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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 44, October 23, 2010

Federal India’s Ideal on Trial in Kashmir

Sunday 24 October 2010, by Sailendra Nath Ghosh

Two momentous developments took place in the second half of September. An all-party delegation of parliamentarians visited Kashmir to study the ground reality at first hand; and following the visit, an eight-point package was announced by the Government of India. The all-party delegation of MPs symbolised the whole of India’s interest (i) in Kashmir’s sentiments and views about their future, and (ii) in knowing precisely the factors that gave rise to the unrest.

The eight-point package includes (i) advice to the State Government to release all students and youths detained or arrested for pelting stones; (ii) advice to the State Government to review the cases of detainees under the Public Security Act and withdraw detention orders in apt cases; (iii) decision to appoint a team of four interlocutors to begin sustained dialogues with all sections of the J&K populace; (iv) decision to appoint two special task forces, one each for Jammu and Ladakh to examine the regions’ developmental needs; (v) request to the State Government to convene a meeting of the Unified Command (consisting of the military, the State Police, the CRPF and the civil administration) to review the deployment of forces in Kashmir and to withdraw the application of the Disturbed Areas Act wherever possible; (vi) a grant to the State Government to immediately re-open educational institutions and conduct the year’s examinations in time; (vii) grant of ex-gratia to the bereaved families at Rs 5 lakhs per person killed in the civil disturbances since June 11, 2010; and (viii) provision of Rs 100 crores to improve educational infrastructure across the State.

Area-wise review of the need for continued application of the Disturbed Areas Act would automatically mean the withdrawal of the AFSPA from the areas that come to be denotified.

Although this announcement may be welcomed as the first minimal step, there are reasons to feel that the process of reconciliation is yet to begin. The politics in Jammu and Kashmir—and also in the Indian Union as a whole—are highly fractious and the roadmap for reaching a consensus has not yet been thought of. A mere two-day visit by the all-party delegation was far from sufficient for understanding the ground reality. Visits to the lanes and by-lanes of the towns and cities, from where allegations of CRPF vandalism came, needed to have been part of their itinerary. While they listened to the separatists, they did not engage the latter in a dialogic process.

For example, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who often accuses India of not honouring its plebiscite pledge, ought to have been asked if Pakistan had demilitarised PoK to create the condition for the plebiscite. He needed to be asked if he would undertake to prepare the necessary condition, even now, for the plebiscite (i) by securing the demilitarisation of Pak-occupied Kashmir; (ii) by giving guarantees that there are no jihadi ammunition dumps buried within the territory of J&K; and (iii) by ensuring that the people of Gilgit, Hunza and Baltistan would be enabled to participate in the plebiscite and be accessible to public pre-vote addresses by the Valley’s leaders. The Mirwaiz, too, needed to be asked (i) if he was sure that the separated Kashmir would not be gobbled up by Pakistan and later ceded to China, as Gilgit and Baltistan has been; (ii) what would be his reaction if the regions of Jammu and Ladakh, which have been clamouring for fuller integration with the Indian Union, seek separation from the Valley in the event of the latter’s insistence on secession; (iii) does his Hurriyat recognise that the Kashmiri Pandits should be rehabilitated within the Valley with guarantees for their security; (iv) would he like to revive the Nund Rishi’s Islam in the Valley? The PDP ought to have been drawn out of its shell and asked to explain how free movement across the LoC, free trade and economic cooperation with PoK could be feasible in the context of Pakistan’s one-point programme of India bashing. And both the National Conference and PDP leaders needed to be asked (i) what kind of autonomy they are prepared to allow for the two regions of Jammu and Ladakh and what kind of devolutions they are prepared to permit for the Valley’s districts and the other two regions’ districts; (ii) why despite the greater autonomy enjoyed by this State, the J&K panchayats enjoy far less democratic rights than in India’s other States; (iii) why the people of J&K are prevented from taking decisions about their locales through the local self-governance insti-tutions; (ii) why the Human Rights Commission and the Women’s Commission of the State are dysfunctional and why the Right to Information Act, which could be a powerful instrument in the people’s hands against authoritarianism and corruption at different levels, has remained virtually unimple-mented in this State.

Of course, the future interlocutors would have to probe these questions. But the MPs, the lawmakers of India, were the most appropriate personages to ask these crucial political questions.

II

Genesis of the Stone-pelting Civil Disobedience in the Valley

There is no doubt that after the repeated failures of the waves of infiltrating armed terrorists since 1989, the ISI masterminded this stone-pelting civil disobedience in the Valley in 2010, borrowing the technique from Palestine. Several considerations motivated the ISI. Stone pelting would make the world feel that Kashmir is in India’s siege as the Gaza Strip of Palestine is in the seige of Israel.

Secondly, where individual or group level armed terrorists could not succeed, the stone- pelting civilian population, particularly teenagers and women, could possibly do. If the Indian security forces could be provoked to open fire and kill some protestors, the cycles of stone pelting and killings could snowball into a mass uprising. In which case, the Indian security forces would appear to the world as an “external force of occupation”. There is also no doubt that the sum of $ 5 billion, which the ISI obtained out of the largesse the US doled out to Pakistan as development assistance plus grant for “war on terror” (which amount the ISI could not account for before the Pak establishment’s audit agency), was covertly used by it to build an extensive network of hardline India-haters and fanatical protestors in the Kashmir Valley.

However, facts about conspiracies from Pakistan must not obscure the stark fact that Kashmir’s alienation from the Indian Union has reached a new height due to several factors. No civilian population can bear the visible presence of large numbers of armed personnel within their habitation zone. The sight itself becomes a source of anguish and dismay and frays the nerves. Unless all members of the security forces become conscious fraternisers of the civilian population, many of them become exploiters by forcing the local people to do unpaid labour for them; they also tend to occasionally indulge in sexual exploitation. It must not be forgotten that the protest movement that began on June 11 last was against the killing of three men in fake encounters in the Kupwara district. According to the J&K State Police, these men were lured to serve as workers, taken to the LoC, and in a staged encounter, killed in cold blood. Were these soldiers seeking easy ways to get gallantry awards? Our Defence Minister, A.K. Antony, who has a high reputation of personal honesty, fails to grasp that a few incidents like this can undo all the good work done by the Army over the years. Such events turn the local populace against the forces that have been defending them from infiltrating terrorists. The entire defence potential gets subverted by the hostilities in the rear.

In fact, it is the people of India as a whole— not of the people of Kashmir alone—who demand the trial of the accused Armymen. They have disgraced India’s name and brought disrepute to the Indian Army which had possibly the highest reputation in the world for patriotism, integrity and dedication.

III

Need for Real Power in People’s Hands

A basic question comes up here. Why do we have to station a huge battalion of Army among the civilian population when no foreign Army is visibly approaching to violate the LoC? A popular leadership, like Sheikh Abdullah’s, would have raised a huge volunteer force from among the local populace and given them training in arms wielding to cope with emergent situations. In recent decades, the failure of the political leaders to create and maintain such a popular base is an index of the deficits in their popularity.

But why do I talk of such leadership deficit in J&K alone? In no other State of India now, is there any coalition of political operatives who can rouse and unify the entire populace. This is possible only where democracy has taken deep roots and is vibrant in people’s lives. This is possible only when the assemblies of villages (gram sabhas) take the basic decisions governing their own lives. This is the magic that the Gandhian model can work. This is the reason why I had fervently pleaded for vesting the basic power in Kashmir’s gram sabhas, for changing the Panchyat Act, and taking this as the starting model for J&K to be followed in the whole of India. This is a model not only for “holding together” the federation but also of “pulling others” towards it. This will attract the people of Pakistan and even of China, for nowhere else democracy is allowed to work so deep. In the Indian Union, this transformation of villages has been resisted by vested interests because the MPs and MLAs and the bureaucrats, who now boss over the people, will find their leverage gone. Let today’s crisis in Kashmir force this change and bring a boon to India and the world.

IV

The Key Task is to Solve the Kashmiri Youth’s Identity Crisis

Appraisal of the Kashmir situation marks it out as a revolt of the youth. They have no faith in either the Government of India or in the government of the State. They have lost faith in everything and have no hope to live for. Hence they cry for “azadi” without knowing its contents. This is the reason why Prof Susheela Bhan, herself a Kashmiri, says that the central task is to re-orient the youths’ consciousness by breaking the hold of the debilitating distortions of Kashmiriyat on their consciousness and to help them get over their alienation from state power and even from the adult people around them except those who titillate their imagination by dispensing counsels for destruction. They have grown up in the period when the sublime and unique Kashmiriyat, which had been shaped by Shaikh Nooruddin (Nund Rishi) and Shaivite Yogini Lalleshwari and had held sway since the early fifteenth century, got largely eclipsed by the tide of sectarian, soul-killing Muslimism from West Asia and Pakistan in the post-partition-of-India period. They were also haunted by the fear of the rise of Hindu communalism in India. It is only when they can be buoyed up with a new vision that the tide of feeling of insecurity and destructivity can be turned.

In fact, this is not a sense of insecurity of the Kashmiri youth alone. The decline of traditional values and erosion of the primary bases of sustenance and support has created in the youth a sense of insecurity all over the world. In the tropical countries, which emulated the globally dominant powers’ development paradigm, the youths’ sense of insecurity is even more. This is a paradigm which throws up some billionaires at one end and gives rise to vast numbers of malnourished people at the other. Its genre of technologies enables exploration of outer space at one end and creates climate change-threatening life’s extinction at the other. It promotes the culture of “self first” and cut-throatism on others. In both India and Pakistan, there has been an exacerbation of this ense of insecurity. In the specific case of India, the high ideal of “sarva dharma samabhava” having gone astray, what have been produced are diverse distortions such as “minority aggressivism alternating with deep frustration”, “majoritarian assertion” and “pseudo-secularist appeasement”. All these evil traits are reinforcing one another and cumulatively raising the communal animus and sense of insecurity. If the said lofty ideal of samabhava had been implemented along with the befitting use of traditional tools—that is, soulful reinterpretation of religious scriptures such as the Koran and the Upanishads—the outcome would have been very different.

In the Kashmir Valley, the youth’s identity crisis and the underlying sense of insecurity got accentuated further due to the Indo-Pak conflict and tug-of-war between the traditional Nund Rishi version of Islam and the new incoming tide of Wahabi Islam which is at odds with all Sufi versions of Islam. This sense of insecurity can be overcome only by a cultural renewal. In Kashmir’s case, the much needed cultural renewal is restoration of the pristine values of Kashmiriyat shaped by Lal Ded and Shaikh Nooruddin (Nund Rishi) whose core messages were “Religious Tolerance”, “Peace for All” and “Service to Humanity” (service to humanity brings men nearer to the Creator, the Sufis taught). Lal Ded had rebelled against oppressive social order encrusted by casteism. Shaikh Nooruddin had decried the soul-killing dogmatism and narrow-mindedness of the ulema, fought against injustice and exploitation; preached the dignity of manual labour, and advised everybody to evolve his/her own strength in total dependence on the Creator (not on any human agency). Restoration of Lal Ded-cum-Nund Rishi’s percepts, all of which are in accord with the universally recognised modern values of democracy, social justice, and secularism—in the sense of equal treatment to people of all faiths—will open up a new vista.

Restored to these values, the youths of Kashmir can be the harbingers of Hindu-Muslim unity in the whole of India. By their transformation as sharers of political power with other religious communities, they will be the potential peace-makers in the world of Islam (spread from Africa to the shores of South-East Asia) which is now riven by shia-sunni conflicts and ethnic strifes. The uniqueness of Kashmiriyat can give them this spiritual power. By continuing as Indians, they can be stakeholders in India’s power of technology as well as its universally acclaimed civilisational ideal. By adopting a positive outlook and embarking on constructive thinking, they will find a new strength in themselves.

V

The Kind of Initiatives needed for the Valley Youth’s Cultural Renewal

A vigorous movement for cultural renewal needs to be launched by the State and the civil society. Its programmes should include

(i) organising discourses on Kashmir’s ancient mediaeval and recent political and cultural history. Kashmiris claim that their history is 5000 years old and this consists of three volumes. The Kashmiris are said to have contributed more than 35 per cent of India’s ancient literature in Sanskrit. Their history would also show they fought their rulers—be they Afghans, Mughals, the Sikhs or Dogras—as Kashmiris, not on the basis of religio-communal considerations. Their geography—location as a Valley surrounded by mountains—has given them a distinct identity and helped them retain their individuality.

(ii) Publishing lakhs of nominally priced booklets of Lal Ded and Nund Rishi’s shortest verses, in Kashmiri, Urdu, Hindi and English languages so that these can be the “oft-quotes” in daily conver-sations and leave their lasting impress on people’s consciousness. Their appreciation by both Kashmiris and non-Kashmiris will give the movement a new impetus.

(iii) Introducing the practice of taking pledges in the schools, colleges and educational institutions for living these gurus’ (Lal Ded’s and Nund Rishi’s) teachings. Their verses are, even now, widely recited on ceremonial occasions but these get lost in life under the weight of politically partisan rhetoric.

(iv) Since “service to humanity” and “dignity of manual labour” were pillars of their percepts, these can be made the bases of all humanitarian and socially uplifting activities and also of programmes for ecological restoration such as reforestation of Kashmir, depollution of lakes, control of atmospheric pollution, water conservation, harnessing of microhydels and their use for improvements of particularly the poor people’s lives, for fighting injustice and all forms of exploitation, for enhancement of community health etc. In this age of climate change when life on this planet is in peril, Kashmir alone cannot be saved. Therefore, the youth of Kashmir will have to turn their energies to saving the Earth and also to saving themselves from floods and other kinds of disasters.

(v) Adopting the kinds of activities which the IPRA (Institute of Peace Research and Action) has been pursuing in Kashmir under its CROKSY (Cultural Renewal of Student Youth) programmes. It has been running myriad kinds of programmes, among which are activities such as essay compe-titions and debates on subjects like “The Kashmir of My Dream”, “If I were the Chief Minister”, “If I were the Prime Minister of India”, “Corruption in Public Life”, “Negative Aspects of Scientific Inventions” etc.

(vi) Starting Cultural Club and Debating Society in every village and every educational institution. Through music and other cultural performances and by challenging intellectual pursuits, they will be able to usher in a renascent Kashmir.

Whereas Kashmir’s youth power is now being spent on negative and unwittingly self-destructive activities such as stone pelting or social net-working through Facebook, they can hence turn to Internet for co-ordination with the youth power of India and the world, for creative activities and earn for themselves a new role.

Up to now, Kashmir’s youths could not even imagine the powerful support they could get from India’s human rights activists if only the latter were apprised of why they feel alienated and oppressed. India’s human rights activists also mistook the former as being wholly inspired by Pakistan’s agents in the Valley. A cultural renewal movement has the potential to bring about a sea-change in the situation.

VI

Need to draw out Kashmir’s Principal Actors’ Inner thoughts

Among the principal actors on the Kashmir scene, the foremost is the Abdullah-led National Conference. This is the single major political force which is sincere in its belief that Kashmir’s future lies with India and which alone has the understanding that a separated Kashmir will be either swallowed up by Pakistan or become a hotbed of intrigues by bigger powers. But, the National Conference-led administration always had some very undesirable features. During Sher-e-Kashmir Sheikh Abdullah time, it was dictatorial but was tolerated by the people because of his charismatic leadership in the past. During Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah’s time, the administration was, and is, inefficient. Because of these leaders’ habit of spending fewer days in Kashmir than in Delhi or abroad, their coterie usurped power and became steeped in corruption. The State suffered from lack of development and remained mired in poverty.

The PDP, led by Mehbooba Mufti and her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, is a major mainstream political party in competition with the National Conference in Kashmir’s State politics. To have an edge over the National Conference, the Muftis occasionally indulge in communal stances on local issues and mildly secessionist rhetoric but are not pro-Pakistani. They talk of free trade across the border and economic co-operation with Pak-occupied Kashmir but do not spell out how this could be feasible when Pakistan, which has a tight grip over PoK, single-mindedly practises an “India-bashing” policy.

The JKLF, led by Yasin Malik, and the larger faction of the Hurriyat led by the Mirwaiz are moderate separatists. They want to separate Kashmir from the Indian Union but do not want to join Pakistan. Yasin Malik viewed Pakistan-inspired terrorism as subversive of indigenous movements. They have never expressed what kind of arrangement they would like to have and with whom to maintain azadi if they succeed in securing it. They are not so naïve as not to know Pakistan’s or China’s intentions. Do they believe that if both India and Pakistan give assurance of non-interference in Kashmir, they can maintain their independence? In these days of power politics and international intrigues, and in view of Pakistan’s drive towards establi-shing strategic depth by bringing Afghanistan to its fold, is that a realistic expectation? Can they not see India’s—and their own—great danger from a neighbouring grabber nation’s sudden thrust into a separated Valley’s power vacuum, as had happened in Tibet? The team of interlocutors would have to engage them in strategic talks. Will they make a compromise with offers of greater autonomy? They must be persuaded to speak out their mind clearly.

The faction of the Hurriyat led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani is a confirmed pro-Pakistani separatist group. The Pakistani establishment’s atrocities in Balochistan, Pakistan’s use of artillery and rockets on its own people in tribal areas (on the very people they had trained as jihadis), do not weaken their faith in Pakistan. Pakistan’s evident moves to bring Afghanistan under its tight control do not open their eyes. Even then, the Geelani group should be asked to give comments on these events.

Geelani is not at all interested in these talks. Therefore, his interest is to re-start stone pelting and provoke the security forces. If there is any possibility of his success in re-launching these misadventures, the best answer would be to immediately organise a delegation of 100-150 “Mothers and Sisters” hailing from Ladakh to Kerala and from Rajasthan to Arunachal, to visit the Valley and stand between the youth and the police.

Dukhtaran-i-Millat is a considerable female force of protestors in the Valley, led by Asiya Andrabi. Andrabi has an interesting back-ground. She had taken bio-chemistry as her subject of study but is a fanatical Islamist now. Obscenities in the TV, alcoholism and prevalence of prostitution drove her to crusading against these vices. Was it necessary for her take to narrow- minded Islamism, hateful of other faiths? This is what she and her followers need to be asked. They could have found many more male and female allies in the Indian Union in this crusade. She would be better advised to join the all-faith crusaders in the rest of India to exterminate these evils on an extended scale and to get the women of her State more scope for better education.

VII

Points for All-India Parties’ and Civil Society’s Consideration

Thorough-going public debates in India on the issue of more autonomy to the State of J&K are the need of the day. The Abdullah-led National Conference had its Autonomy Resolution in 2000. Whether it has made any change in its later report is not known. Broadly it is known that it wants the Union Government’s jurisdiction to be limited to (i) Banking and Currency, (ii) Communication, (iii) Foreign Affairs, and (iv) Defence. To this, the Union Government may not have much objection. Will the Home Affairs and Intelligence in civilian matters be completely excluded from the Concurrent List? This should be discussed at the experts’ level. The National Conference wants the State’s Sadar-i-Riyasat to be elected from among the people of the State instead of the Governor being appointed by the Union Government. This also should not be objectionable if constitutionally the Sadar-i-Riayasat is obligated to report to the President of India. This is a crucial issue. If the Sadar-i-Riyasat is not to be under this obligation, then it is azadi (secession) under the cloak of autonomy which is unacceptable.

Does the National Conference seek to exclude the jurisdictions of the Supreme Court of India, Election Commission of India, and Comptroller and Auditor General of India? If this is sought, then it will be a scheme of denying the people of the State better quality of services. If the State depends on the federal government’s subsidies, the CAG’s jurisdiction would be inescapable. Without this safeguard, the government of the State would be exposed to the charge of corruption from the people of the Valley themselves.

The people of Jammu and Ladakh regions have been complaining that more autonomy to this State meant more denial of democratic rights to these two regions. They would rather like their fuller integration with the Indian
Union. The Valley’s parties would have to come clean on this point. What measures of autonomy would they like to concede to these regions? Or will they like the State to be divided? Every party needs to do hard thinking.

A word to the BJP is in order. It is an all-India party, the largest Opposition party in Parliament and a force in the Jammu region. It seeks withdrawal of the special autonomy that has been given to this State, far from conceding more autonomy. It feels “more autonomy today will bring the demand for azadi (secession) tomorrow”. This is being too suspicious. Too much of unitary-ism leads to dissolution of the federation. In my previous article, I had given the example of Switzerland, where the twentyfive federating units have widely differing constitu-tions and are near-sovereign in many aspects but all are under one President who is elected annually. Nobody there has wanted secession.

Our own experience from the pre-indepen-dence days showed us the disastrous results of excessive suspicion. Nehru’s excessive suspicion of the Muslim League led to his refusal, after the Congress’ resounding victory in the 1937 election, to honour the pre-election under-standing (Lucknow Pact). And his excessive suspicion again, in 1946, led him to declare that the Congress would not be bound by the Cabinet Mission Plan as the price for a United India. These led to unbridgeable divergences and were partially responsible for the country’s partition. Jinnah, too, realised too late—after the partition —that his excessive bargaining had boomeranged; he told his confidants that he would “tell Jawaharlal of his desire to go back to Bombay and settle there”. History is unforgiving. Hyper-nationalist unitary-ism breaks federations.

Conclusion

Alienation of the people of the Kashmir Valley has reached the limit and is now at the boiling point. Maximum possible autonomy is an imperative need to retain India’s federal hold over Kashmir. The extent of autonomy suitable for a federating unit is decided by the particularities and distinctive situations. Each State, in its own interest, should continuously lend itself to— rather invite—assessments by agencies constituted by fellow States. In its absence, insularity sets in and corrodes from within. Kashmiris must remember this.

In nature, autonomy is differentiation within the continuous process of integration. Autonomy is most productive through maintenance of organic linkages with other constituents of the body. The Valley’s political parties as well as the Union Government must remember these funda-mental principles which are valid in nature as well as in politics.

One word at the end. To heal the wounds in the hearts of the people in the Valley and to revive in them the longing for the Indian federation of States, a large delegation of Mothers and Sisters and another delegation of youths from all over India should visit the Valley soon and invite Kashmir’s youths and their Mothers and Sisters to visit India’s other States and to see for themselves the feelings the latter have for them. Besides, a group of devout Imams who feel happy and secure in India—and if possible, some travelling saints form different Sufi orders—should visit this troubled State to prevent the growth of the canker of communalism.

Epilogue

Recently, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah attacked the Union Government for most of his problems. Certainly, the Union Government is blamable for not educating the CRPF in time that in dealing with the civilian population, it must use only non-lethal weapons. But both the Chief Minister and his party President were pathetically out of touch with the reality: they had no inkling that high discontent was simmering against them too. Besides, their idea that no improvement was at all possible until the Union Government acceded to all their autonomy demands was just wishful thinking. If they had devolved some of their powers—which were more than those of any other State of India—on to the districts, blocks and villages, people would have had more powers to take decisions about their own lives. Now, they find total denial. Besides, their devolution of autonomy could have strengthened their case for greater autonomy for their State.

The Union Government must realise that the need is to reach out to the people at the grassroot level in all the 22 districts of the State. It is a State of hugely diverse cultural communities. Within the same religious community, within the same district, there are different cultural habits and expectations for different political set-ups. At least five or six task forces are needed to engage the people of all the blocks in the State in talks about their political as well as developmental aspirations.

The idea of gram sabhas taking basic decisions about their own lives—that is, the Gandhian model of village republics—needs to be offered. For there is no greater freedom possible in any system and any other country of the world. This author is convinced that ultimately, this will emerge as the only solution acceptable to all. This model has to be adopted in the whole of India as the solution to problems arising from skewed development, as the answer to Maoism, brewing peasant unrest, tribal unrest etc.

The author is one of the country’s earliest environmentalists and a social philosopher. He can be contacted at sailendranathghosh@yahoo.com and sailendernathg@gmail.com

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