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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 39

Kashmir and Conscience

Thursday 18 September 2008, by Nikhil Chakravartty


In the brochures and posters of Indian tourism, Kashmir still figures with its enchanting attractions. In reality, however, the picturesque Valley of Kashmir is becoming out of bounds for the peace-loving citizens of this country.

In a sense, Kashmir today represents the gravest challenge to Indian democracy—perhaps much more than what happened at Ayodhya on December 6 and all that followed. If the bomb blast in Bombay on March 12 and the blow-up of the bomb storage in Calcutta that came in its wake, announced the arrival of the mafia to disrupt our democracy, don’t the bloody clashes in the Kashmir Valley presage the departure of its most significant part from our Republic?

The crisis in Kashmir has been worsening year after year. Without going into the protracted history of neglect, high-handedness, corruption and systematic subversion of the democratic order which the Centre has perpetrated in that State for forty years now, one may take the unseating of a duly elected government in 1984—planned and carried out with cold-blooded precision by people some of whom today claim to be specialists in the subject—as the last milepost along the dismal trail of progressive alienation of the people of the Valley from the rest of this country.

This 1984 coup by which Farooq Abdullah’s duly elected government was overthrown by the minions from the Delhi Durbar, blatantly arranging defection of MLAs with a Governor specially sent out for the operation, shattered the confidence of the common people in the Valley in the Centre’s commitment to democratic functioning in Kashmir. And it was during the rickety administration of the Centrally-propped up regime of Ghulam Shah that the first outbreak of communal violence took place in the Valley.

While this monstrosity of a Ministry could not hold out for long and the Governor’s Raj resumed in this sensitive frontier State, a patch-up between Farooq’s National Conference and the Congress brought into office a coalition Ministry which could neither forge a unified front nor win the confidence of the people. Inevitably the militant groups gained in influence and the first serious threat of secession could be discerned. The illumination on the Pakistan Day (August 14) and black-out on Indian Independence Day (August 15) in 1989 should have opened the eyes of the political leaders, but the Kashmir crisis was hardly examined in detail by either the Congress or the Janata Dal governments. By the time of the Republic Day January 26, 1990, the crisis had reached the boiling point, and the only thing that could be achieved was the hoisting of the tricolour. Meanwhile, no elected government could be restored as the State Assembly itself had been dissolved, and since then the Governor’s Rule has continued uninterrupted requiring enabling constitutional amendments being periodically passed by Parliament. In other words, it has turned out to be an open confrontation between New Delhi and the people in the Valley, with the militants assuming their leadership.

The last three years has been one of unrelieved unwisdom in the Centre’s dealing with Kashmir. Even when the Pandit families began to leave their native place in the Valley, there was no waking-up on the part of the Centre—neither at the government level, nor at the political party level. The accretion of strength of the militants was ascribed to the Pakistan Government’s generous backing of them, and at one stage, the Central leaders accused Pakistan of waging a proxy war against India in Kashmir. But what steps were taken by the government and the political parties to retrieve the fast dwindling faith of the people of the Valley in the Indian leadership?

The only tangible evidence of New Delhi’s concern and interest in Kashmir was the despatch of forces, more and more in greater numbers. The para-military forces as they are called are for all practical purposes engaged in waging a virtual war in the Valley. For sometime, the public in this country was made to believe by the government that all strident outcries by the human-rights activists was inspired by interested circles in the West which back Pakistan and run down India. But when many of the atrocities began to be exposed in the Indian media by a whole body of intrepid Indian journalists, that official alibi could hardly hold water. Isolated cases of exaggerated reporting were highlighted by official circles to desperately cover up the shocking state of affairs in the Valley.

Today, the government seems to be living in a pathetic world of unreality insofar as Kashmir is concerned. At the beginning of this year, it was given out that the government would be coming out with a new set of proposals for Kashmir. In fact, the Prime Minister had earlier hinted on a “package” for Kashmir. It was given out that Farooq Abdullah was being brought back as this might help to win over at least a sizeable section of the public which alone could be turned into a foothold for resuming the political process.

Farooq Abdullah himself stated on March 15 that there was “definite rethinking in Delhi for a solution to the Kashmir problem”. It was largely at his suggestion that the Governor was changed and General Krishna Rao was brought back to hold the post from which he had stepped down in 1990. Farooq might have been useful in establishing contact with the militants, as he is known to have had personal rapport with some of the JKLF leaders abroad. But New Delhi did not wake up and Farooq Abdullah got fed up and just within a month of his optimistic statement, he withdrew from the scene bitterly attacking the Central Government for being “unable to understand the gravity of the situation”; and “even if they do, they are clearly incapable of taking any firm decision”. It is worth noting that this statement by Farooq Abdullah came three days after the Union Home Minister’s assurance to the press in Chandigarh on April 15 that the government was in the process of framing “a definite policy” on Kashmir.

Farooq Abdullah might have slunk away to hibernate abroad, but what is the record of the government since then? The security force bosses in Srinagar have been claiming that their relentless operation had crippled the militant outfit and soon there would be a turn for the better in the situation. The crackdowns are being conducted with a degree of ruthlessness never resorted to before by the Indian forces, not even in Nagaland. Young and old, men and women nobody are spared as Indian reporters have reported in recent weeks in our media. The criminal record of the para-military forces in Sopore in January would have inflamed the wrath of any people anywhere in the world. And in the very week of the Home Minister’s statement promising a “definite policy” in Kashmir, in that very week the security forces indulged in another round of beastly incendiaries destroying a good part of the historic Lal Chowk in Srinagar.

This had its inevitable repercussion within the administration itself. The State police force revolted when one policeman was killed in custodial death by the Centre’s para-military forces on April 22. The police took out a protest march to make a representation to the UN office in Srinagar, and the next day the revolt of the policemen was joined by their Kashmiri officers. Could there be a more glaring proof of complete alienation of the people from the Central authority—alienation assuming the character of active antagonism?

We, all of us, have to hang down our heads in shame for all the follies and crimes that are taking place in Kashmir today. Not only the government but, it is amazing, the leaders of different parties in Parliament have not cared to demand even a full-scale discussion on the grave situation in Kashmir. What do we gain by pleading with the USA to declare Pakistan a terrorist state when we ourselves have forfeited the trust of the people of the Kashmir Valley who on the very morrow of independence had fought with bare arms to push back the armed marauders from Pakistan?

India’s democracy can never sustain itself by stamping the jackboot on the people in any part of this far-flung republic of ours. Kashmir summons us to heed the voice of our conscience.

(Mainstream, May 1, 1993)

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