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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Is Political Demagoguery Back In Jammu and Kashmir ?

Freshly sworn-in Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has created quite a furore by immediately expressing gratitude to Pakistan, Hurriyet and sundry militant for allowing the election to take place in relatively peaceful atmosphere and then went on to release a well known separatist, Masarat Alam  followed by drafting a list of secessionists and terrorists to be released from prison in the near future. Experts opine that these steps were taken by Mufti to send a message to people of the Kashmir valley that he had not surrendered to the "Hindu Nationalist" BJP. The BJP on its part tried going slow and responded strongly only when the voices of protest across the nation attained a deafening pitch. It now emerges that the paperwork clearing the release of Alam had been completed before the government was sworn in and when the state was under President's rule or directly under the rule of the Union Government. It was also the period when the BJP and the PDP were negotiating hectically for two months to form the coalition government. Opposition parties and BJP critics see the long leash given to Mufti as a desperate effort by the party to stay in power in the only Muslim majority state of India but I don't quite agree to this point of view. With a strong BJP government in centre and the conditions in Jammu and Kashmir, PDP needs it more than vice-versa.



This is perhaps my first post which is more of speculative in nature, mostly because I don't have a great deal of knowledge on history of Jammu and Kashmir and the ground realities there. Perhaps, Modi government is trying to walk on the footsteps of Atal Bihari Vajpayee during whose government J&K saw free and fair election and a democratically elected government after a long time and when a lot of incentives were granted to Kashmiris to join the mainstream which previous governments couldn't have thought. Vajpayee had almost resolved or rather taken first step towards a real resolution of the dispute, were it not for the hare-brained Pakistani President Musharraf his counterpart in the talks.  However, PM Modi is no AB Vajpayee, a statesman respected globally - by his political opponents but most importantly in this context, by people of Kashmir and by even Pakistanis. Modi may have a mammoth fan base among Indians (both residents and non-residents) but not the trust Vajpayee commanded. Modi is shrewd enough to not follow the Vajpayee line.

Sheikh Abdullah with Sardar Patel after taking charge of interim government in Kashmir
Abdullah with Sardar Patel (source: wikipedia)
Yet the current political dynamics of J&K resemble what played out  between the Congress and National Conference just after the accession of the Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir to the Indian Union. During partition Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir chose to remain independent and not join either India or Pakistan, but when Pakistani tribals invaded he turned towards India for help. For India to mobilize its forces, it required that J&K join the Indian Union. According to the Instrument of Accession ,Jammu and Kashmir retained special status which was incorporated as Article 370 in the Indian Constitution. Behind the scene,  National Conference leader Sheikh Abdullah backed by Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the Congress played an important role in the accession and was made the Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. Abdullah was a hugely popular leader of Kashmiris and his decision to side with India during partition implied that the majority of Kashmiris wanted the same. I am not really sure if the Congress intended to  honor its commitments entirely nor am I sure if Abdullah was genuinely committed to secular Indian polity or was simply pursuing personal ambition to rule over J&K.  However, we do know that he was soon removed from post and arrested in 1953 for allegedly taking part in Kashmir Conspiracy Case but the charges were dropped in 1962. However, after a period of rapprochement with Nehru, the latter's demise and a period of internment and exile, Abdullah finally became the Chief Minister of J&K after signing of Indira-Sheikh Accord.

Pro-Pakistan Kashmiri Terrorists (source: BBC )
In retrospection, it would seem the Kashmiri people have suffered the most as the powers that be, seemed more interested in securing political capital at the cost of ignoring the needs of the ordinary people and most importantly not integrating them into the mainstream Indian society. Sure secessionist movement was always there but it did not take monstrous proportions overnight (rather for decades). It is undeniable fact that Indian forces received plenty of cooperation from the locals in beating back the Pakistani forces and tribals from the valley, the state militia organised by Abdullah held the first line of defense until the arrival of the Indian forces. It was only after repeated disappointments from the Congress at the centre and their own leaders that the people started becoming bitter. Rising unemployment and poverty had reached dire proportions.  The 1987 election, widely accused to have been rigged saw many candidates who might otherwise have taken oath of the Indian constitution shun democracy and take up militancy. One of the candidates who alleged the poll was rigged and was arrested and put behind bars went on to become the notorious terrorist Syed Salahuddin, the supremo of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, his aide, Yasin Malik , co-founded JKLF.



This also coincided with the fall of Soviet Union and Islamist militants returning from Afghanistan spilled over into Kashmir. At the same time, the gradual decline of  pro-Khalistani terrorism had Pakistan proxy war strategists concentrate more in Kashmir valley.  The insurgency had started but it reached the tipping point in the early 90s when governor Jagmohan allegedly tried suppressing it with a heavy hand turning the entire population against administration. This was also the period that saw exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from their ancestral land, the only ethnic cleansing modern India has seen.  Nearly, 50, 000 people have died in this insurgency of two and half decades, hundreds of thousands driven out of home. Kashmiri Pandits still live as refugees in their own country. After the 2002 free and fair election in Jammu and Kashmir and Vajpayee's  soft initiatives such as opening borders and the unilateral Ramadan truce on militants ( if such a move is now taken I am sure at least Arnab Goswami is going to have a massive heart attack on Newshour) , definitely brought down violence to a level that tourists could once more visit the Kashmir Valley.

Displaced Kashmiri Pandits are victims of politics too 
However, the current politics in the state don't at all seem to reflect the parties taking Vajpayee legacy forward, rather, the BJP-PDP seem to be reinventing the politics of polarization such as what Congress and  the NC did before, especially in 1983, when the former whipped Hindu sentiment to capture Jammu and NC went for Muslim votes in the valley. Election results reflect the same scenario  but the coalition partners appear to have much higher stakes. It has been alleged that the PDP has been given free hand to cosy up with separatists in exchange of the party turning blind eye to BJP's effort's to change demography of the state by settling non-Kashmiris in the state. If true, this is a dangerous path to tread in an increasingly flat world. One coalition partner appeasing secessionists and thus helping them grow (ironically, right after the Kashmiris had clipped their wings by turning out in large numbers to vote) while the other covertly working to undermine status quo could only lead to a bigger flare up, one that could leave us all red faced. And undo all the work done by leaders, administrative officials, armed forces and the people themselves to bring normalcy to the valley.     

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