Saturday, 16 March 2013

Kashmir - Is more autonomy the solution?

When one reads about the clamor in media for implementation of more autonomy proposal from GOI interlocutors for Jammu and Kashmir one wonders if more political autonomy is a solution. The real question to ask about solution for Kashmir is to ask what are the steps that need to be taken to ensure that the Kashmiri minority which has had to escape the valley and is living like internal refugees be able to return to the valley and live in peace?

There was an article published in the Greater Kashmir newspaper published in J&K under the headline "Kashmiris hate India like rats hate cats." about a statement made by one of government appointed interlocutors. There are many contradictions in those statements and the headline in the newspaper. Saying "Kashmiris hate India" is a suggestion that India and Kashmir are separate entities. Then the generalization that Kashmiris hate India is far too casual. The interlocutors could not have met each and every Kashmiri nor would they have thoroughly analyzed all the reasons and aspects of their dislike or hatred to come to the conclusion that they hate 'India' or is it that they are filled with hate thanks to certain events of their life post 1989 cycle of violence and what is needed to get them on board is 'truth and reconciliation' not appeasement by promises of autonomy which is path to further alienation and drift from the national mainstream. What exactly about India do the ones who are filled with hatred hate? Is it that India is a secular, democratic, republic which by its constitution guarantees equal rights to all irrespective to his or her background? I doubt if any Indian can hate an India built on as noble and progressive ideal like that.

When even culturally and civilizationally independent countries of world are moving closer to each and removing barriers by creating EU and APEAC, we in India who have inherited an Idea of India which was bold and unique for its time and lead to the creation of a multi-cultural pluralistic multi-religious, multi-ethnic, secular and democratic republic for the people of the subcontinent, who are tied to each other by history of coexistence and civilizational ties over several millennia are unfortunately drifting apart due to petty regionalism and communal divisions. I am in no way a so called 'Hindu Nationalist' nor am I sympathizer of a reactionary  ideology of majority domination. I am sold to the "Idea of India" as any as might exist and with the force of those credentials I have exceptions to some of the suggestions of the interlocutors report created by the team. The most exceptional was on the Idea that Jammu and Kashmir needs more autonomy. I agree to the Idea of more decentralization of governance but not more autonomy of the kind that are contained in some of the provisions of article 370 which are so divisive and so against the Idea of India that the great makers of our constitution who under grave misgivings agreed to it only as a temporary provision. I am making an assertion that if the people of J&K are alienated today it is not because of removal of autonomy it is due to the sense of separation which was unfortunately built by the existence of such a provision for a 60 years. It does not take long to see what might happen say if you apply this article 370 to any part of India. The population of that part will forever be hostage to the regional and communal strife and identity politics rather than be on path of economic prosperity. If no outsider is allowed to become a Kashmir and adopt Srinagar or Jammu or Rajauri as home because of the retrograde state subject laws that exist there then what ties with the other regions of the country do we expect. It is 60 years of drift that had to be corrected not create a recipe for more drift. If it was the partition of Bengal and the separate electorate on the basis of religion that sowed the seeds of India's partition on religious lines then it is also the kind of constitutional provisions that were created for J&K with lead to growth of separatism in the valley.

The extermist forces in Kashmir will assassinate every voice of reason and are responsible for many a deaths including that of Maulana Showkat who had raised his voice against stone pelting by youth in 2011. There is a constant propaganda  regarding various aspects of Afzal Guru case that goes on in the local Kashmir media. While it is true that his abrupt hanging and denial of the right to his family to meet him for the last time was cruel and I second some arguments about jumping the queue but I am not sure if we can sit in judgement about the merits of the pronouncement of death sentence to him. I am not sure if not executing Afzal Guru for political reasons would serve the image of justice and law in our country either. Can we trust nothing in this country not even the highest court? Can we go on delaying carrying out court judgments for political reasons? How do we propose to fight extremism? By cowing down to it or by addressing the reasons for it.

Finally I would like to say that any solution to the difficulties in Jammu and Kashmir lies in more integration not less. Sikkim  has been successfully integrated in India and is today not only showing high economic growth and lower poverty levels but is peaceful and comfortable both in its regional and national identity. The reason why the Moists extremists of Nepal were not able to fan the flames of the Greater Nepal movement is a testament to its successful integration. I am in no way expecting that the entire article 370 can be abruptly removed but giving more autonomy to the State government is certainly a step in the wrong direction. More decentralization can be attempted and the state gov can be encouraged to implement some of the panchayat governance reforms which are clearly helpful in winning the hearts and minds of the people which is quite evident from the assassination of the sarpanchs by extremist forces. We should be doing everything that the extremist forces do not want us to do while keeping in mind that we do not wish to take steps that lead to less integration.

As a thought experiment I would say what are the steps that need to be taken to ensure that the Kashmiri minority which has had to escape the valley and is living like internal refugees be able to return to the valley and live in peace. We don't need to heed to divisive forces but answer to the steps that lead to improvement of the lives of ordinary citizens and marginalize the very vocal separatist and extremist forces. In a talk show organized by noted Pakistani progressive writer and editor Tahir Gora has given a forum to Kashmiri minority and Kashmiri Muslim participants to discuss the problems of the minorities and what is the reason they feel has lead to this alienation in Kashmir. There in lies the real solution unfortunately no one in India is listening.

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