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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 13 New Delhi March 16, 2019

Anatomy of Governance in Kashmir over the Years

Sunday 17 March 2019



by Muzamil Yaqoob

What Happened to Governance in Kashmir? by Aijaz Ashraf Wani; Oxford University Press; 2019; pp. 387; Rs 995.

“Breakdown occurs when a civilisation fails to respond creatively to its challenges. Instead of changing with the times, the declining civilisation idolises, say, an outworn technique, or institution, a form of government, a particular type of marketing, and so on, which was effective for one challenge but not for the next one.”

‘Democracy, Good Governance and Modernity cannot be imported or imposed from outside a country.’ A democratic system necessitates the presence of vibrant political institutions and decentralisation of powers among them. The culture of political participation not only makes a democracy vibrant but also determines its public outreach. Any stable democracy cannot afford to relegate and combine the two spheres of governance and politics to one. Neera Chandhoke opines that ‘Governance is not politics’; the issues of governance should not be misunderstood as the issues of politics. Successful democracy thrives in a vibrant democratic political culture which helps the state to bring the ‘Revolution from below’.

There is an abundance of literature on how to make a democracy vibrant and governance transparent. However, nothing of this goes well with the political establishment and the conditions prevailing in the State of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Aijaz Ashraf Wani writes: ‘in the context of J&K, governance has been and is being largely scripted by New Delhi within the broader framework of the policy of coercion and consent to meet the challenges emanating from the state’s disputed nature’. (p. 65)

The book under review is a significant attempt to explicate the post-1947 governance in J&K and the politics behind the decaying structures, violation of democratic procedures, the efforts to enrich the conditions of the people and the fragmented nature of the state polity. The author has very lucidly struggled to highlight the structural impediments and political treacheries which reduced the edifice of governance in the State to rubble.

Kashmir has been the ‘victim of colonialism and nationalism’. The Indian state, after taking over the control of the State in 1947, didn’t ameliorate the State of its pre-1947 colonial disabilities but suffered the political misanthrope in its approach and handling of the most sensitive case of Kashmir. The creation of a fallow and minacious local minority by India alludes to the approach which it has applied to legitimise its control of Kashmir.

The book consists of five chapters which trace almost all the significant political developments which occurred in J&K under different ‘client governments’ since 1948. The author starts with an attempt to contextualise governance in Kashmir. Corruption, argues the author, has been one of the brawny instruments used to manage the affairs of the State. The damning effect of political uncertainty has resulted in the lack of investment which has worsened the infrastructural development and institution-building in the region. All this has contributed to make Kashmir a victim of ‘classical backwardness trap of low economic activity, low employment, and low-income generation’. (p. 51)

This part of the book further revisits the nature of political instability, the contestations on the special status and the crises in Sheikh Abdullah’s initial regime. Thus, the analysis makes it comprehensible for any reader to get into the intricacies of understanding the Naya Kashmir Programme. The author argues that in spite of the abortive policies of Sheikh Abdullah’s government in this period, ‘it was due to the perception of mass contentment and innocence that misgovernance did not become a burning issue during the first phase of governance in Kashmir’. (p. 57)

Kashmir on the Path of Naya Kashmir

The second part of the book expounds the Sheikh Abdullah-led National Conference’s (NC) ‘Naya Kashmir Programme’ which was ideologically informed by the socialist thought of the party members. The programme envisaged inaugurating a ‘new era of people’s government underlined by democracy, justice, equity, and the uplift of subalterns by freeing them from all kinds of exploitation and discrimination’. (p. 67) The governance of this period started with progressive ideas and the State witnessed large-scale agrarian reforms (p. 75), while significant attention was given to the education sector (p. 86), nationalisation of the cooperative enterprise as against destructive competition (p. 89) and so on. However, very soon, as feared, Sheikh Abdullah’s administration realised that the exuberant crises, mainly the economic ones, had intensified after the closure of the commercial routes. The dwindling status of the State and Sheikh’s attempt to make it self-sufficient characterised the rest of the period. The introduction of a regressive taxation system, ruthless cooperatives and the corruption within them, suppression of political opposition have been aptly put by the author in the following words: ‘in terms of democracy, corruption, and tyranny, the post-colonial period was more disappointing than what obtained before October 1947.’ (p. 133)

The third section of the book deals with the crucial decade of 1953-63 when Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad was installed as the Prime Minister after the dismissal and arrest of the Sheikh. He (Bakshi) tried to stabilise the governance by ‘manufacturing consent, and the use of the coercive apparatus of the state’. (p. 140)While focussing much on the economic prosperity of the people, Bakhshi gladly accepted the financial integration of Kashmir with the Indian state and focussed much on infrastructural development in sectors like agriculture, flood control, education, health, industry, roads and buildings, trade and commerce, power, tourism and so on. However, financial integration with the Indian Union didn’t stabilise the governance; neither did Bakhshi securely fish in the troubled waters of the State by promoting the shrine and saint worship in Kashmir. The author, deriving his understanding from Prem Nath Bazaz, argues that the salient attributes of his rule were pervasive corruption and the crude, mafia-style authoritarianism. (p. 186) The author points out that Naya Kashmir was only selectively followed, democratic deficit and misuse of power underlined the functioning of all governments in J&K, including that of the National Conference’. (p. 53)

The fourth chapter highlights the status of governance in Kashmir during the period 1964-75. Bakshi met the same fate as Sheikh Abdullah did. The decade is so important in the political history of Kashmir as most of the provisions of the Indian Constitution were applied to the State by any means in this period. But the author also opines that the only purpose behind the Indian state’s interventions in Kashmir politics and the arbitrary removal of these Prime Ministers was Prime Minister Nehru’s ‘hunger to swallow up Kashmir’. (p. 205)

The politics and governance of the State started taking a new turn under G.M. Sadiq. After the Holy Relic (Moi Muqaddas) agitation, Kashmir turned into a police state where police brutalities and state ruthlessness were the new norm. Thus, the primary objective was to establish the rule of law which was followed by the policy of liberalisation. (p. 211) However, things turned ugly very soon, the Plebiscite Front on the one hand and the Hindu communalists on the other destabilised Sadiq ultimately culminating in the dissolution of the NC and its replacement by the ‘Pradesh Congress Committee’ in 1965. The last nail on the coffin of political stability was put by Operation Gibraltar which was followed by the widespread protests by students in colleges and universities. Sadiq, in the author’s words, ‘was sympathetic to people, and instead of treating the secessionists as enemies, he tried to win them over by persuasion and patronage.’ (p. 265) He further writes: ‘Apart from liberalism, Sadiq stands out for his policy of clean and transparent government and pro-poor policies’. (p. 266)That perhaps helped the Indian state to curb the influence of Sheikh Abdullah and Afzal Beg’s efforts from the Plebiscite Front.

The Longing Summer

The final section of the book is entitled ‘Kashmir Summer (1975-1989)’ where the author debates the new phase of governance that starts in Kashmir after Sheikh Abdullah signed the accord in 1975. The Sheikh’s rhetorical and deceptive politics has been well explicated in this section. However, the reasons behind the Sheikh’s popularity, even after he deceived his own political positions, the people he mobilised around the Plebiscite Front, and the compromising politics he played with the status of Kashmir, were mainly due to the memory of his sacrifices and his contributions during the initial phase of his governance although he took many steps towards development even during this late phase. However, the emergence of a new front constituting those who represented the separatist sentiments of the people gave a stiff opposition to the mainstream politics in Kashmir. Farooq Abdullah’s ludicrous politics and the elections of 1987 finally changed the course of Kashmir’s history forever.

The author deserves appreciation for the way in which he has dealt with all significant issues and touched almost all the aspects of governance till the late 1980s; no one in the academic arena has traversed this trajectory yet. The author has magnificently observed that all client governments had to face the polarised polity of the State and the lack of unified sentiments made Kashmir a difficult State to govern. The author argues: ‘The divide between the political sentiments of Muslims on the one hand, and those of the Hindus of Jammu and Buddhists of Ladakh on the other, has made it extremely difficult to strike a balance’ among the different sections of the population. (p. 354) He has very well summarised the details of this deeply fragmented polity throughout the book. However, this would have been even more striking had the author tried to avoid the repetition of facts.

Governance in Kashmir has never been stable. There is a yawning gap between the government and the governed. Governments that focussed much on the development aspect had to compromise with the politically sensitive character of the State. The deceptive politics of the Indian state, lack of democratic institutions and the fragmented polity have always made Kashmir a difficult place to control and rule. The book highlights almost every aspect of the politics which had a direct or indirect bearing on the governance of J&K. The book not only satisfies the dearth of literature on Kashmir but also takes a very different route to highlight how the personal proclivities of the leaders and the policies of coercion and deception forced the history to travel an uneven path.

The book is an extremely good read for anyone interested in knowing about ‘what happened to governance in Kashmir’. Regarding data collection, the author has used a variety of contemporary sources, both primary and secondary, to trace out the nature of governance in J&K in the post-1948 scenario till the eruption of the armed struggle Kashmir. The rich usage of lucid language has made the book worth reading. This book can serve its purpose when read in the historical and political context of J&K. The book is recommended to anyone interested in Kashmir’s politics. This account of a young Kashmiri scholar provides us answers to several questions about the trend of governance in Kashmir.

The reviewer is pursuing Masters degree at the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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