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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 39, September 18, 2010

Solve Kashmir Problem The Gandhian Way

Monday 20 September 2010, by Sailendra Nath Ghosh

The people of Kashmir Valley had, on several momentous occasions, made their intention clear that they prefer to remain Indians. This they did by participating in successive State and federal elections, despite the boycott call by separatists, through State Assembly Resolutions in 1953 and 1956, and through their iconic leader Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah’s pronouncement in 1975 that “Kashmir’s accession to India was irrevocable”.

The present chief of the National Conference, Dr Farooq Abdullah, in his Lok Sabha speech on August 26 last, made an emphatic statement that “most people of the State including those in the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) wanted to be with India”.

The Kashmiris, in the heart of their hearts, knew all along that in Pakistan they would have been under the iron heels of feudal lords-cum-militarists and reduced to the same fate as of the Balochis and Pushtuns. Now, they must be shuddering at the fate of the people of Gilgit and Baltistan which were parts of the princely state of Kashmir during the pre-partition days, but whose control the Pakistani authorities have ceded to China in an act of gross betrayal. Pakistanis know that in Kashmir, except the Syed Ali Shah Geelani faction of the Hurriyat, there is no taker for the Pakistan. Hence the Pakistani establishment wants only the severance of Kashmir to humiliate India and to deal a blow against India’s secularist image. They want it also as a retaliation against India’s support to the former East Pakistani people’s struggle for liberation from the colonial exploitation and barbaric atrocities by the racist West Pakistani militarists. Moreover Pakistan has a fond hope to build in future an Islamic Pak-Afghan-Kashmir empire dominated by itself. The Pakistani incitement to the Kashmiri secessionist movement stems from these desires.

Dr Farooq Abdullah was very right when he warned that the demand for Kashmir’s independence was fraught with perils. “The State would face the problems posed by elements such as the Taliban as in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” Talibanism is antithetical to Kashmiriyat. He could have added that a separated Kashmir would have been a hotbed of international intrigues and conflicts. Kashmir is bordered on the south and the west by Pakistan, on the north by Afghanistan and China, and on the east by Tibet which, too, is controlled by China. Separation from India in this strategic location means China will gobble it up, as it has done Tibet, and is doing Gilgit and Baltistan with the help of Pakistan. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq is yet to understand this. Hopefully, the grim reality will now make him give up his call for azadi.

An inquisitive analyst must, however, face a key question: if the consciousness that “Kashmir’s future lies with India” is embedded in the minds of most Kashmiris, how could this phenomenon of stone pelting against federal security forces spread so quickly?

Evidently, the Indian Army personnel and the CRPF personnel who were, or are, stationed in the Valley have not been able to live up to Indian civilisational ideals and might have committed certain acts of killings, which have deeply wounded the psyches of the Kashmiris and set the Valley afire. The Army, in certain areas of the Valley in certain periods, did a commendable job as fraternisers with the people and earned the local people’s plaudits. The records of the Indian Peace-keeping Forces in foreign countries under the UN flag are unblemished. If in an area frequently visited by terrorist infiltrators, the personnel for people’s defence commit accidental mistakes, these become matters for seeking people’s forgiveness and giving them solace. If the troops and CRPF cannot do their job without protection from the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), they are not worthy of India’s tradition. They would have been better defenders of people if they could enlist the local people as fellow-fighters against the terrorists.

Peace and justice are indivisible. Killings of stone-pelting children in Kashmir send shivers down the spines of children in all the States of the Indian Union. The Government of India must, therefore, immediately set up a Truth and Justice Commission to find facts about the alleged fake encounters and un-needed openings of fire. This is needed for Truth as well as for assuaging the feelings of the people.

Interrogations of arrested protestors have revealed that the Pakistani establishment is lavishly funding the stone pelters and reassuring handsome monthly payments to kins of every such protestor killed. The Indian and some other countries’ intelligence sources have recently revealed that over the last one decade-and-a-half, the Pakistani establishment has built up a nexus of extreme hardliner pro-Pakistan male and female activists throughout the length and breadth of the Valley. This means, the political forces, which believe that “Kashmir’s future is bound up with India’s”, were so enmeshed in squabbles among themselves and so busy haggling with the federal authorities for more power for themselves (namely, the State’s leaders) that they left the field wide open for the foreign conspirators and their local agents.

It is also apparent that the appeal of the call for azadi (that is, secession), which Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah had given in 1953 on the advice of the US ambassador, Loy Henderson, and the US Democratic Party leader, Adlai Stevenson, still lingers in the minds of considerable sections of Kashmiris. Azadi is an enchanting slogan but in inappropriate cases, it proves suicidal. It needed sustained campaign, particularly by the successors to Sheikh Abdullah, to explain that the call for azadi, given by the State’s iconic leader under persuasion of some superpower, was wrong. There was no shame in admitting this. Only the strong and honest can be self-critical. This task has not been accomplished.

In 1953, the idea that seized Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah’s mind was to make the Kashmir Valley a neutral country like Switzer-land. But the only common factors existing between the Kashmir Valley and Switzerland were their exquisite natural beauty (hence their tourism potential) and hydropower potential. Switzerland’s neighbouring countries gave it assurances of non-interference in its policy of neutrality. Even then, it secured “perpetual alliance” with France in 1516 as an additional safeguard. The stability of Swiss politics and the stability of its currency, backed by its unmatched reserves of gold, attracted bank deposits from all over the world. It got this stability of currency due to its earnings from varieties of manufactures (of textiles, chemicals, machinery, instruments, and, above all, watches in which it leads the world). As against this, the Kashmir Valley’s exports are only carpets and shawls—and apples and flowers (which are mostly seasonal). A separated Kashmir cannot remain neutral even if it wants to: Pakistan and China will make it a hotbed of intrigues. Switzerland ensured religious equality. The Kashmir Valley, with Lal Ded’s and Nand Rishi’s tradition, had this potential pre-eminently. But after Sheikh Abdullah’s demise, waves of Wahabism enguifed the Valley and committed communal cleansing of the Pandits, which act was a blot on Kashmir.

In the interest of stability, the Swiss confe-deration adopted a constitutional arrangement which has no parallel. It did not come up as a separated entity: it is a conglomerate of 19 cantons and six half-cantons. Each of its 25 federating units has a widely differing Constitution. Only foreign policy and tariffs are assigned to the apex body of the confederate (whose president is elected annually), leaving the cantons sovereign in other aspects. In the State of Jammu and Kashmir, the Valley leaders are yet to define their attitude to the question of autonomy to the Jammu and Ladakh regions.

Hence the idea of making a separated Kashmir Valley a second Switzerland was unrealistic from the very beginning.

It was also unnatural. In nature, the twin processes of integration and differentiation, of union and mitosis, growth of all-encompassing organic linkages and autonomy of tissues and organs have been taking place all the time. In the case of a society, that is, a considerable geographical entity with a history, separation, that is, severance of linkages that had developed over eons, sans aggregation, is a recipe for extinction. In the epoch of climate change, the need for coping with natural disasters makes integration with larger entities a basic condition for survival. From all these considerations, Kashmir as a part of India with suitable autonomy for its fullest flowering, was, and is, the natural and logical solution.
Fortunately, India produced the world’s only statesman who gave the ideal that each village of India should become a republic within the great Republic of India. It is aimed at giving more scope of fulfillment of the potential for each village and fulfillment of potential of every individual than any concept of “self-determination” in the political lexicon. The Government of India has not yet implemented this Gandhian model. But democratic forces within India are inexorably driving towards it. Kashmir also stands to benefit from it.

II Kashmiris’ Psychic Complex, Unique Culture and Opportunities

IN the whole of India, J&K is the only Muslim-majority State. In a real extent, the Kashmir Valley is only seven per cent of the State but accounts for 43 per cent of the State’s population. Of the latter, 90 per cent are Muslims.

In post-partition India, where non-Muslims constitute the overwhelming majority, the Kashmiri Muslims were gripped by the fear that if some day the Hindu fanatics come to power at the Centre, they can make the Kashmiri Muslims’ lives miserable. They also felt that Article 370 of the Indian Constitution is not a sufficient safeguard because it is defined as a “temporary provision”. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee who, in 1947, had saved West Bengal by keeping it as a constituent of India (by preventing an “Undivided Bengal”, from moving out of both India and Pakistan in the name of Bengali nationalism), stoked the Kashmiris’ pre-existing fear by campaigning for deletion of Article 370. Evidently, the Kashmiri Muslims’ fear still persists.

There is yet another factor. As Prof Wilfred Cantwell Smith, the world famous authority on Islamic history, has pointed out, the Muslims have never and nowhere shared power with other communities: they have either ruled over others or been ruled by others. In India, for the first time in history, they were invited to share power with others. Hence the Kashmiri Muslims could not be sure of an appropriate step. It is because of these swings of doubt and fear that even a leader like Sheikh Abdullah fell prey to a superpower’s temptations in 1953.

At the same time, the Kashmiris (the Valley people) have a unique identity and a unique culture. In the words of Prof Susheela Bhan, “this identity was shaped by 5000 years of history and the Valley’s territorial homogeneity, which made it distinct from the other regions of the State”. Though Kashmir has much in common with the composite culture of the subcontinent, it has some unique characteristics. The Kashmiris were converted to Islam not by the Islamic conquerors but by Sufis, particularity the Sufis who claimed to be the disciples of the Shavaite Yogini Laleswari (known as Lal Ded, that is, Lal Mother).The fusion of Shiva-Shakfite and Buddhist strands of thoughts and the mystic ideas of Shaykh Nuruddin (Nund Rishi) remained embedded in the Kashmiri consciousness since the early 15th century and came to be known as Kashmiriyat.

This Kashmiriyat still has a high positive-value potential. If it can beat back the wahabism that swept the Kashmir Valley in the post-Shekh Adbullah period as an export from Pakistan, it will be able to counteract the growing Islamic bigotry and the reactive Hindu fanaticism in the States of the Indian Union. By setting an example of peaceful co-existence of faiths, it can also inspire the people of Pakistan to root out Talibanism, which is the negation of Koranic Islam.

Sadly, Forooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and their colleagues in the National Conference, and Mufti Muhammad Syed and his daughter, Mehbooba Mufti, and their colleagues in the PDP have failed to envision the glorious role they could play as continental peace-makers if only they care to make positive use of their cultural values rather than being haunted by fears and doubts. Their vacillations and pursuit of partisan power politics left the field open for that purveyor of wahabism, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who came from outside the Kashmiri lineage and is a stranger to Kashmiriyat. (His forefathers came from outside Kashmir in a recent century.)

III Confusion over the Content of Autonomy

DR FAROOQ ABDULLAH has said: “Kashmir will relentlessly fight for autonomy and will not be content with anything less than autonomy.” He has also said: “Soon the demand for autonomy will rise from other States of India.” But he has failed to spell out the contents of the autonomy he wants.

Jammu and Kashmir already has a Constitution of its own, which no other State has. It flies its own State flag, which privilege no other State has. Which means, both in substance and outward symbol, it has autonomy. What more autonomy does the State need?

Sometime back, news appeared that the Kashmiris do not want a Governor appointed by the Union Government. They want that their Sadar-i-Riyasat be elected by Kashmiris from among the Kashmiris and that the Government of India’s jurisdiction be limited to (1) Banking and Currency; (2) Communication; (3) Foreign Policy; and (4) Defence. The question is: Will the Sadar-i-Riyasat report to the President of India or not? If not, then it becomes a matter of independence for Kashmir and a treaty with India for discharge of responsibilities in the aforesaid four aspects. That, in reality, would be demanding azadi under the cloak of autonomy.

In an incisive article in Mainstream (December 12, 2009), Balraj Puri showed that “even today, the State (of Jammu and Kashmir) has more autonomy than other States of India but it has been used (by the State) in a manner that its people have less rights than those in other States”. By way of illustration, he showed that “under Article 370 of the Constitution, even the 73rd and 74th Amendments of the Indian Constitution (which were intended to enhance people’s rights) did not apply to this State”. The State enacted its own “Panchayat Raj Act”, which was, in fact a negation of the panchayati spirit. It wanted the District Boards to be headed by Ministers, evidently to keep these bodies under political control.

There was no provision for Block Committees: and at the panchayat level, there was provision for nominations! Even this truncated Act was not implemented. The same was the case with the Right to Information Act passed by Parliament in 2005. It is a powerful instrument to check abuses committed by the executives and/or judicial officers. But the State of J&K only recently passed such an Act, which also remains to be implemented. In the rest of India the district authorities are expected to report to the National Human Rights Commission any case of custodial death within 24 hours. The State Human Rights Commission has remained headless for several years and it has no independent investigating agency: hence it is also toothless. The State Women’s Commission is defunct for many years. For all these lacunae, corruption is rampant at the State’s political and bureaucratic levels. These levels tend to be highly autocratic too. For these denials of human rights and for the pervasive corruption in the State, the common people of Kashmir, however, blame the Government of India. Naturally, the Indian Union’s influence has waned in the State.

While the National Conference demands more autonomy, and the PDP demands self-rule, they owe an explanation as to why there has been far greater denial of democracy to the people of Jammu and Kashmir than anywhere in the rest of India? In J&K, the State-level autonomy has become a shield for autocracy.

At the all-India level, there has been no political leadership which could think boldly and farsightedly and tell the people of Jammu and Kashmir about the democratic rights which are available in the rest of India but not in the state of J&K. No political party has explained to the Kashmiris how the State’s existing autonomy has meant the denial of democracy to the people of the State. The Congress party’s vision has been limited to sharing power in J&K by entering into a coalition with one or the other major party of the Valley. Most of the time, it has depended on the National Conference because it is the only major party of the Valley with a pro-India inclination. Even during Pandit Nehru’s time, the Government of India’s Kashmir policy revolved round the personality of Sheikh Abdullah except during his incarceration days. After Sheikh Abdullah’s demise, too, most of the time, it has been Abdullah family-centric. Hence they have avoided annoying the State’s leaders by explaining directly to the people.

Charismatic leaders often create a problem. Unless they are self-effacing and profoundly self-analytical, they become obstacles to building democratic institutions. Sheikh Abdullah was sanguine about his altruism; hence he felt that his every order was conducive to people’s welfare. During his rule, the posts of his party functionaries and those of public administration were interchangeable. This shows he became somewhat dictatorial. His progeny and ardent followers, while inheriting his rich legacy, have inherited his blind spots too. That is why they fail to see that the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of India, the Election Commission of India, and the Auditor General of India have been beneficial to the State of Jammu and Kashmir, because these have been instruments of checkmating authoritarianism and extending people’s rights. Their exclusion will impoverish the State’s internal democracy. The regions of Jammu and Ladakh will feel more alienated from the Valley if these are sought to be excluded. In any case, no State-level institution will be able to match their sagacity.

IV

The Tasks for Lovers of Freedom and Prosperity

HUMAN rights activist Tapan Bose’s finding is that out of nearly 3.7 lakh employees on the rosters of the State Government, about two lakhs are personal and domestic servants of the current and former Ministers, MPs, MLAs, serving and retired bureaucrats. This reveals a terrible mess. Naturally, the government fails to get its employees to attend office, and/or to keep the markets, schools, colleges or the University in a functioning order. Kashmir is virtually in a state of chaos.

Yet to lose hope in Kashmir’s destiny is a sin. The Government of India must take a few bold and firm steps.

(1) It needs to reaffirm that Kashmir, by virtue of the Instrument of Accession, became an inalienable part of India. India and most people of the State, too, are convinced that their future lies with India. Hence India will discharge this responsibility despite all provocation and any demand for secession will be treated as treason.

(2) Since there are allegations that federal armed forces have committed some human rights abuses, the Government of India should apologise to the local people and seek their forgiveness. It should also promise to build up these armed personnel as “People’s Defence and Fraternisation Force” as per India’s civilisational ideal. It must also set up a Truth and Justice Commission to find out correct facts, bring the guilty to book and make amends for the innocent lives lost.

(3) The political parties operating in Jammu and Kashmir should be asked to articulate their respective suggestions for a political solution and for economic prosperity and social and cultural renewal.

(4) Since the parties in the State are on very different wavelengths, the emergence of a consensus from its political class is unlikely. Several Task Forces consisting of independent thinkers, social scientists and persons of high reputation and integrity from both within and outside the State should be set up to convene People’s Consultations in every district of the Kashmir Valley and Jammu and Ladakh regions to get their suggestions for political, socio-economic and cultural transformation of their respective localities and of the State as a whole. The displaced Kashmiri Pandits, who are now dispersed, should also be invited to some consultations

(5) A special appeal has to be addressed to the youth of the Valley, for they grew up during the tidal surge of wahabism, and were deprived of the Valley’s traditional religious humanism, and also fed on a wrong concept of Kashmiriyat. In the words of Prof Susheela Bhan, again, it is the Valley’s youth who have lost faith in the system and feel prone to take recourse to violence. It is the enormous resource of the youth power which has to be rehabilitated. For this, the central task is to break the hold of debilitating distortions on their consciousness and to help them get over their alienation.

This is really a call for cultural renewal which can be issued by the leading lights of the Valley and its neighbouring regions within the State and from the civil society of the Indian Union as a whole. Participation of distinguished members of various Sufi orders and enlightened ulema from within the Indian Union would enrich the appeal. The appeal has to be supported by a sustained programme for reorienting the psyche of the youth through educational discourses. A notable example of this is the educational programme for the Cultural Renewal of Student Youth (CROKSY) started by the Institute of Peace Research and Action (IPRA). Founded and directed by Prof Bhan herself, the Institute is running the CROKSY project in 180 schools covering all the six districts of the Valley. About 12,000 students are participating in the project’s activities—not a mean achievement for an individual’s efforts.

(6) Last but not the least, Parliament should amend the Panchayat Raj Act to give primacy to gram sabhas and make these the repositories of people’s power—in a word, to transform each village into a republic on the Gandhian model. That will make India an ideal democracy, establish peace in conflict zones and heighten the Indian people’s prosperity. That will make the peoples of the world, including the people of Pakistan, long for the Indian system of governance. Today’s Kashmiri secessionists will be silenced forever.

Below is given a bird’s eye view of the village republic’s functions and powers.
The gram sabha’s function will be to take all the basic decisions concerning the inhabitants’ lives. It is the gram sabha and the Block sabha,
—not the federal or State Government—that will husband the community resources including soil, water and forests. The gram sabha will decide which annual crops (wheat, paddy, jowar etc.) and which perishables (fruits, fish milk) have to be produced in what quantities to meet the villagers’ consumption needs and also to earn enough for the import of goods in which Nature has made the village deficient. The gram sabha will decide how the above tasks will be distributed among the families, how the requirements of water for drinking, irrigation, bathing etc. will have to be met by surface and groundwater and what construction work needs to be undertaken to ensure their recharge and/or to do water harvesting. It will have to see which families lack the means of livelihood and how the community can help them earn their sustenance.

The gram sabha will periodically assess the village community’s energy needs and plan to meet these by biogas, solar and wind energy, microhydel, and photovoltaics, from within its boundaries. It will have to develop local expertise for biogas plant masonry and repair, solar lantern and solar cooker use and manufacture. It will have to review the diseases that mostly occur, local availabilities of the herbs that cure, the scope for village herbarium as well as preparing the indigenous medicines locally. For complicated medical cases, it will liaise with the district, State or federal agencies to secure proper treatment for the affected local inhabitants. Whether there is need for any more industry in the village, whether any existing industry is causing any pollution, whether a proposed industry can be given permission also will be the gram sabha and Block sabha’s domain for consideration.

The above are just illustrations. Detailed delineation of the concept is given in this author’s monograph “Proposal for Fundamental Re-ordering of Political Reorganisation with Primacy to Gram Sabha (Village Assembly)” has been published by the International Journal of Rural Management (April 2009 issue). The concept can be applied to mini-ward-level assemblies in urban areas, too.

This is the ultimate in democracy and autonomy. This can begin with J&K and the rest of India can follow. This is far greater transfer of power to the people than what Dr Farooq Abdullah or Mehbooba Mufti demand. This is the zenith of self-rule and self-determination. Conventional self-determination only means installation of some persons from within the local racial, religio-communal or lingual stock. But this Gandhian concept of village republics, with organic linkages with neighborhood intact, means mastery over one’s own habitat and over one’s own destiny, in harmony with neighbours, with dignity and freedom

Epilogue

THE federal security forces are doing very difficult jobs of defending the people and maintaining order in the Valley where the political process has gone haywire. They should, therefore, be given all protection of natural laws. But the AFSPA is somewhat unnatural. It tends to breed tendencies for “easy wins” through occasional fake encounters, defeating the original purpose. Solidarity with the common people must always be kept in view. Hence the AFSPA should be repealed.

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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