. . . . An old article by Karan Thapar, about Kashmir and the problems within that state. Written by a good journalist who has come a long way since I first watched him on Sunday morning current affairs programs on Channel 4 in the mid-1980's.
Insurgency problems of center/regional relationships can be interpreted in two different ways within India. From the right, the problems are usually seen as security problems, which require a little bit more oomph within security, with a greater security presence, greater counter-insurgency operations, tougher international stance on security, and stricter regional and national anti-terrorist laws.
On the other side is the explanations and solutions offered by Karan Thapur which tries to look at the source of the problem, how it evolved, and how it can be solved through peaceful political means-------more sensitivity, understanding and love from the center.
As I understand it the security problems of Kashmir, the Punjab in the 1980's especially and Assam were the sole creations of the Central government in Delhi, and more specifically the Congress Party, AND more specifically related to the personality and governance style of Mrs Indira Gandhi. I am by no means endorsing it as a Congress created phenomenon of failure, the Congress Party after all has many good talented well intentioned people.
The problem begins with a lack of governance by the central government, with a strong perception by the dissenting locals that the central government does not care about the important concerns of the local masses, AND then on top of that a negative perception of actual and imagined interfere with local politics to the detriment and suppression of local interests, usually in a ham fisted rough shod way (East Pakistan/Bangladesh 1952----1971, being the classic example viz the Pakistan central government in Islamabad )
The Congress Party had more or less been in power for 40 uninterrupted years and it had become fat, lazy and corrupt by the end of that era (1947---1989). It lacked ideological conviction and zeal, and it sustained itself in power for the sake of power, and not governance. It was a quasi-dictatorship which manifested its true color in the Emergency of 1975--77.
The problem was compounded by the dynasty politics of the Congress Party where deference was given to candidates on the basis of family lineage rather then on true merit----an absurd situation in an aspiring secular modern country. This system resulted in the coronation of Indira Gandhi as head of Congress over many better candidates, and with her coronation she brought in her conceptions of family entitlements, she was after all the daughter of Nehru no less, greater political and economic corruption, making her family billionaires covertly, and her peculiar brand of politics, as a women in a mans world where she had to constantly prove herself against the better record of her fore fathers.
And of course she had her personal traits of being a control freak, who trusted very few people. Some one who enjoyed hosting international conventions in India, millions of them which ultimately had very little relevance for India, except for the fact that such events allowed her to pose, make presentations with speech making, and the approval of the Western chattering classes.
It is the insecure, control freak nature in her character which resulted in the disasters, (for India) in Kashmir, Assam, Punjab and of course Sri Lanka.
And Karan this is the second part of the explanation why with the exception of the Punjab,............. insurgency still continues in those and other parts of India, which you missed out on. Her actions ill-conceived and insensitive allowed the predatory powers around India to recruit people into insurgency groups against India, and its interests. Pakistan in Kashmir, especially from 1990, as one clear example. The Assam insurgency, the Maoist insurgency, indeed all modern insurgencies (Mr. B. Raman) require the backing of state entities without which they cannot sustain themselves against a modern state, especially the size of India. But it is the misgovernance of the central government first and foremost, which allows outside predatory powers to take advantage of such situations in the second place.
So what are the solutions?
- A mixture of love, sensitivity, respect and cutting of some slack from the center to those areas......saying "we trusts you"..."We have faith in you to govern yourself appropriately, and if you are not 100% perfect, its OK with us, your government won't be dismissed and central rule imposed.............we let the local people decide how effective you are in government, during state elections"
- Greater central funds for the states. 50/50 share of the government budget between the Central and local State government.
- Smaller states which are more realistically representative of local needs and more effectively governed. Why not 30-40 states eventually, within the overall Indian Union .
- Get rid of arbitrary and ham fisted security laws which harm innocent people, and fill the ranks of the insurgency movements. There are some allegations that the Indian military have been infiltrated by the RSS. What cannot be disputed is that the Indian police is one of the worst performing in the world, and one does not think that the Indian paramilitary is that much different. As to RAW there are many colorful things one could say about that organization especially in relation to Sri Lanka and the LTTE. So lets avoid POTA, TADA or any draconian laws which "energize" right-wing fruit cakes within the ranks of Indian security with communal agenda's, who are as with most of South Asia essentially corrupt post-colonial security forces who through their illegal actions fill the ranks of the insurgency.
- Lets reform the Indian security apparatus. Essentially it is a legacy of the British Raj, geared to fight for the British Raj...................the security institutions of India have quaint Anglofied names, which operate poorly compared to First World countries. Let us reform these organizations comprehensively, give them new uniforms, new equipment, better training, new Hindi names and better pay. The basic salary of a Indian police officer is 3,500 rupees? Obviously part-time crime must fulfill his basic needs.
- Let us seal the borders of Assam/Myanmar.........Assam/China..........Nepal/China.........Bhutan/China.............Kashmir/Pakistan........and so forth, building better communications with these states in terms of road and rail.
Time to Say Sorry.
Are we responsible for the distrust, even the alienation, Kashmiris feel when they consider their 60-year association with India? Have we betrayed promises, mistreated our fellow citizens, trampled on their rights and brutally shattered their dreams? Did our behaviour make the insurgency ‘inevitable’?
It may seem odd to ask these questions when Srinagar is enjoying its best summer since 1989 but, I would argue, this is one reason why they need to be asked all the more forcefully. Just because the situation seems more normal doesn’t mean the underlying grievances have disappeared. And if we don’t look for honest answers we could slide back towards the precipice.
In a book called My Kashmir, recently published in America, Wajahat Habibullah suggests the answer is yes. And Wajahat should know. A Kashmir-cadre IAS officer, he served twice as Divisional Commissioner Kashmir. Since 1970, when he started his career as a Sub-divisional Magistrate in Sopore, he’s witnessed how Kashmiris were treated by both the state and central governments.
“The first in a series of blunders”, Wajahat writes, was the dismissal of Sheikh Abdullah’s government and his subsequent arrest in 1953. The Sheikh was not just a hero to his people, he was also the main force behind the accession. He symbolised Kashmiri hopes as well as the link with India. Even a half century later, long after the Sheikh’s days of glory, Wajahat says “Kashmiris look upon his arrest as the first of many betrayals”.
However, it’s the eyewitness evidence that Wajahat presents that is the truly compelling part of his answer. During his first assignment Wajahat discovered that, unlike the rest of India, in Kashmir “the only active law was the Defence of India Rules, which allowed the police to keep their reasons for arrest and detention secret”. Though designed to tackle national security in wartime, in Kashmir they were used to enforce routine law and order. “Small wonder”, he concludes, “that a feeling of subjection had begun to permeate people’s minds”.
Whilst elsewhere in India elections provided a safety valve to ventilate anger, in Kashmir they became a means of denying freedom and subjecting the people to unrepresentative rule. Wajahat recounts the 4 steps by which elections were undermined. First, “reject the nomination of the opposition”. Second, impersonation during the voting “with the pliable presiding officer turning a blind eye to fake identification”. Third, “the ballot boxes could be stuffed with ballots”. And, fourth, “the winning and losing numbers were simply changed to favour the ‘preferred’ candidate”.
Two developments in the 1980s, Wajahat suggests, made the insurgency inevitable. The first was the midnight dismissal of the Farooq Abdullah government in 1984. At the heart of the problem was the clash between Farooq and Indira Gandhi. “She considered (him) a whippersnapper who owed her his position”. He sought to assert his independence, hosting opposition conclaves in Srinagar. Wajahat concludes: “The questionable manner of the Farooq government’s ouster confirmed Kashmiri suspicions that New Delhi would only allow supplicants to rule the state”.
The other was the election of 1987, rigged by the National Conference and Congress. Wajahat confirms that the voting in Amira Kadal was blatantly manipulated to ensure Yousuf Shah’s defeat, whilst his polling agents “were imprisoned without bail for months under the state’s draconian Public Safety Act”. Today, Yousuf Shah is better known as Syed Salahuddin, the head of the Hizbul Mujahideen and the Chief of the United Jehadi Council. Refusal to let the opposition win “drove a disaffected public into rebellion … convinced that freedom … was inaccessible”.
Twenty one years later, can harmony be restored? Wajahat suggests the happy summer of 2008 could be illusory: “It is doubtful whether harmony can ever be fully restored”. But if we want to try — and we must — Wajahat offers a small slender line of hope: “It had been clear to me from early on that resolution in Kashmir could come only with the restoration of Kashmiris’ dignity”.
With elections just three months away, isn’t it time to start? If the answer is yes, I suggest we begin with an apology. We owe them one.