the Muslim nawab to Pakistan.
But while India claimed that the Kashmiri accession to India was sacred, it did not accept Junagadh's accession to Pakistan. India sent troops into Junagadh, just as Pakistan sent troops into Kashmir. The difference was that Pakistan lacked the military means to intervene in Junagadh, while India was able to send troops into Srinagar. The Junagadh nawab fled to Pakistan, whereas the Kashmir maharaja sat tight. India's double standard on Junagadh and Kashmir was breathtaking.
Do you think the people of Junagadh would have integrated with Pakistan after six decades of genuine Pakistani effort? No? Then can you really be confident that Kashmiris will stop demanding azaadi and integrate with India?
The British came to India uninvited. By contrast, Sheikh Abdullah, the most popular politician in Kashmir, supported accession to India subject to ratification by a plebiscite. But his heart lay in independence for Kashmir, and he soon began manoeuvering towards that end. He was jailed by Nehru, who then declared Kashmir's accession was final and no longer required ratification by a plebiscite. The fact that Kashmir had a Muslim majority was held to be irrelevant, since India was a secular country empowering citizens through democracy.
Alas, democracy in Kashmir has been a farce for most of six decades. The rot began with Sheikh Abdullah in 1951: he rejected the nomination papers of almost all opponents, and so won 73 of the 75 seats unopposed! Nehru was complicit in this sabotage of democracy.
Subsequent state elections were also rigged in favour of leaders nominated by New Delhi. Only in 1977 was the first fair election held, and was won by the Sheikh. But he died after a few years, and rigging returned in the 1988 election. That sparked the separatist uprising which continues to gather strength today.
Many Indians point to long episodes of peace in the Valley and say the separatists are just a noisy minority. But the Raj also had long quiet periods between Gandhian agitations, which involved just a few lakhs of India's 500 million people. One lakh people joined the Quit India movement of 1942, but 25 lakh others joined the British Indian army to fight for the Empire's glory.
Blimps cited this as evidence that most Indians simply wanted jobs and a decent life. The Raj built the biggest railway and canal networks in the world. It said most Indians were satisfied with economic development, and that independence was demanded by a noisy minority. This is uncomfortably similar to the official Indian response to the Kashmiri demand for azaadi.
Let me not exaggerate. Indian rule in Kashmir is not classical colonialism. India has pumped vast sums into Kashmir, not extracted revenue as the Raj did. Kashmir was among the poorest states during the Raj, but now has the lowest poverty rate in India. It enjoys wide civil rights that the Raj never gave. Some elections — 1977, 1983 and 2002 — were perfectly fair.
India has sought integration with Kashmir, not colonial rule. But Kashmiris nevertheless demand azaadi. And ruling over those who resent it so strongly for so long is quasi-colonialism, regardless of our intentions.
We promised Kashmiris a plebiscite six decades ago. Let us hold one now, and give them three choices: independence, union with Pakistan, and union with India. Almost certainly the Valley will opt for independence. Jammu will opt to stay with India, and probably Ladakh too. Let Kashmiris decide the outcome, not the politicians and armies of India and Pakistan.
1953, a lesson in Krisis management
M J Akbar
17 Aug 2008
On August 8, while the same politicians spluttered in Delhi and spleened in Srinagar, Farooq and Omar Abdullah chose to ignore the 55th anniversary of a seminal event in the history of Jammu and Kashmir. On the evening of August 8, 1953, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, using the powers of the Sadar-i-Riyasat Dr Karan Singh, dismissed the government of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, authentic hero of the freedom of India and patriarch of a dynasty that has lasted three generations.
The trigger was an intelligence report, sent by the IB officer in charge of Kashmir, B N Mullik, that Abdullah had left for Gulmarg that morning to make secret contact with a representative from Pakistan. The authenticity of this claim remains in doubt, even if time has made its veracity irrelevant. But for Nehru it was part of a pattern that he could not ignore. Abdullah's unhappiness with Delhi, and Delhi's disenchantment with Abdullah had become a public fact. Abdullah was certain that India was not secular enough; Delhi was equally sure that Abdullah was not Indian enough.
The suspicion had become septic during an agitation in Jammu that summer, spearheaded by the Jana Sangh (predecessor of the BJP). The Jana Sangh was formed in 1951 by Shyama Prasad Mookerjea, a Bengali stalwart of the freedom movement and member of the first Nehru Cabinet after 1947. One of the four points on the Jana Sangh's first manifesto, released on October 21, 1951, was full integration of J&K into India. At its second annual session, in December 1952, Mookerjea announced a popular agitation for the abolition of Article 370, which gave the state specific rights.
By this time Abdullah had begun to openly flirt with ambivalence. While he had little sympathy for Pakistan, he began to crouch and leap towards the idea of independence, an option promoted by America without the camouflage of subtlety. In his biography of Nehru, S Gopal, referring to Volume 5 of The Papers of Adlai Stevenson (edited by W Johnson) notes that "some Indian leaders believed that it was Mrs Loy Henderson, wife of the United States Ambassador, and some CIA agents who encouraged Abdullah to think in these terms".
In the summer of 1950, Abdullah was confident enough to drop broad hints to Sir Owen Dixon, the United Nations representative and publicly rebuke Delhi for giving advice outside defence, external affairs and communications. When Nehru protested, Abdullah sent a letter, dated July 10, 1950, that was a rap on the knuckles rather than a gentle hint: "I have several times stated that we acceded to India because we saw there two bright stars of hope and aspiration, namely Gandhiji and yourself, and despite our having so many affinities with Pakistan we did not join it, because we thought our programme will not fit with their policy. If, however, we are driven to the conclusion that we cannot build our state on our own lines, suited to our genius, what answer can I give to my people and how am I to face them?"
Nehru's debilitating patience was tested further when Abdullah, in a speech at Ranbirsinghpura on April 10, 1952, dismissed full integration into India as "unrealistic, childish and savouring of lunacy". He personalized Kashmir's accession, saying that if anything happened to Nehru, Kashmiris would have to "provide for all eventualities". Although Abdullah tried to make amends in Delhi and at the Madras Congress session by dismissing the idea of independence as foolish, the nuances of doublespeak (a practice that still flourishes among Kashmiri politicians, and which we have been witness to in the last few weeks with increasing intemperance) increased apprehension. Nehru wrote to Maulana Azad on March 1, 1953, "My fear is that Sheikh Sahib, in his present frame of mind, is likely to do something or take some step, which might make things worse..."
America seemed comfortable with what would be worse for India. Between May 1 and 3, Abdullah met Adlai Stevenson (Democratic candidate against Eisenhower and later to serve as US ambassador to the United Nations), their dialogue ending with a seven-hour conversation at which no one else was present. Rumours of American support for independent Kashmir became rampant, and have still not quite died. (Conferences are still frequently held in Washington offering "solutions" that are akin to independence; one such coincided with the present crisis.) On July 13, 1953, Abdullah went a stage further, saying in public, "Kashmir should have the sympathy of both India and Pakistan...It is not necessary for our State to become an appendage of either India or Pakistan."
In that fateful summer of 1953, Jammu became the epicentre of a full-blown agitation in collaboration with the Akali Dal, led by Master Tara Singh. Nehru had added some fuel to this fire by conceding a psychologically provocative demand in what has come to be known as the Delhi Agreement, signed in 1952, by which J&K was granted its own flag. The agitation had a powerful slogan: Ek Desh mein do Vidhaan, Ek Desh mein do Nishaan, Ek Desh mein do Pradhaan, nahin challengey nahin challengey. On May 8, 1953, Mookerjea tried to cross the Madhopur bridge on the Jammu border in order to lead the agitation in Jammu. Abdullah ordered his arrest. On June 23, 1953, he died while still under detention in Abdullah's jail.
The decision to remove Sheikh Abdullah from office had been made at least a week before August 8, on July 31, at a closed-door meeting between Nehru, Mullik and D W Mehra, deputy director of IB, amidst reports that Abdullah was preparing to dismiss what was considered the "pro-India" section of his Cabinet, including his deputy Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad. Mullik describes Nehru as "being nearly overwhelmed by emotion...we realized that he was on the point of uprooting a plant which he had nursed with great care".
There were few contemporaries for whom Nehru had greater affection or admiration. If Sardar Patel brought the rest of the princely states (barring Hyderabad) into the Union of India, then it was the political-personal friendship of Nehru and Abdullah that brought Kashmir to India. Kashmir was not simply the geographical frontier of secular India, it was also its ideological frontier —in Abdullah's words, the "stabilizing force for India".
Nehru began the process of assimilation with geography. There were two pre-Partition routes linking Srinagar to its south, one via Murree, Rawalpindi and Lahore, and the second through Sialkot. Neither would be available to India after Partition. There was a miserable third option, a dirt track via Gurdaspur vulnerable to weather.
Gurdaspur was a Muslim-majority district and the whole of it could have easily gone to Pakistan. Before Sir Cyril Radcliffe arrived in India to map partition, Nehru lobbied hard with Mountbatten to keep this dirt tract within India. When the Radcliffe Award was announced on August 16, Gurdaspur had been split along the line of the Ravi, and Nehru had achieved his purpose. Pakistan has consistently claimed that this was done because of the "personal" influence that Nehru had on the Mountbattens. The road link proved vital when war broke out over Kashmir within six weeks of Partition. It is ironic that the first country to blockade supplies to Srinagar was Pakistan, in early October 1947, as a prelude to hostilities. The official excuse was communal disturbances.
Keeping Kashmir in India proved more difficult than its accession: against the war-energy of Pakistan, international pressure and domestic turmoil. Nehru had made one mistake, when taking, under Mountbatten's advice, the Kashmir issue to the United Nations. He was not going to make another. Friendship with Abdullah became irrelevant. There could be no compromise with the security of India. Sixty people died in the disturbances that followed Abdullah's dismissal, but a potential threat to Indian unity had been averted.
Five and a half decades later, a successor government of the Congress seems impotent as allies like Mehbooba Mufti brazenly threaten to open links with Pakistan, friends proclaim nationalism in Delhi and duplicity in the valley, and pro-Pakistan leaders like Geelani are "liberated" by crowds with utter contempt for authority.
Playing with fire in Jammu & Kashmir
By Praful Bidwai
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Jammu and Kashmir is burning. Jammu has witnessed an intensely chauvinist, communal and violent agitation for over seven weeks over the cancellation of an order transferring 100 acres of forest land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board. This is pitting Jammu against Kashmir, ethnic groups against other ethnic groups, and Hindus against Muslims in dangerous new ways.
The Bharatiya Janata Party has politicised and exploited the agitation cynically. It imposed an economic blockade which closed the Jammu-Srinagar highway for weeks and brought goods transportation to a halt, causing great public suffering.
The explosion of intolerance in Jammu is reproduced like a mirror-image in the Kashmir Valley, where mainstream parties joined separatists in marching to Muzaffarabad with the ostensible aim of selling perishable fruit in Pakistani Kashmir—just when the blockade was lifted. More than 20 people were killed in condemnable, highhanded police action.
The twin agitations threaten J&K’s unity and plural, multi-cultural, and multi-religious character in unprecedented ways. In less than two months, the BJP has succeeded in driving an emotional and political wedge between Jammu and Kashmir—something that jihadi separatists working with Pakistani agencies couldn’t achieve in the nearly 20 years of the azadi movement.
The origins of the present ferment go back to the state government’s decision to establish the SASB, thus interfering gratuitously with spontaneous Hindu-Muslim cooperation in organising the pilgrimage for decades. It has promoted this on a gigantic scale.
Matters came to a head last May when the Congress-People’s Democratic Party government illegally transferred forest land to the SASB. This triggered militant protests in the Valley.
Hurriyat moderates and the PDP joined hardline separatists in giving a communal colour to the land transfer, prompting its cancellation—only to provoke counter-protests in Jammu, which were taken over by the BJP through the Shri Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti.
The twin agitations have deepened communal polarisation, and radicalised both Hurriyat and Hindutva hardliners.
The Centre failed to enforce the law and open the Jammu-Srinagar highway until it was too late. Its belated attempt to defuse the situation through an 18-member all-party committee hasn’t made headway.
The SASS wants the land re-transferred to the SASB and Governor N N Vohra removed. Such demands are vindictive or totally devoid of political rationality. This only shows that the BJP wants to prolong the Jammu crisis and milk it politically.
The SASS, a 28-group network, is basically a Sangh Parivar enterprise. Its three top leaders—Leelakaran Sharma, Mahant Dinesh Bharti and Brig (Retd) Suchet Singh—have RSS backgrounds and are closely linked with the J&K National Front, which demands the state’s trifurcation: Jammu and Kashmir as separate states, and Ladakh a Union Territory.
The demand is despicably communal. No wonder the RSS national council backed it in 2001. In the 2002 Assembly elections, the RSS supported the Jammu State Morcha, which demands statehood for Jammu.
Any division of Jammu and Kashmir along religious lines is a recipe for the separation of the Kashmir Valley from India. It will harden and freeze two opposing identities—a “Muslim Kashmir,” and a “Hindu Jammu.” Nothing could better help the Valley’s discredited pro-Pakistan Islamic separatists like Syed Ali Shah Gilani, who oppose a pluralist, secular identity for Kashmir.
The demand for trifurcating J&K will play straight into the hands of Pakistani hardliners who want to erase whatever progress has been made in informal talks seeking a solution to the Kashmir problem without redrawing boundaries, and who want to retrogress to the perspective of securing Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan—as part of “the unfinished agendas of Partition.”
Why has the BJP embarked on this dangerous course? It’s desperate to rescue its sagging fortunes by finding any issue on which to win support. It’s organising traffic blockades on the Amarnath issue nationally and mouthing shopworn clichés like “injustice to Hindus.”
The BJP even brazenly denies that there ever was an economic blockade in J&K! General secretary Arun Jaitley calls this “a myth” and contends that the Jammu agitation is entirely peaceful.
Yet, Jammu’s protestors, who increasingly resemble Hindutva’s storm troopers in Gujarat-2002 in appearance, have indulged in stone- and acid-throwing attacks on truck drivers. According to the far-from-hostile state government, Jammu has witnessed 10,513 protests and 359 “serious incidents of violence” on the Amarnath issue, in which 28 government buildings, 15 police vehicles and 118 private vehicles were damaged.
Eighty cases of communal violence were registered, in which 20 persons were injured and 72 Gujjar homes were burnt.
As many as 117 police personnel and 78 civilians were injured in the Jammu violence, and 129 cases were registered and 1,171 arrests made. Schools, colleges, government offices and hospitals were paralysed.
Grievances in Jammu, many of them legitimate, took this regrettably violent expression thanks to communalism’s baneful effect.
The BJP was pivotal in planning and executing this violence. Its leaders have gone Back to Basics—unembellished, crude, super-sectarian Hindutva.
L K Advani just can’t wait to become prime minister. His speeches have become shrill, and his body language has changed. This is no longer the Advani who wanted to inherit the “moderate” Vajpayee legacy. This is the Advani of many past Rathyatras—aggressive, warlike, spewing communal venom, and leaving a trail of blood.
Advani will now stoop to any level to collect political brownie points, regardless of the issue. The other day, the issue was the UPA government’s alleged weakness in the face of terrorism. Then, it was the India-US nuclear deal, the culmination of a long process the BJP itself initiated, and which its urban-middle-class core constituency supports.
Now, Advani is drumming up Hindu-chauvinist hysteria over 100 acres of land, laying claim to it on the specious ground that the Hindus must have the first claim to land anywhere in India by virtue of their numerical majority—and hence primacy.
This is an egregiously, if not classically, anti-secular proposition.
Why is the BJP so desperate? Barely one month ago, after a series of Assembly wins, it had primed itself up into believing that its victory was imminent in the next Lok Sabha. It even started announcing candidates.
But the BJP was badly checkmated during the confidence vote. It lost it—despite trying every trick in the book. Worse, Advani was eclipsed by Mayawati’s dramatic emergence as an alternative.
The BJP’s plans went awry. The victorious and now aggressive Manmohan Singh couldn’t be convincingly depicted as “India’s weakest-ever prime minister.” The BJP botched up its in manipulative political act, where it’s supposedly unmatched.
It wanted to create a Bofors out of the cash-for-votes “sting.” But after the CNN-IBN tapes’ telecast, that looks like collusive but ineffective “entrapment.”
The highest number of MPs defying their party whip during the confidence vote were from the BJP. Thanks to its MPs’ involvement in the “cash-for-questions” scam, human trafficking, and the latest acts of defiance, the BJP has lost 17 of its original 137 Lok Sabha seats.
The National Democratic Alliance once had 24 members. Now it’s down to five.
As trouble brews in all of its state units, the BJP will use inflammatory tactics to buoy up its fortunes. The Indian public will have to pay the price—unless it sends the party packing.
The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights
activist based in Delhi. Email: email@example.com
Amarnath and Congress legacy in J&K
By Sudheendra Kulkarni
Posted online: Sunday, August 17, 2008
Gen (retd) S K Sinha, who until recently served as the Governor of Jammu & Kashmir, is being blamed for the controversy surrounding the Amarnath Yatra. The charge is false and malicious. If anybody deserves the blame, it is the leadership of the Congress party and the UPA Government.
Sinha has a long association with the problem in J&K — indeed, as long as the problem itself. In October 1947, he, as a 21-year-old officer in the Indian Army, was posted in Srinagar when the newly carved out Pakistan tried to annex Kashmir by launching a military attack. How did the people of Kashmir Valley react to this invasion? Sinha, still energetic and remarkably articulate at 82, recounts with a sparkle in his eyes the slogan he had heard in the streets of Srinagar: “Hamlewaar khabardaar / Hum Kashmiri Hindu-Musalmaan hain taiyyar”. (Invaders, be warned. We Kashmiris, both Hindus and Muslims, are ready to throw you out.)
That was then. Now, 61 years later, we have a situation in which separatist forces have the audacity to take out a pro-Pakistan march to Muzaffarabad by raising the bogey of a non-existent economic blockade by the people of Jammu. On Independence Day, they pulled down the tricolour at Srinagar’s Lal Chowk and hoisted their own green-coloured flag. It is a measure of how utterly badly the affairs of Jammu & Kashmir have been handled over the past six decades by most governments at the state and national levels.
The best time to resolve the issue of Jammu & Kashmir once and for all was in 1947 itself, at the time of India’s partition. By mounting a failed attack on J&K in October 1947, Pakistan had indeed provided a golden opportunity for India to drive the invaders back fully and to force a permanent solution to the problem. Sadly, Jawarharlal Nehru’s lack of firmness and farsightedness at the time is extracting a heavy price from India even today. What a stark contrast there was between Nehru’s messing up of J&K’s integration with India and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s clean success in integrating all the remaining 562 princely states!
Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, had another great opportunity to secure a permanent solution to the Kashmir issue in the wake of the 1971 war for the liberation of Bangladesh. Pakistan had tasted a humiliating defeat and was internationally discredited for its unspeakable atrocities in the eastern Bengali-speaking part of its territory. Worse still, the Indian Army had as many as 93,000 Pakistani POWs. From this position of strength, Indira Gandhi could have easily compelled a defeated and demoralised Pakistan to accept a final settlement of the Kashmir issue. Alas, the 1972 Shimla accord postponed the settlement to a future date, which has still not arrived.
Her son and successor Rajiv Gandhi, an immature Prime Minister with no past political experience to his credit, allowed himself to be influenced by bad advisors and permitted brazen rigging of the Assembly elections in J&K in 1987. The anger and alienation which this Centrally-sponsored poll-rigging created made the Kashmiri soil more fertile than before for Pakistan to sow Islamist extremism and anti-India sentiments in the Valley.
Thus, we see that each of the three members of the Nehru-Gandhi family who have ruled India has contributed to the problem in Kashmir, a problem that has bled India for six decades and threatens to bleed us for many more decades to come. Now we have a fourth member of the family, Sonia Gandhi, in full control of the Government in New Delhi. What has been her attitude towards the current crisis in J&K, sparked by the provision of land — a meager 100 acres — for providing temporary amenities for Amarnath pilgrims? Deliberate silence. But the manner in which her Government has handled this issue speaks eloquently about its callousness and ineptitude.
The Amarnath issue would not have flared up at all if the Congress leadership in New Delhi and Srinagar had the courage of conviction to tell the people of Kashmir and the rest of India that the decision of the J&K Government (which, it must be remembered, was a Congress-led Government) to provide of land to the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board was fully in consonance with (a) the law of the land (‘The Jammu and Kashmir Shri Amarnathji Shrine Act, 2000’ Act passed by the J&K legislature); (b) directions of the judiciary (judgment of the Jammu & Kashmir High Court in 2005); and (c) Articles 26 and 27 of the Constitution of Secular India (these Articles clearly state that every religious denomination has the right, among other things, to manage its own affairs in matters of religion and, for this purpose, to own and acquire movable and immovable property). If space can be provided for a special Haj terminal at the international airport in Delhi, why not land for erecting basic amenities for Amarnath yatris? Can the Law and Constitution be different in Kashmir and in the rest of India?
Since the Congress leadership lacked the courage to stand by what is right, it meekly succumbed to the pressure of pro-Pakistani agitators in the Valley and revoked the order of land allotment to the Shrine Board. The subsequent counter-agitation by the people in Jammu is a legitimate expression of anger at this policy of appeasement of anti-India elements in Kashmir.
It is indeed India’s tragedy that the present leadership of the Congress and the UPA Government draws no distinction between anti-Amarnath protesters in Kashmir who have pro-Pakistan slogans on their lips, and the agitators in Jammu who have the tricolour in their hands.
Write to: Sudheenkulkarni@gmail.com
J&K crisis: Body count rises, so does talk of azadi
By Avijit Ghosh , TNN
17 Aug 2008
It's the morning of Independence Day. Srinagar is quiet but edgy. There's no curfew but the roads are relatively empty. We are on our way to what locals call Mazaar-e-Sheodah, the martyrs' graveyard, situated a few kilometres down the road. Two local journalists are accompanying us. They are our guides to the venue. They are also our comfort factor.
Azim (name changed) lives nearby and knows many people in the vicinity. But as he himself points out, there are no guarantees. In recent weeks, quite a few journalists have been beaten up in Kashmir Valley for perceived misrepresentation of facts. Azim, too, was one of the victims; his Nikon D-70 camera was snatched and thrown to the ground. The lens was dislocated. He says, "Without the camera, I feel naked and helpless."
The martyrs' graveyard is located at the Idgah. This is where people offered Id prayers before the 1990s. Then as the separatist movement gathered steam, so did the number of deaths. It was decided then that the place would be converted into a dedicated burial place for those who have died for the cause. Now locals estimate there are about 1,000 graves.
Black flags mark the gateway to the graveyard. The pathway inside is cemented. Surrounded by flowering plants and shrubs, the graves are marked by marble tablets identifying them. Many are covered with a velvety green chadar. On Thursday, the graveyard received two fresh bodies: Tanvir Ahmed Handu and Shaukat Ahmed Butt, both killed in police and paramilitary firing.
Habibullah Khan, a 62-year-old bearded man with intense eyes and a persuasive manner of speech, looks after the graveyard. "I had never imagined that one day 1,000 people who died for our cause will be buried here," he says. "And this is not the only graveyard in Kashmir for those who have died for the Kashmiri cause," says Irfan Sayyed, a 27-year-old engineer, standing nearby.
South Asian Terrorism Portal statistics show that between 1998-2008 (August 6), 42,045 have been killed in terrorist violence in Kashmir. Of them, 14,487 are civilians. In fact, before the recent snowballing of the Amarnath land issue this year, Kashmir had its lowest civilian casualties since 1989. In 1996, the figure had reached a disgraceful high of 1,333. This year, it was down to 45 (till August 6). Add the 30 who died in recent incidents of firing and the number goes up to 75. Incidentally, that's lower than the toll in Rajasthan, Manipur and Assam this year
But Habibullah, like many others who gather around him in the graveyard, is not interested in the relativity of statistics. He is consumed by bitter memories of the last two decades. "There is no day in the past 18-20 years that I can forget. Every day has been the same," he says angrily.
Then he remembers something and gets even angrier. He begins narrating the tale of the "biggest terrorist that you'll ever see" — Saqib Bashir, a two-year-old who died as an aimless bullet went through his head in the 1990s. He first leads us to Saqib's grave, then to a succession of graves: all, he said, victims of police, paramilitary or armed forces firing.
Rafiq Ahmed, who describes himself as a full-time worker dedicated to the cause of "freedom" takes over the conversation. "The issue isn't about land or the Amarnath Yatra. It's about independence. We are fighting for azadi," he says. Suddenly, the crowd shout slogans of azadi. The issue obviously is infectious.
Also obvious is a general irreverence, bordering on contempt, for all mainstream political parties in Kashmir. The overall sense that comes through is this: the Amarnath land imbroglio may not be the real cause of the ongoing agitation, but the blockade of the Jammu highway did become the immediate rallying point because it affected many families in Kashmir. The deaths due to firing have now taken the agitation to another level.
The growing support for stability ushered by the last few years of popular government seems to be coming apart in the wake of this agitation. Businessmen say the past two years have been great for them. This summer, hotels and houseboats were packed. "Before the agitation, this was the best year in two decades," says houseboat owner Ghulam Qadir. Mohammed Aslam, who lives near Dal Lake, says he has seen tourists sleep on pavements this season because all hotel rooms were booked. "We wouldn't like any change in the status of Kashmir. Where else can we get a market of 100 crore people?" asks a businessman who doesn't want to be identified. But his is a minority view.
Or perhaps they are less visible on the streets of Srinagar. For, the huge processions consist mainly of young protestors, in the 15-30 age group. That's the core age base of the movement. Satisfying the demands of these protestors may not be easy, but no one is really trying to engage them. The situation cries out for sincere political leadership. But nobody seems to be applying for the job.
Valley on the edge
By Subodh Ghildiyal,TNN
17 Aug 2008
Hundreds of thousands attended the 'Rasam-e-Charim' ceremony of slain Kashmiri leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz
Bandhs and protests. Firings and deaths. Jackboots and fanatics. The Kashmir valley has lived with these for decades. So what's new now? Squeezing time out from his preparation for the Friday prayers at Jamia Mosque, Mirwaiz Omer Farooq offers an answer. "There's a big change from then and now," he says. "The change is that there is no militancy this time."
What he means is that classical militancy — marked by killing of innocents and ambushing security personnel — is no longer as relevant. You see this on the ground. On August 15, when the CRPF commander hoisted the Tricolour at Srinagar's heart — Lal Chowk — the officers and jawans showed little apprehension. Within two hours, the flag was folded and kept away, the precautionary deployment withdrawn, and Lal Chowk was soon taken over by a crowd baying for azadi. There was a protest blackout in the evening too, but none of the booming guns and Mujahideen statements, that had been the staple for I-Days until now.
There are other indications of change. Normally known for his fiery statements and his rabble-rousing tactics on August 15, Jamaat-e-Islami leader and Hurriyat hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani this time peppered his Islamist hardtalk with advice to his followers to use their "victimhood" and "work intelligently". "Apni mazloomiat barkarar rakho," he told a crowd on the evening of I-Day.
Are the hawks turning doves? Or is it that they sense a peaceful agitation would now be more effective for driving home their separatist agenda? The Mirwaiz gave a perspective into the current strategy. "Now Delhi cannot dismiss the demand of Kashmiris as militancy. Now, it has to address the issue (of Kashmir's status)," he said. Mind you, he is still selling his softliner image — his readiness to talk if demands such as opening up of the Muzaffarabad road, reduction of troops, and action against the paramilitary, are addressed.
Ironically, the opportunity for the separatists has come when the global appeal of the Islamic cause has hit an all-time low. To that extent, there is also a sense of anxiety in the separatist camp. The winds of change in the global scenario are seen as a setback, particularly the US tilt towards India and events post 9/11. Also, India's emergence as a force to reckon with has spurred the idea that the Kashmiri voice has to be remodelled.
It's not that everyone agrees on this. There are differences within the Hurriyat ranks. Geelani made his objective clear when he announced a new slogan and exhorted his workers to embrace a "one-point programme: Azadi Bara-e-Islam (freedom for Islam)". The point is not difficult to miss — Geelani's mission is not for the valley's prosperity, identity or honour; it is for Islam, and hence has political overtones that crosses national boundaries.
The objective, the Hurriyat believes, can be achieved without resorting to violence. In fact, there is unanimity on this between the two Hurriyat groups: go for peaceful demonstrations. The tactic might be more effective in winning greater legitimacy for the demand, but it's not easy to carry out. For, years of protests have created a generation more vehement in its demands, and more dogged in its beliefs.
But at the same time, the relative calm provided by popular governance has stoked the ambitions of people — a desire to reap the fruits of normalcy, for a thriving economy where tourists flock to the hotels and houseboats and transporters are free to ferry goods and people.
Just how long can Srinagar streets remain closed? Already, supplies are running dry and people edgy. The fear that the business of everyday living may prevail over the "larger struggle" is something that the separatists are well aware of. Which is why they have been quick to dub the agitation as a rebuff to Ghulam Nabi Azad's claim of "Khushal Kashmir". Even while they look over their shoulders to see whether a yearning for normalcy is growing, the Hurriyat leaders claim that the movement now is "beyond all this."
What's still providing a high-octane charge to the separatists' agitation is the arrival of RSS affiliates on the Jammu scene to lead the economic blockade. Security agencies attest that this has added communal overtones to the whole issue, giving the agitation a boost.
The continuing Jammu agitation and the blockade has also fuelled fear among the locals that there is a pan-Indian Hindu consolidation against Kashmir. Remarkably, even mainstream politicians are insisting that opening of the Muzaffarabad road is a must. While India has already signed up for opening the route, for the separatists, the symbolism of a link to Pakistan means a great deal. It could mark another change in how Kashmir acts and the Centre reacts in future.
Source: The Times of India, New Delhi