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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Kashmir conundrum-2

Having superficially dealt with legendary official Indian competence vis-à-vis Kashmir does not absolve other players -big and small- of their sins in creating the mess as it is in Kashmir. I think if a finger can be pointed to any single entity for all the ills then I think prime candidacy for that dubious distinction goes to the Kashmiri leadership starting from Sheikh Abdullah or even earlier. Every single local leader has lived and made others to live in concreted deceit, unshakable self-denial coupled with misplaced self-confidence of getting hold of best of all worlds. Whatever the fundamentals of the partition of the sub-continent; the anomaly chosen by the Kashmiri leadership was not backed by the population in general. It was dithering Sheikh Abdullah who opted for accession with India when every reason sided for an accession with Pakistan. And when things started getting tough, he started dreaming big dreams, which could never become reality. Worse of all, the trappings of power proved too tempting for every single leader who never hesitated to ditch any shred of principles and had no scruples in utilizing any means for furtherance of their petty interests. Needless to say, whatever the fault of Indian government, the government in Kashmir was always in hands of local leaders. If elections were not conducted and people were not allowed to vote, that was done most of the time at the behest of the most popular party of the time National Conference. When rest of India voted in first general elections in 1952; in Kashmir ruling National Conference had nominations of opposing candidates rejected in most of the constituencies, a phenomenon that was turned was turned into a state-of-art by Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad and nimbly utilized by the subsequent Congress led governments of Ghulam Mohammed Sadiq and Syed Mir Qasim. It was not until 1970s that finally elections were allowed to be held and people could vote but even then the most popular leader Sheikh Abdullah and his political party could not and did not participate. The first and perhaps only time free elections ever held in Kashmir was in 1977. But again there is a caveat, the moment during campaigning for 1977 elections the National Conference realized down turn in support that it spread rumors of Sheikh Abdullah being mortally sick to garner sympathy and votes, which they did, though Abdullah Sheikh went on to live until 1983 out lasting and out foxing all erstwhile political allies, and appointing his son as an heir apparent. The heir apparent did dutifully assume the mantle of the Chief Minister and made sure that next elections became one sided affair through intimidation by his party, despite every indication pointing to their victory as the opponent was none but Congress party. Since Congress in Kashmir manifested face of Delhi, the local population reveled in voting against it and in a curious way provided a vent for letting out the built up resentment again Indian government which never lacked incompetency in projecting its villainous image. Though the use of intimidation in 1983 election was not frowned upon by the local population; but it did take sheen away from the legitimacy of National Conference victory, and that became a ruse for the ugly removal of Farooq Abdullah by the Grenvillesque Jagmohan. Farooq Abdullah could be Chief Minister because of being progeny of his father; otherwise he aptly qualifies as an example of total mediocrity and incompetence who during all his tenures in power could achieve nothing except steep corruption and non-manageable chaos, which in any case with every passing generation got steeped into way of life and is in no way a lesser cause of the mess. The history at the moment is being repeated with the third generation of Abdullahs. The political decadence in the state paralleled with deterioration of the service sector, with major culprit being power supply. The visible prosperity starting in 1970s in the valley was coupled with forced misery in wintry darkness that never advanced the cause of state or the central governments. Though in this instance responsibility lied with the local politicians and they never proved anything but corrupt but totally apt in misusing every single fund from any source. And for any local leaders when goings got tough, they never hesitated in misleading people through raising the issue of independence. Another aspect that in no small measure impacted developments in Kashmir is the omnipresence of die hard fringe element, which never deviated from their belief in the role of Kashmir in larger pan-Islamic configuration rather than being slave to infidels. The events on the ground aided by greedy local politicians, incompetent central government and rigid bureaucracy, not only led from one misstep to another but allowed in no uncertain measures the fringe element to exploit the alienating undercurrent in Kashmiri population. And when push came to shove both central and local governments joined hands in ensuring that fringe politics becomes central. In one master stroke of ineptness National Conference led by Farooq Abdullah, which represented the local aspiration joined in an electoral alliance with Congress party led by Rajiv Gandhi, thus creating a vacuum to be filled by all those elements who always wanted separation from India. That culminated in infamous election of 1987 and the events, thereafter, acquired an engine of their own. None, neither central nor state government could do anything but watch events unfolding in total helplessness. With every passing event smugness and ineptness of central government started becoming more and more visible. When negotiations could have brought situation back from the brink; it opted for use of force. When legitimate National Conference government asked for more autonomy; central government retaliated by passing a resolution on Kashmir in parliament for it being integral part of India. Now the time is already too late. Solution cannot come from within the framework of Indian constitution. It would require hard and magnanimous decisions, which would be objected by fringe and hard-line elements everywhere. Because, the perpetuation of trouble in Kashmir would benefit hard core elements of all colors.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Kashmir conundrum

I wanted to write about Kashmir long time back but then always deferred for things to calm down from the preceding cyclic violence in order to avoid being overtaken by hideous emotional zeal. When it comes to dealing with Kashmir or more precisely with the situation there, the logic seems to be first victim. The misplaced frenzy on the part of those closely involved and those not even remotely involved takes surrealistic shape. Bizarreness on the part of latter is completely baffling and it rather displays dangerous mix of arrogance and ignorance than any reasoned and informed knowledge about the place and its history. The common refrain in Indian minds being that Kashmiri people are being misguided and incited by Pakistan and other foreign elements is just another ignorant humbug. The truth that the recent unrest in the valley was spread from one end to another belies that misguided notion; though, it would be naïve at the same time to rule out the roosting by external forces. That under no circumstance justifies use of brutal force unleashed by security apparatus of the state. Leaving aside for a moment the blaming game, a few fundamental things regarding Kashmir require consideration. The much often repeated 'mantra' of Kashmir being integral part of India does not hold any sanctity and in fact it never did. Like any fundamental truth it is a common knowledge that people of Kashmir, no matter what, do not want to be part of India, period. And that is the reality, which can neither be wished away nor explained by inexplicable excuses. To delve into the question 'why people of Kashmir don't want to be part of India?' one needs to open a complete encyclopedia of incompetence of Indian ruling class from time immemorial. History is replete with missteps, misdeeds both deliberate and malicious in conjunction with arrogance and, worst of all, in combination with brazen ignorance. One doesn't need to go too far back in time, one just has to dwell at a short-time window between creation of Bangladesh in 1971 to the execution of Bhutto in 1979. That was time when disenchantment in valley with Pakistan was complete and for once there was a collective but silent relief in minds of Kashmiri people for being part of a democratic country rather than Pakistan where an elected president had just been despicably executed. Zia-ul-Haq's effigies were burnt all over Kashmir and Jamait-e-Islami people were hounded into hiding. Fast forward to 1988 and when Zia died in plane crash on August 17 that year, people in Kashmir deeply mourned his death that was coupled with a total shut down and completed with an imposition of a valley wide curfew. Saner minds and serious and competent governments might have asked; how did status of Zia changed from a pariah to messiah? The answer is shear incompetency, arrogance and ignorance of the Indian rulers. The intervening events that shed light on those assertions are illegal, illogic and ill-conceived dismissal of a democratically elected government of Farooq Abdullah, installation of a corrupt puppet local government in place and most damaging being the presence a divisive figure of Jagmohan as a governor of the state. If anybody ever embodied Indian insensitivity towards Kashmir, there can never be a better example than Jagmohan. His leap to famed administrator originated from his overzealous servitude to Sanjay Gandhi during ill-conceived Indian emergency when he specifically targeted Muslim areas of Delhi in a drive towards beautification. Thus appointment of a governor, with such credentials, of a sensitive state in itself is a testimonial to the sensibility of Indian government and he (Jagmohan) lost no time displaying it by removing Farooq Abudullah and taking over administration after a short interluding puppet regime. One of the decisions of his administration was ban on selling of meat on certain days of Hindu festivals. Here was the much revered administrator at his imaginative best. These might eventually turn out to be just foot notes in the history but nevertheless these underscore the issue of Indian insensitivity in dealing with Kashmir and its population. As the events there after dashed towards total collapse and at every step Indian authorities were left gasping for a response. But the only consistency displayed by all successive Indian governments has been a total lack of imagination. Otherwise, how else was the then governor Sinha allowed to create a mess of gargantuan proportion over the land transfer issue or how else were petty bureaucrats allowed to shell out communalistic agenda from the then governor's office. The worst case scenario, in my opinion, that went completely unreported was that when new committee for Amarnath shrine was constituted under new enlightened governor, it did not include a single Muslim as a member. Amarnath shrine was discovered by Muslims and is revered as much by local Muslims as by Hindus. And Kashmir, particularly in rural areas, was always religiously integrated with a very thin dividing the two faiths. How authorities did choose to be so insensitive? Could it be possible that the well being of vested interests are higher than the state? Once again during latest round of violence in valley the Indian insensitivity and lack of understanding was at total display through use of indiscriminate force and complete harassment of local population. That is not how civilized societies function. When it comes to Kashmir, India as a state failed at every stage. It failed to capitalize when things were going in its favor; it failed to protect Hindus and in fact state under Jagmohan encouraged them to flee that place; it failed to provide dignity to any community of Kashmir because of its heavy reliance on use of security forces and bureaucrats who have nothing but their own ax to grind.
-Rajiv Kumar