Ever since childhood, I have heard my father say that if Kashmiris don’t want to be a part of India, then “why can’t we think of giving Kashmir independence?" While I always understood that perspective as perhaps being the right thing to do from a very democratic point of view, what forever confused me was the issue of what if every other state also starts asking for independence. Guess my sense of involvement with the Kashmir problem was not serious enough to ponder further. And then came a long phase, when it seemed the trouble was under control. Till about a few months ago, I hadn’t realised it well enough, but my Managing Editor Sutanu Guru said we must do a cover saying "Is Kashmir back to 1989?" I must admit that though I agreed with him, I still didn’t understand the gravity of the situation – even after reading our own cover story (which, incidentally, was the first one in India to pick up the issue). However, as I look at things now, I see that while the Centre remains busy managing the demands of its newly found allies, and while the woes of the common man with respect to rising inflation continue, and while the Left has made it its lifetime goal to do anything possible to thwart the Indo-US nuclear deal, slowly but steadily, Kashmir seems to be becoming a huge issue again and really slipping out of the Indian government’s grip – really going back to 1989. Or did it never come out of it at all? – one is forced to wonder aloud. In the past few months, what started as a protest over the handing over of the 100 acres of land to the Amarnath Shrine board has catapulted into a mass movement in both Jammu & Kashmir but for diametrically opposite reasons. And while a majority of the Indians ignored it, assuming it as another protest to fulfill their demands, the fault lines in terms of communal consolidation is increasingly becoming evident now. Jammu, which is Hindu dominated, has not just been protesting against the reversal of the earlier decision of the transfer of land but against the constant capitulation of both the State and the Central Governments to the demands of the separatists; the people of Kashmir have been protesting against the alleged economic blockade imposed by Jammu and have been demanding the opening of the road to Muzaffarabad. Meanwhile, political parties of all colours have been busy raking in mileage from the turmoil in the state. The security forces often have had to resort to indiscriminate firings for keeping things in control, which for obvious reasons have added more fuel to the fire. Although the situation is still not completely out of control (at least apparently), yet, the chances of a full fledged revival of armed militancy in Kashmir cannot be ruled out altogether. In fact, this type of turmoil and mass uprising is essentially what the terror outfits and separatists seek to further their own objectives. And by that standard, the situation in Kashmir today is giving the right kind of platform for allowing the nightmares of late 1989 to come back – I remember distinctly the turmoil just as I had finished school and started a new life. While my father, in the last week itself, looking at the current developments again, repeated his thoughts, three more people I quite respect – and love reading the most amongst Indian writers – Vir Sanghvi, Swaminathan S Anklesaria Iyer (both their columns become our topics of lunch table discussion every Sunday invariably, as neither I nor my father can start a Sunday without reading their columns) and Arundhati Roy said exactly the same thing this week i.e. “Give independence to Kashmir!" This cover story, thus, became inevitable. And the question really is, if for more than sixty years Kashmir has failed to feel like being a part of India, then, “Why not azaadi for Kashmir?" It goes without saying that the conventional thing would be to continue on the trodden path of sending in more reinforcements of security personnel and to try to crush this uprising with more bloodshed, the way it has always been done. In fact, it is just because of this that Kashmir and incidents evolving out of Kashmir have taken away most of the lives of security personnel and soldiers! But it also goes without saying that in the last few decades, Kashmir has received the maximum and also has lost the maximum. And as things stand today, much of what they received and lost are both irreversible and perpetual. So what do you do? Hasn’t the wait for their integration been long enough? Can you really integrate people who have never been yours, just because during India’s Independence, their then King handed Kashmir over to India against the common will of the people? The answer perhaps is NO. But the bigger question is, does that mean that we give them the freedom they want? The most basic retort will be: what if people of Assam want the same tomorrow? What if people of Nagaland want the same tomorrow? One can always argue that if you take out Spain, France and the portions of Russia, then Europe is almost as big as India. And though it is divided into so many countries, they are all doing so well... So where is the problem? Well, while the truth is that smaller countries can always do well, the truth also is that geography and history play a big role. Historically, that’s how they developed and geographically too it was better feasible. But India is different. Every part has grown dependent of the other and yet, has stayed together. And while the Indian democracy has failed to do a lot of things, it has achieved one thing: it has helped separatist-infested states see logic in staying together, as these states have done better being a part of the democratic process; and their leaders – by being inducted into the democratic process – have had their share of political bravado and have finally accepted the verdict of the majority, be it in the shape of power to their party or losses in the elections. But Kashmir has remained a different case. Despite army action and endless grants, they never got a good chance to integrate properly, because – as Swaminathan writes categorically – minus a couple of elections or so, the rest were all massively rigged. So, the people’s voice always remained snubbed under the government's will and its fear of letting real democracy prevail in Kashmir. And this 60-year long historical failure is constantly showing up its ugly face. Perhaps, it really is for far too long that India continues to pay for Nehru’s ancestral relations and likings for the Valley. Thus the question... Why not divide Jammu & Kashmir into three different states of Jammu, Kashmir and Laddakh, and let the people of Kashmir have what they want [A major portion of it is in any case not with us] while keeping Jammu and Ladakh as part of India? As far as reality is concerned, Kashmiris literally hate Indians; they don’t relate to us; they had felt cheated during Independence; and as things stand right now, it seems no green cloth is available in the market as all of the same has been bought by Kashmiris en masse to – it is conjectured – make Pakistani flags. Then what are we doing trying to force them to be a part of India after having done everything possible for them, and yet being unable to win them over? As the world's largest democracy, isn’t it more of an anti thesis? Freedom always comes with a price, and the price that Kashmiris will have to pay is the giving up of the huge amount of subsidies and special rights under Article 370 that Kashmir gets today from the Central Government. The per capita subsidy on a Kashmiri given by the Government is the highest in the country, and by far more than for any other state in India. In fact, the truth is that in all these years, there isn’t anything that has not been done to keep Kashmir in good humour! It would really be interesting, then, to see if Kashmir can run on its own – the way its citizens want. It would be interesting to see how they manage the financial resources, and how much aid actually comes from Pakistan and with what underlying conditions. It would be interesting then to see if the average Kashmiris would be living a happy life with the freedom for which they fought for years. And it would then be better to leave it to them to judge whether they would have been freer within the Indian polity. At heart, most Kashmiris know people in the other Kashmir are worse off economically than Indian Kashmiris. They also know that Pakistan is far worse off economically than India. Moreover, Kashmiris are also aware that their own leadership – especially those who have been waging separatist movements – are not united themselves. More importantly, the credentials of these ‘leaders’ to govern is highly questionable. Keeping that in mind, it is unfortunate that they still yearn for independence – yet, if they so demand, then the question is, why not give it to them and concentrate on bigger things at hand? For centuries, accession has been considered indispensable for imposing the rule of a country on a particular region. And this has been the reason for innumerable agitations, bloodshed, revolutions and war. It would be interesting to see if India can set an example by the secession of a territory, which has been so integral to its national identity. No doubt, to do away with a Kashmir is going to be a very difficult decision for citizens of this country, for it has always been a matter of national pride than anything else. But then, even if it hurts our sentiments, citizens of this country should realise that people who genuinely do not want to be a part of us can’t be forced for long. Moreover, who knows that this separation in itself can result as a boon in disguise? For there isn’t any doubt that calling for independence is one thing, but sustaining it is quite another. Who knows that once set free, Kashmir may realise and get closer to home? Should that happen, only then would the time for the real integration of Kashmir into India arrive. And even if it that does not happen, it would still mean that it is happy living for all!! At least, Indians would finally be able to go freely and enjoy the Valley.
- 31 August 2008 |
- Arindam on Indian Politics