Mission Kashmir: In 2002, how about reimagining J&K? - by Pamela Philipose Back   Home  
Jammu and Kashmir is labouring under many disadvantages. There is no touch between Government and the people, no suitable opportunity for representing grievances and the administrative machinery itself requires overhauling from top to bottom to bring it up to the modern conditions of efficiency. It has little or no sympathy with the people’s want and grievances...
A QUICK quiz. When, do you think, this was written and which was the government being referred to? No, the reference is not to the Farooq Abdullah government, circa 2002. This extract from a report drafted by the All-India States People’s Conference dates back to 1939, and refers to the political dispensation presided over by Maharaja Hari Singh. That it has a remarkably contemporary ring to it only means that this region has long inhabited the quagmire of indifferent governance.

The apathy has given birth to such a deep-rooted cynicism among the people that the expression ‘‘not in my lifetime’’ has becomes the standard comment to any suggestion that things here could change. Time, and hope, is frozen like the upper reaches of the Pir Panchal range. I heard this extremely evocative expression for the first time on July 27, 1997. Prime Minister I.K. Gujral had just delivered his codswallop of words in Quazigund, after having laid the foundation for one section of the proposed 290 km, Rs 2,500 crore rail link between Udhampur and Baramulla. In his speech, Gujral had conjured up a locomotive of development changing the landscape of the region, ending forever the ‘‘physical isolation of people in this side of the Pir Panchal range’’. A whole mountain side of people who had gathered — or were herded — to hear him, listened impassively.

Later, one man spoke for that crowd when he told me: ‘‘Not in my lifetime.’’ Four years down the line, J&K officially has only seven railway stations and 72 km of functioning rail track. Gujral’s locomotive of development seems to have got derailed.

So is there any way to bring J&K out of the deep freeze, with its sub-zero temperature carefully maintained by regular terrorist strikes, like the one that has just taken place at Jehangir Chowk on Wednesday? With its brutal security regime and deep mutual suspicion between the people and the state? With its unkept political promises and almost non-existent government? Because even as despair rises every time corpses are gathered from bloodied pavements, there can be no doubt that if terrorism has to be convincingly fought in this country, it has to be fought here first, and it has to be fought in ways more imaginative, more committed, more transforming than the mechanical deployment of brute force.

Tragically, the Centre has allowed itself to play to the design of the terrorist by more or less suspending every initiative that promised to break the impasse. The ceasefire initiative that was ended as a sort of exchange deal for the Agra Summit is today distant memory. The completely arbitrary ‘‘talks’’ that the prime minister’s emissary, K.C. Pant, has had with ‘‘Kashmiris’’ have always threatened to be something of a joke. As if to underline this, STD and Internet facilities have now been withdrawn rendering empty the much-publicised development package of setting up PCO and cyber cafes by mobilising bank loans to address the problem of unemployment and isolation here. As for the Abdullah government, it is best symbolised by an absentee chief minister.

Yet, in a curious way, despite the reversals and the very present threat of violence, the possibility of changing this dismal history is brighter today than it has been in a long while. There are several reasons for this, but foremost among them is the crackdown on the Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Lashkar-e-Toiba responsible, according to independent sources, for 70 per cent of the terrorists strikes in Kashmir over the last three years. Pakistan has, by no means, discarded its Kashmir agenda and has carefully underlined its com- mitment to ‘‘indigenous’’ groups functioning in the Valley. It would also be naive to dismiss real concerns about groups like the Al-Qaeda, presently on the run, finding their way into Kashmir. But the fact that there are enormous rents in the terrorist network of yore presents both an opportunity and challenge.

At no point of time did the jehadis ever capture widespread support among the Kashmiris and their tactics of indiscriminate blood-letting has not helped. Look at the faces of ordinary people on the streets after any strike and you will find only despair and helpless anger. Apart from this, fundamentalist elements have never in any case found widespread public support. When a little known outfit, the Lashkar-e-Jabbar, set itself the relatively modest task of getting Muslim women in the state to don the burqa with the help of a bottle of acid or two, it created fear and resentment — not exactly the right responses to elicit popular support.

But if it is to benefit from this historical moment, India should also be serious about finding political solutions in a year that should witness the state going to the polls. For too long have we regarded J&K as a badge of our honour and a wound in our side. Changing this reality would require a long process of developmental and democratic initiative, of easing the reins and letting the Kashmiris themselves take charge of their destinies.

On the one hand, is this business of furthering democracy. The prime minister was rash enough to promise ‘‘free’’ and ‘‘fair’’ elections in Kashmir in his Independence Day address, two words that cannot describe any election in that benighted state apart from the 1977 one. The election that brought the present state government to power was, even by the Election Commission’s own admission, a command performance. We cannot afford a repeat of this in September-October 2002, when J&K is scheduled to go to the polls.

So let us get that locomotive of change to start chugging again, that missing rail line, the four-lane NH-1, the horticultural packages, the primary education and rural electrification projects. Let’s get our best bureaucrats, our best engineers, our best planners, to invest their energies in this endeavour. Let us also re-initiate the process of dialogue with the people of Kashmir and honour the historical commitment inherent in the Instrument of Accession of preserving the region’s autonomous status. The unilateral offer of the pre-1953 status, not just to the Valley, but to Jammu and Ladakh as well, could underline the seriousness of this intent.

Final solutions on Kashmir may be a long time in coming and would certainly involve talking to Pakistan at some point. But what prevents us from talking to ourselves, if indeed we regard Kashmiris as ourselves? If 2002 sees real progress along these lines, if it sees reconciliation rather than recrimination, if it witnesses one ‘‘free’’ and ‘‘fair’’ election, it would change the tenor of politics, not just in J&K, but within India as well.
Published in ExpressIndia.com