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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 49, November 26, 2011

Enriching Existing Literature on Kashmir Politics and Indo-Pak Relations

Sunday 27 November 2011



Kashmir: Identity, Autonomy and Self-Rule by Dr Gull Wani; Apple Books, Srinagar; 2011; pages: 218.

The quest for identity as a basic human urge has received specific academic recognition in the post-modern political thought. In the case of Kashmir, identity has been the most persistent and dominating urge of the people. The book, Kashmir: Identity, Autonomy and Self-Rule, by Dr Gull Wani deals with one of the most crucial problems of the contemporary era: the accommodation of identity and autonomy demands of various ethnic and social groups in a plural setting. Dr Wani, teaching at the Department of Political Science, University of Kashmir, Srinagar, has joined the fraternity of well-known South Asian scholars. In this book, he argues that the appropriation of Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomous status by an interventionist Unitarian State has alienated the people of Kashmir.

The nature and character of the Kashmiri identity was shaped by two major events of the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. In 1586, the Mughal emperor, Akbar, imposed direct rule on Kashmir and in 1846 the state was sold to Gulab Singh by the British under the treaty of Amritsar. These ugly historical happenings have caused a psycho-logical vacuum among the Kashmiris and violated their system of values. During the oppressive Dogra rule everything was taxed in Kashmir save air and water.

The book sufficiently highlights the revolutionary sentiment that evolved as a result of the oppressive feudal regime which ultimately culminated in the emergence of Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference in 1932 and which later on got converted into the All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference in 1939. This period also witnessed the emergence of various labour unions like the Mazdoor Sabha which influenced the formation of Naya Kashmir document that was later on adopted by the National Conference in 1944. This manifesto shaped the content of land reforms from 1947 to 1950. It was in this period that the National Conference articulated the notion of Kashmiriyat. The author has beautifully summarised the role of poetry, especially of Mehjoor, in the evolution of Kashmiriyat as a separate identity.

The grant of special constitutional position to Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution as an internal arrangement and the politics of self-determination enunciated within the United Nations framework sharpened the national consciousness of Kashmiris. But the limits of Kashmiri aspiration of having a separate independent state got exposed since the experiment from August 15, 1947 to October 27, 1947 proved to be short-lived owing to the geo-political knots. Afterwards, the promotion of the Kashmiri identity became the flagship programme of National Conference Government during 1948-53. Literary and cultural symbols were invoked in the service of promotion of Kashmiri identity. The birthday of Habba Khatoon was celebrated as the national holiday in Kashmir but after the dismissal of the first elected government in 1953, it was scrapped. In 1952, Kashmiri was taught as a compulsory subject and the script was evolved but abolished after 1953. Lakhs of textbooks, already published, were sold as waste paper. It is surprising that language as an essential core of the Kashmiri identity is again feeling the heat due to a certain section of Kashmiri Pandits pleading for a separate script of the Kashmiri language. Needless to mention here that even after the partition of Bengal, the script of the Bengali language remained the same.

The author provides an economic critique of the Indus Water Treaty because the State suffers a loss of 6500 crores annually due to this discriminatory treaty. The economic exploitation by the NHPC is a grave concern for the State. In States like Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and the ones in the North-East most of the NHPC power projects are joint ventures with the respective State governments sharing energy on a 50:50 basis. Jammu and Kashmir is the only exception where the corporation has to keep aside only 12 per cent of electricity as royalty for the State. For these reasons, Kashmiri nationalism is now graduating towards economic nationalism.

The author throws some light on how violence can over a period of time generate an institutionalised vested interest which can act as a spoiler both in conflict management as well as in the deepening of the peace process. In the Kashmir conflict the bureaucracy and security establish-ment have developed a vested interest in the conflict which engenders the flow of money with no accountability. Similarly, the smuggler-police-paramilitary forces nexus has ravaged the ‘green wealth’ of the Valley. That is why economic and governance issues have assumed critical importance in the identity discourse in Kashmir. Similarly the return of Kashmiri Pandits and political migrants is increasingly being recognised as being vital for restoration of the Kashmiri identity.

The author argues for a strong civil society in Kashmir. In the absence of a strong civil society, the Kashmiri perspective of peace and the dialogue process does not come out clearly. The Kashmiri civil society also needs to rise to the occasion and fight against the vested interests that some institutions have come to develop in the continuation of the conflict.

DR WANI believes that there are serious flaws in India’s Kashmir policy which resulted in the marginalisation of the Kashmiri identity after 1947. Besides, the author takes a cue from the formulations of ‘Greater Autonomy’ and ‘Self-Rule’ of two leading regional parties (NC and PDP) and examines the serious consequences of the Hindu Right-wing’s assertion against Article 370. The appointment of interlocutors from time to time by different Central governments, and particularly under the NDA and UPA governments, to bring the alienated Kashmiri groups to the negotiating table turns out to be a futile exercise as they are not clearly mandated and have nothing to offer.

The author delves deeper into the geo-political dimensions of the Kashmiri identity and believes that unless the Kashmiri identity is not rescued and liberated from the geo-political knots and entanglements, there cannot be a plural and cosmopolitan revival of the Kashmiri identity. In support of his arguments Dr Wani draws from both General Musharraf’s ‘out-of-box’ framework as well as from the contemporary politico-economic order in which the sovereignty of the nation-state has undergone a qualitative change.

The eighth chapter ponders over the National Conference’s perspective on the autonomy discourse. For the National Conference, the best way to resolve the present deadlock is to restore the autonomy of the State to the pre-1953 position and the convening of a Constituent Assembly in Kashmir to decide which Central legislations should be extended to the State. The Chief Minister of the State, Omar Abdullah, suggests:

Retaining some form of sovereignty is required to empower the people of the Jammu and Kashmir State not only to get a fair share of national power and resources but also to be able to withstand the benefits from the new economic regime of globalisation.

The author further quotes Omer Abdullah as stating: “We have to find out ways and means for Indian civil society to engage with and own up Kashmir, Kashmiris and Kashmiriyat.” For the author, the restoration of autonomy to Kashmir is also important since the other pillar on which Kashmir’s linkage with India rested, “secularism”, too is under cloud. In recent times, the gruesome killing of Muslims in Gujarat and the destruction of the Babri mosque have shattered the confidence of the people of Kashmir who are predominantly Muslims.

In the tenth chapter, the author has analysed both the self-rule and autonomy proposals in a comparative framework. The debate on self-rule and autonomy is not only competitive in nature but politically charged as well. The biggest flaw with the self-rule formulation is that it extends to Pakistan administered Kashmir but was not discussed and debated with political parties and other groups on that side. It is probably because of this neglect that there has been no clear response to it in the other part either at the level of political leadership or at the level of civil society. The National Conference too needs to fine-tune its formulations keeping in view the imperatives of globalisation on the one hand, and the compulsions of borderless economy on the other. However, as for the internal dimension, the NC report on greater autonomy is more radical and revolutionary compared to what the PDP provides in its self-rule document.

In the twelfth chapter, the author examines very seriously the model of sub-regional autonomy as operational in the Leh and Kargil districts. The two Hill Councils were brought into existence by virtue of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council Act of 1995. The establishment of these Councils has brought in accountability in the administration and pushed forward the development activity in these regions.

Dr Wani strongly advocates for the establish-ment of Chenab Valley and Pir Panchal Hill Councils to devolve power to these two sub-regions in the Jammu region of the State. They have grievances against the Kashmiris as well as against the Jammu political elite. Though the majority of the population belongs to Pir Panchal and Chenab-subdivisions, they feel suffocated to be under the domination of Jammu and adjoining districts whose leaders, according to them, appropriate major funds and facilities.

In the thirteenth chapter, the author exposes the dual character of Indian democracy. On the one hand, it accommodated the ethnic urges of the people of Tamil Nadu, but on the other, it was not allowed to work freely and fairly in Kashmir. In case of Kashmir, the strategy of the Indian leaders, right from Nehru, has been one of non-accommodation. The masses opt for separation only when national oppression makes life absolutely intolerable and that moment surfaced in Kashmir in 1989. Had the Indian leadership, especially Nehru, been more accommodative of Kashmiri aspirations and respected the autonomous political status of Kashmir, democracy would certainly have triumphed here as well.

Dr Wani argues that the history of partitioned Kashmir and not the partition of India should figure in the political discourse of the subcontinent. At the end, the author has strongly advocated for the revival of the Composite Dialogue Process between India and Pakistan in the interests of the people of the region. Deeper engagement with Pakistan is a political investment for India. Alongside the issues discussed in the Composite Dialogue Process, some new thorny issues have emerged in Indo-Pak ties like Afghanistan and the water crisis. Afghanistan should not become a new battleground for India and Pakistan. The former US envoy for the region, Richard Holbrooke, rightly believed that the major dilemma for the US in Afghanistan was to reconcile the conflicting interests of its neighbouring countries like India and Pakistan.

This book makes a concrete contribution to the existing literature on Kashmir politics and Indo-Pak relations. This work will be amply useful for all those who are actively involved in conflict resolution mechanisms. The study will also come handy to the scholars interested in studying the different dimensions of Kashmir imbroglio and will pave way for further work on the above theme. In the current political scenario, the book becomes an essential read.

Sajad Padder is a Research Scholar in the Department of Political Science, University of Kashmir, Srinagar, and can be contacted at sajadpadder98@ gmail.com

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