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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 37

Kashmir : Nearing Zero Hour

Wednesday 3 September 2008, by Nikhil Chakravartty


Kashmir today has become the touchstone of Indian statesmanship. The crisis that has emerged there can no longer be managed by conventional methods of settling political acrimony. It has gone much beyond, and now it has assumed the magnitude of a definite threat to the integrity of the country.
The militants who want Kashmir to secede from the Indian Union are today in control of life and politics—at least in the Valley itself. It is time the public in this country was informed about the actual state of affairs in Kashmir. It is a grim, very grim situation and the nation cannot afford to take an ostrich outlook That will be self-deceiving, because any delay in facing upto the reality may ultimately end up in the actual secession of a part of Indian territory. There need be no doubt on this score.

How precarious the situation is can be gauged from the fact that the entire administration is now openly divided in its loyalty. Roughly, it can be stated that the most active and dominant in the Valley today are the militants who want Kashmir to secede from India. Next to them come the large masses who are discontented with the prevailing conditions for which they blame New Delhi. Lastly, there is a small number, mostly muted and passive, who still want Kashmir to stay within the Indian Union. In such a situation it is but natural that the militant secessionists dominate over the discontend masses today while the pro-Indian forces are hopelessly marginalised, and forced into inactivity. In other words, the balance of forces in the Kashmir Valley has qualitatively changed.

In the past, roughly about the time the National Conference-Congress-I Ministry took office in 1987, the secessionists were a hard core minority group, and the discontended gathering round the Muslim United Front (MUF) having had a substantive following could have been forced to meet the challenge of the National Conference and the Congress-I, had the two parties worked actively as a unified force.

Unfortunately, such an opportunity was squandered by both the parties in the coalition. The alliance turned out to be just a pact between the leaders of the two parties—Farooq Abdullah and Rajiv Gandhi. There was no rapport whatsoever between the ranks of the two parties, not to speak of their launching a united front movement. This was further compounded by the total malfunctioning of the coalition Ministry. From personal experience borne out by two visits to the Valley in that period, this correspondent gathered the very disturbing impression that behind all the high-visibility political impetuosity and exhibitionism on the part of Farooq Abdullah, his Ministry emerged as the symbol of utter corruption and maladministration. It was this very phase which saw the growing activity of the secessionist groups emerging out in the open.

This account of the past in the Kashmir Valley has been necessitated by the patently distorted account given by Rajiv Gandhi in his letter to the Prime Minister on March 6. One would like to remind both Rajiv and Farooq as to what happened on the Independence Day, August 15 last when the secessionists, coming out in the open, had forced a black-out in Srinagar with Pakistani flags flying at many places. Was it an example of their “maintenance of political contact with the people” or that “at no time was the administration alienated from the people” as has been claimed in Rajiv’s letter?

It is such a display of dishonest alibi on the part of Rajiv Gandhi that weakens his appeal for a “national consensus” for meeting the crisis in Kashmir today. Such a consensus, which is urgently called for to meet the fast deteriorating situation, demands that all the leaders of all parties—particularly the Congress-I, the National Conference and the National Front Government—must desist from mutual recriminations. This is not the moment for washing each other’s dirty linen in public, but for making a determined endeavour to work out a united national approach to salvage Kashmir for the Indian Union.

Such a united approach has become necessary because it will be imperative to boldly meet even the discontented militants and win them over by seriously meeting some of their genuine demands. While terrorism needs to be curbed, there has to be side by side a determined effort to prove to the people in the Valley that they stand to gain by remaining in the Indian Union, that this democracy can ensure for them a better life with more autonomy. Whether it is Article 370 of 1951 or the accord of 1975—all these can be re-examined in all good faith and a degree of self-government can be assured in keeping with the spirit of the times. No rigid posture will help on this score. In fact, the present government by its very commitment will have to meet the claims of the States for more autonomy vis-à-vis the Centre, as decentralisation is on the agenda of the day. Viewed in this context, the discontent in Kashmir can be met only by taking into consideration its special status born out of historical reasons. Only when such a line is taken, backed by a united national stand, can the challenge of Pakistani interference be met effectively. Not only that. Such an approach can very well be the stepping stone towards Indo-Pakistan understanding as well.

Kashmir unreconciled shall be the Achilles’ heel for the Indian Republic; Kashmir contented can be the most important show-window for Indian democracy. Once again, let it be remembered: the crisis in Kashmir poses today the most formidable challenge for Indian statesmanship.

(Mainstream, March 10, 1990)

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