Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Bleeding Vale of kashmir [1 of 2]

 by Vir Sanghvi

             There are many Yahoo Groups on the net. I do not subscribe to any, but sometime I do glance on something that could interest me or WOP readers. As I understand, these groups are basically internet hangouts where everybody can whisper, speak loud, express seriously, jokingly, rant and rasp to one’s likes and dislikes. In other words they are the modern electronic version of a Hyde Park. It was at one such group that I came across a highly thought provoking assessment of Kashmir situation by an Indian writer, an article over the burning vale of Kashmir - the principal irritant between India and Pakistan, a problem that mars good neighborly relations between the two of us ever since independence.  Ed.

            Think the Unthinkable…

           Have you been reading the news coming out of Kashmir with a mounting sense of despair? I know I have. It's clear now that the optimism of the last few months — all those articles telling us that normalcy had returned to Kashmir — was misplaced. Nothing has really changed since the 1990s.

           A single spark — such as the dispute over Amarnath land — can set the whole valley on fire, so deep is the resentment, anger and the extent of secessionist feeling. Indian forces are treated as an army of occupation. New Delhi is seen as the oppressor. There is no engagement with the Indian mainstream. And even the major political parties do not hesitate to play the Pakistan card — Mehbooba Mufti is quite willing to march to the Line of Control.

            At one level, the current crisis in Kashmir is a consequence of a series of actions by the Indian establishment. New Delhi let the situation fester until it was too late. The state administration veered between inaction and over-reaction. The Sangh Parivar played politics with Hindu sentiment in Jammu, raising the confrontation to a new level.

           But we need to look at the Kashmir situation in a deeper way. We can no longer treat it on a case-by-case basis: solve this crisis, and then wait and see how things turn out in the future. If the experience of the last two decades has taught us anything, it is that the situation never really returns to normal.

           Even when we see the outward symptoms of peace, we miss the alienation and resentment within. No matter what we do, things never get better, for very long.
It's not as though the Indian state has no experience of dealing with secessionist movements. Almost from the time we became independent 61 years ago, we have been faced with calls for secession from nearly every corner of India: from Nagaland, Assam and Mizoram, from Tamil Nadu, from Punjab etc.

          In every single case, democracy has provided the solution. We have followed a three-pronged approach: strong, almost brutal, police or army action against those engaging in violence, a call to the secessionist leaders to join the democratic process and then, generous central assistance for the rebuilding of the state.

           It is an approach that has worked brilliantly. Even in, say, Mizoram, where alienation was at its height in the 1970s, the new generation sees itself as Indian. The Nagas now concentrate their demands on a redrawing of state boundaries (to take in part of Manipur), not on a threat to the integrity of India. In Tamil Nadu, the Hindi agitation is forgotten and in Punjab, Khalistan is a distant memory.

          The exception to this trend has been Kashmir. Contrary to what many Kashmiris claim, we have tried everything. Even today, the state enjoys a special status. Under Article 370 of our Constitution, with the exception of defence, foreign policy, and communication, no law enacted by parliament has any legitimacy in Kashmir unless the state government gives its consent. The state is the only one in India to have its own Constitution and the President of India cannot issue directions to the state government in exercise of the executive power of the Union as he can in every other state. Kashmiri are Indian citizens but Indians are not necessarily Kashmiri citizens. We cannot vote for elections to their assembly or own any property in Kashmir.

          Then, there is the money. Bihar gets per capita central assistance of Rs 876 per year. Kashmir gets over ten times more: Rs 9,754 per year. While in Bihar and other states, this assistance is mainly in the forms of loans to the state, in Kashmir 90 per cent is an outright grant. Kashmir's entire Five Year Plan expenditure is met by the Indian taxpayer.
In addition, New Delhi keeps throwing more and more money at the state: in 2004, the Prime Minister gave Kashmir another $ 5 billion for development.

          Kashmiris are happy to take the money and the special rights but they argue that India has been unfair to them because no free political process has developed. And, it is true that we have rigged elections in Kashmir. But, it is now nearly a decade since any rigging was alleged. Nobody disputes that the last election was fair. Moreover, even though the Congress got more seats than the PDP, the Chief Ministership went to Mufti Mohammad Sayeed as a gesture.
          Given that Kashmir has the best deal of any Indian state, is there anything more we can do? Kashmiris talk about more autonomy. But I don't see a) what more we can give them and b) how much difference it will make.

If you step back and think about it, the real question is not "how do we solve this crisis"? It is: what does the Centre get in return for the special favours and the billions of dollars?

The short answer is: damn all.

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