Sunday, 7 April 2013

Is autonomy the solution to separatism in Kashmir?

Recent events in the state of Jammu and Kashmir after Afzal Guru’s hanging have brought back attention to the interlocutors report in the media. The murder of 5 CRPF jawans in the terror attack in the valley in March invited panic reaction about doing something to solve the Kashmir issue. No doubt continued violence in Jammu and Kashmir is of great concern to all citizens of the country but can this violence really be brought to an end without ever considering how to address the source of this violence with exists across the border? India it seems has all but conceded that it can do nothing about the infrastructure of terror that exists across the border. We seem to have been lulled into believing that since the violence has been reduced relative to its peak, the will to inflict violence has also been reduced across the border too and we seem to have come to a conclusion that somehow ignoring Pakistan’s real intentions will make the problem go away. Without having done anything meaningful to coerce Pakistan to give up its desire to continue support of terrorism against our country especially in J&K, we hope to address the separatist question in Kashmir through negotiations or through promise of more autonomy in the state.

A lot has been said about alienation of the population especially the youth in the valley. No doubt there has been alienation of the people in the valley from the Idea of India and especially the views of the youth in Kashmir are of utmost importance. Any counter insurgency action as has been mentioned time and again by experts requires winning back the trust of the people and disassociating the support base of the insurgents and separatists among the general population. But questions need to be asked as to the effect that implementing suggestions in interlocutors report is going to have on the long term interest of the country and whether or not it will have any effect on the permanent end to violence and secessionist politics in the state. Several aspects of the interlocutors report have been discussed in the public domain but the primary questions remains, will offering more autonomy make the secessionists permanently quit the demand for secession and will no further separatist movement will ever emerge in J&K after that?

Before we address this question we need to be first clear about the nature of the demand from the separatists. It is insisted by the separatists especially in front of the international audience that their demand is of freedom and of independence. I would argue this is not what their demand really is and it is easy to logically derive why this is not true. Independence is what the Indian subcontinent got in 1947 from colonial occupation thanks to the Indian Independence movement. The movement for creation of Pakistan was not an Independence or freedom movement it was a communal movement for separation from India based on the so called two nation theory. The result of that movement was an unprecedented violence in the form of communal riots which claimed 1.5 million lives in the subcontinent and lead to a refugee crisis of over 14 million people which had never been seen in human history before. The region which was formed as Pakistan had at the time of partition close to 30% non Muslim religious minority population which is today reduced to closer to 1%, thanks to that very event. The movement in Kashmir which centers around the so called “right to self determination” is also in similar lines not a freedom movement it is a communal movement for separation and the first victims of this movement were the people belonging to the minority community of Kashmir.

In the book “Integration of Indian States” written by VP Menon he has mentioned that when Jammu and Kashmir merged with India in 1947 it was Lord Mountbatten’s strong opinion that given the special nature of the ethnic and religious composition of the population in the state there should be a plebiscite held in the state to confirm its accession to the dominion of India, after law and order had been restored, and the state had been cleared of the Pakistani raiders which had attacked the state to occupy it by force. This argument was agreed to by the government of India he was heading and formed the basis of India’s policy during negotiations with the Pakistan government to make them desist from trying to takeover the state by force. This policy was pursued in the negotiations that took place both before and after India approached the UN to seek peaceful withdrawal of Pakistan’s national and military personnel from the state of Jammu and Kashmir but was rejected first by Jinnah who wanted to claim the entire state based on the simplistic argument that it was Muslim majority and hence should go to Pakistan in its entirety and later by subsequent Prime Ministers of Pakistan who never agreed to the withdrawal of their forces from the state.

The fact that Pakistan was never really clearly recognized as an aggressor by UN thanks to perhaps a mistake by the team representing India under Sir Girija Bajpai in filing the appeal to the UN under chapter 6 of the UN charter which calls for bringing to the attention of the UN an event of a nature of dispute rather under chapter 7 which calls upon a to the UN’s attention to an event of the nature of external aggression. American diplomat Vincent Sheean in his book “Nehru: The years of Power” has mentioned that in his opinion it was a technical error on the part of India which lead to the situation where western diplomats in the UN sticky about matters of letter rather than substance used this to treat the matter as a dispute between two morally equal parties rather than a matter of aggression by Pakistan as it really was. It also provided Pakistan with an excellent opportunity to draw parity with India and introduce all sorts of matters including the communal riots of 47 under the pretext of genocide by India to the debate.

For India, perhaps going to the UN under any provision was a lose-lose proposition. Going under chapter 7 would probably have meant that UN Security Council intervention in the form of military presence would have become inevitable and this would also not have been acceptable to India. In hindsight taking the matter to the UN only ensured that Kashmir got dragged into the international cold war politics in which Pakistan was seen as a more reliable partner by the victors of world war rather than India. Hence in India’s view there was always a bias in the UN’s proceedings in favour of Pakistan which was clearly the guilty party. Later on this internationalization also lead to the situation where Shekh Abdullah was courted by the Americans and even the Chinese. The Americans planted and encouraged the idea of “Independence” with Shekh Abdullah and for the government of India the possibility of an American base in Kashmir became a real possibility, something which went against the non aligned foreign policy which India wanted to pursue. This is precisely the reason why India has been wary of approaching the UN for any such matter ever since 1948. We did not approach the UN during any subsequent aggression by Pakistan or during the China war. This is also the reason why we do not encourage any third party intervention in Indo Pakistan relations.

India today disowns the UN resolution 47 which asked for plebiscite in J&K. The reasons are that Pakistan never exited the area under its control, the negotiations held with Pakistan in the 50’s failed to arrive at an acceptable formula under which plebiscite could be held, Pakistan over the years changed the demographics of the regions of J&K under its control and the Shimla accord signed with Pakistan in 1974 made the UN resolution irrelevant. But the real reason why any resolution based on plebiscite could not be arrived at and I will assert will never be arrived at is the realization on part of any subsequent responsible Indian government that the very nature of the population mix of J&K which was sighted by Mountbatten as the reason why plebiscite should be held in J&K makes it impossible to make a just decision based on plebiscite. The fact of the matter is that the population of J&K is ethnically, linguistically and religiously a very diverse population living together in that state for centuries and for that reason any referendum which is really a communal question of separation will only be voted on communal lines, leading to complete destruction of the social fabric of the society of J&K. The scenarios of partition in ’47 will be repeated and will be followed by population movement and communal riots of the worst kind in the entire country. It will essentially change the complete nature of India as it exists today. We will never be a secular, democratic, republic where all diversity of population can live together and balkanization and radicalization will follow. Such a nightmare scenario is so gross and the human tragedy that might follow so unimaginable that no responsible person in India can ever agree to it.

The question of plebiscite having been dealt with as rejected in my understanding by a majority of public opinion in the country and my arguments about the communal nature of separatist demands having been made I would like to address the more difficult question of autonomy which has perhaps a more divided opinion within the country. Several people have been arguing including some political parties in J&K, that autonomy is the solution to the separatist problem. The interlocutors have in fact recommended making article 370 a special provision as against a temporary provision of constitution as it exists today also they have asked for review of all laws extended to J&K since 1953. The assembly of J&K had also passed a resolution to that effect for even reverting to the designation of Prime Minister and President of the state rather than the designation of CM and Governor.  They would like the IAS and IPS officers in the state to be replaced with the state service officers and removing the powers of national election commission, CAG and the Supreme Court in matters of the state.

All such moves to revert the status of government in J&K to the pre ‘53 status or close to pre ‘53 status in various degrees will in any logical person’s opinion lead to less integration of the state with the rest of India rather than more integration. Any such move will not weaken the separatist demand. The core separatist demand is not autonomy they have never asked for it and they will never be satisfied only with it. This will only play in the hands of the separatist and extremists who will see it as a step closer to eventual separation rather than settlement of their concerns. This move will also lead to more complications in dealing with other cases of insurgency in the rest of the country especially in the north east where it will be seen that extremist violence eventually does pay and demand for such a settlement in Nagaland and Manipur will gather steam. The fact of the matter is that more autonomy and provisions like article 370 and separate constitution for a state as exists in J&K is not a solution to problems of alienation of population it is in fact is a slow poison which over a period of time leads to degeneration of the state to a communal and identity politics of the worst kind. It also leads to bad laws and persecution of the minority population of the state. We have ended up creating a North Korea like hermit state within the Union of India where people of the state are deprived of progressive laws and progressive political movements of the rest of the country. It has lead to a situation that the government sector is seen as the only credible employer and lack of employment opportunities has lead to disaffection of the people from the government. The politics of the state as we have seen in J&K since 1947 is forever hostage to corruption, autocratic government, petty power politics and manipulation of the people based on ethnicity and religion. Today J&K is more ethnically and communally divided than it was at any point in its history and the persecution of minority population of Kashmir which is living as refugees in its own state is not hidden from anyone. Mr Balraj Puri and Praveen Swami in a series of articles for the frontline magazine had between 1999 and 2001 written extensively about these issues. Autonomy of the kind the state has been given has been seen as the main cause of such divide.

India exists because of the Idea of India which is centered on the diversity of its population and the values of tolerance, secularism, respect for others traditions and cultures, intermingling of populations and economic integration. This is what has lead to the cultural and political evolution of India. I would like to make another assertion that a person may be born an Indian citizen but no one is truly born an Indian. We are raised as Indians, just as anyone is never born into a particular religion, that person has to be raised as a follower of that particular religion. The virtues of Indian-ness of the kind I have mentioned have to be experienced. They cannot be imposed from the outside or by laws. They are experienced and learned in the environment of a child’s neighborhood, schools, colleges and work places before he or she can truly imbibe them. Unfortunately the identity politics of J&K and the retrograde state subject laws of J&K which have disallowed the population of Kashmir valley to ever experience this Idea of India, is today alienated from the population of rest of the country. I can’t imagine how any logical person will propose the same conditions which lead to the primary alienation of the population of the state as a solution to the current separatist problem in the state.

Having made my case against autonomy or conversion of article 370 which in my view is the root of the difficult situation in J&K into a permanent provision in the constitution  I would like to assert that I am in no way against decentralization of powers to the people at the local level. Local body elections and strengthening of the Panchayats are perhaps a more robust solution to delivering the experience of freedom to the masses of the state as has been argued by Mr Wajahat Habibullah. But economic development of the state is not possible without allowing economic migration of professional, workers and businessmen from other states to J&K. The cities in J&K can never become engines of economic growth unless they become cosmopolitan like any small or big city of the country.

In order to imagine what solution exists for the current problems of J&K one needs to look at the ways which will lead to the eventual peaceful return of the Kashmiri minority population to their homes and their being able to live in a peaceful environment where they are not deprived of any economic activity. The separatist movement and separatist propaganda survives on the oxygen of violence and international support including the primary source of violence and propaganda in Pakistan. Unless these two things are addressed and unless the freedom to local population in form of a well functioning local democracy and uncorrupted administration is delivered to the common people of the state in my view any other solution will only serve the purpose of appeasing the separatists and eventually serve the cause of destructive elements. Hopefully the government of India will not take any decision in panic which will lead to a situation that can only be described as consumption of the slow poison of arsenic out of an unfounded fear that the only alternative is consumption of cyanide.

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