J&K: Starting point of a Solution
Starting thought for the day: Jammu & Kashmir is going to define India – or rather how we respond to the crisis in Jammu & Kashmir is going to define India.
This concluding post in the “Spotlight on Jammu & Kashmir” series has been the most difficult one to write. Partly because there are no easy answers here – and partly because the most “obvious” approach and solution appears to be very hard to implement – if not totally impractical.
But as a blogger, I have the advantage that most politicians don’t – that is, the ability to speak my mind – without worrying about lost votes – or ruffled feathers. So at the risk of sounding impractical, or being branded an idealist (or worst, a deluded “nationalist”) and knowing that some of the ideas mentioned below will most certainly ruffle some feathers, here is what I feel should be the approach towards resolving this issue that has festered for more than six decades.
Those of you who have studied maths will remember that while solving a complex equation, where you start can make all the difference between getting to an elegant solution and getting hopelessly entangled in complexity. So with Jammu & Kashmir. The starting point here must be the right one. It must be repeatedly clarified and reiterated…It must rest on the fundamental identity of India as a nation. It must rest on the assumption that the issue in Jammu & Kashmir is not something that will be decided by the stone-pelters of Srinagar or Sopore. It is the starting point that will make all the difference between peace in the region – and a further loss of territory and eventual disintegration of India.
What should this starting point be? In my view, it must be the aim of full integration of Jammu & Kashmir with the Union of India. It must be the objective of removing the “special status” accorded to the region. It must be the objective of treating this state no differently than Arunachal Pradesh or Kerala or Maharashtra or Himachal Pradesh. It must be rubbishing any talk of “pre-1953 status”, let alone “Azaadi”.
If Jammu & Kashmir needs more “autonomy”, so does Bihar, so does Karnataka, so does Gujarat and so does Meghalaya (and need I remind anyone how much “autonomy” it already has?). Why should Jammu & Kashmir be treated differently? Just because someone got it wrong the first time around? Is the reputationof a “national hero” more important than preserving the integrity of the Union? Is acknowledging a historical wrong worse than letting the forces of secession succeed?
Unfortunately, my starting point starkly – and bluntly puts me in a corner which very few feel like defending – at least in public.
So all the talk that you hear about a “solution” – or a government outreach, or a “package” for Jammu & Kashmir – revolves around perpetuating the special treatment, perpetuating the special status and making permanenent the divide that marks the state from the rest of India. And you hear no talk of repealing Article 370, only hoarse cries about AFSPA. No talk of resettlement of Kashmiri Pundits – but loud concerns over the “poor and unemployed” youth of Kashmir.
Jammu & Kashmir cannot be “solved” by tired ideas, that have been tried before, found not to have worked and are being recylced again. It needs fresh, bold thinking – in the right direction – in the direction of Delhi not Islamabad. It needs bold and clear articulation that the real “problem” in Jammu & Kashmir (and very specifically the Kashmir valley) is the problem of a child that was treated with kid gloves and has now got out of control. The real “problem” with Jammu & Kashmir is that no one is willing to talk about this elephant in the room. Commentators and political leaders are more than eager to find reasons and excuses for why things are not “normal” in Jammu & Kashmir…and finding it very easy to blame militants, “ultras”, “separatists”, “disgruntled youth” and “lumpenised bourgeoise” for the violence and collapse of administration.
The real “problem” in Jammu & Kashmir is that for too long we have treated it as a “special” case, as a “unique” region, as a state that has to be treated differently. I still remember several years ago, when I asked a senior bureaurcat why did J&K have a separate flag, he said, “Oh, its a different case“. Ditto for a separate Constitution. Ditto for a separate flag. Ditto for a “Prime Minister” who rules from Srinagar.
This joke has been going on for far too long…It is time to say, One Country, One Law That has to be the starting point on Jammu & Kashmir.
What does this mean in practical terms? This is what it means in reality:
- Abolition of Article 370, thus making the integration of the state with the Union complete.
- Proactive and visible steps to encourage further assimilation of Jammu & Kashmir (and its residents) with rest of the Union. Protests (and protestors) along the lines of “change in demographics” must be firmly told that the Government of India does not restrict the movement of people within the Union (and their right to take residence and earn a living) based on their religion.
- A package of incentives to encourage Kashmiri Pandits to come back and resettle in the State (including measures such as tax breaks and grants)
- Financial discipline and austerity in the government machinery and bureaucracy
- Removal of disparity between Kashmir valley and other parts of the state
- Encouragement to industries and businesses from outside the state to come and set up units and businesses in J&K (including tax breaks)
- Establishment of a few marquee institutions of higher learning/advanced studies that will pull in students from the rest of India into the region , thus further encouraging assimilation of the general population (IITs, IIMs etc))
- And finally, a determined effort to put international pressure on Pakistan to hand back territory that it continues to occupy illegally – viz Gilgit-Baltistan and the euphemistically called “Azad Kashmir”
Unfortunately my optimism can only go this far…None of this, not one of these measures is likely to be considered (let alone implemented) unless there is a shift in attitudes on Kashmir – a shift in mind-sets and a shift from the almost permanent sense of guilt we seem to be carrying over the botched integration of the state in 1947. Shifting that mind-set and changing that attitude is the first challenge we face – which is why the starting point becomes so difficult to comprehend and to accept. This brings me to my worst fear re Jammu & Kashmir i.e. the seeds of eventual disintegration of the Union are being sown now..soon it might be too late.
I will stop here…Views and thoughts welcome, as always…
Concluding thought for the day: The stone-pelters, the Geelanis and the Omar Abdullah’s must all be told in clear terms: Forget it, azaadi is an impossibility – no state of India can dream of it (as said by Sh Arun Jaitley, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha)
P.S. Some of you might find this alternative viewpoint: J&K: Jhelum (not Chenab) Solution by Sandhya Jain thought-provoking.
Gen. Sinha who has had the unique distinction of having been witness to all the major events in that State since 1947 when he as a young Major supervised the air lift of Indian troops from the Safdarjang airport, New Delhi to Kashmir to repel the tribesmen sent by Pakistan, right up to 2008 when as Governor of J&K he had to handle the Amarnath controversy, then went on to list the numerous follies committed :
- With the enemy closing on Srinagar, Maharaja Hari Singh fled to Jammu and was desperately seeking Indian assistance. He signed the Instrument of Accession but through exchange of letters, Kashmir was given a special position not made available to any Princely State in India or Pakistan.
- Thereafter, we committed the cardinal folly of taking the Kashmir issue to the United Nations.
- On 14 November 1947 when the enemy was in full flight, the Army had reached Uri but was stopped from advancing to Muzaffrabad and diverted to Poonch.
- We launched our summer offensive on 22 May 1948 and by 1 June 1948, we liberated Tithwal. We were tantalizingly close to Muzaffrabad. The operation was called off in the wake of UN appeal to India and Pakistan to refrain from offensive operations.
- In December 1948 after our resounding success in Ladakh and Poonch, we were well poised to liberate Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, but we agreed to a Cease Fire.
- After the 1965 war, we handed over the strategic Hajipir Pass, won at great cost, on a platter to Pakistan at Tashkent.
- We were outwitted at Shimla in 1972 and surrendered our gains without settling the Kashmir issue.
- Our Parliament passed a unanimous resolution asserting that the area of Kashmir in illegal occupation of Pakistan is an integral part of India. We have done nothing to assert this right. Even when there has been widespread unrest in Gilgit-Baltistan, we did not even express sympathy for the agitators who are legally Indian citizens.
- We agreed to road Srinagar-Muzaffrabad being opened but could not get road Kargil-Skardu opened.
- In the name of freedom of the Press, we allow the Valley Press to constantly carry out anti-India false propaganda. The law on sedition does not seem to apply in Kashmir.
The list of our follies is endless, Gen. Sinha stated.
Also read: Pragmatic’s Kashmir Rant