The general consensus across the country, except for the main Opposition, the Left and some other parties, on the abrogation of special status for Jammu and Kashmir under Articles 370 and for its permanent residents under 35A has ranged between cautious optimism and euphoria, particularly among the ruling party circles. Many have however spoken against the abolition of Statehood despite the Government’s repeated assertion that it is only a temporary measure. But we are yet to hear the voice of Kashmir coming out of the severe restrictions imposed on the lives of ordinary men and women or from their leaders put under detention.
When ultimately such a voice can be heard it is unlikely to echo the general sentiment in the rest of the country. It is in this context that the genesis of the Kashmir problem has evolved for more than 70 years, strongly fuelled by active support and psychological warfare from across the border. Despite the democratic polity under the Constitution and a vibrant political life at least till the late 1980s and intermittently since then, the ordinary Kashmiri has not really merged himself with the national mainstream. This is the general impression that any ordinary visitor to the State from other parts of the country may have gathered. We have also heard of repeated stories of Kashmiri students in other parts of India being attacked for supporting Pakistan in cricket matches or for expressing similar anti-India sentiments.
But these are only the outer manifestations of a deep-rooted psyche arising from a mishmash of historical, geographical, insular and religious sentiments. In addition, the generation born since the late 1980s has also witnessed the hard face of the Indian State amidst the constant presence of military and paramilitary forces, numerous encounters and resultant deaths. To any average individual not to speak of the youth at an impressionable age and under diabolic instigation by the Pakistan and its media, this appeared to be obvious attempts by the Indian State to maintain its overlordship by brute force. Under such a scenario, the tolerant and benevolent aspects of the Indian polity could never set its roots in Kashmir.
This obviously is a failure on the part of rest of the country to slowly overcome and integrate the subdued alien mindset of the Kashmiri and to merge him to the national mainstream. To an average Indian from other parts of the country, Kashmir had been a place which they could visit and enjoy their holidays like a foreign tourist destination, but not a place where they can live and work or settle down and generally mingle with the people. There has been negligible private investments in industry or infrastructure. Likewise central government investments in productive and job-oriented enterprises through the Central PSUs have been few and far between. It is now fashionable to blame all these on the existence of the much maligned Articles 370 and 35A and restrictions on the purchase of land by non- Kashmiris.
On closer reflection, the Jammu and Kashmir legislature as early as in 1960 had enacted the Jammu and Kashmir Land Grants Act which provided for lease of Government land to a “non-permanent” resident in the interest of industrial or commercial development or for registered charitable societies for non-political or non-profitable purposes or for registered institutes of higher education. Even restrictions on private land would have hardly posed serious problems for enterprising entrepreneurs coming for joint ventures with their Kashmiri counterparts. Attempts by some broad minded groups or individuals to bridge this gap have been greeted with scorn and animosity on both sides. Thus there have been conscious endeavour not to cross the status quo like the proverbial Rubicon.
On the other hand, the political leadership of Kashmir mired in cycles of self gain and hereditary aspirations have also not been able to carry their people to pan-Indian aspirations and have generally tried to strike a balance between local sentiments and the overpowering presence of New Delhi to whom they were hopelessly dependent to keep the funds flowing. To the question as to whether abolition of Articles 370 and 35A offers a panacea to all seemingly insoluble problems, the ready answer is that we have sustained these for more than 65 years without any sign and things have only deteriorated especially during the last few decades and that this is the only solution to integrate Kashmir with the rest of the country and pave the way for its rapid development.
But those who sell such dreams of a bright future knowingly or unknowingly ignore the human element that is behind as well as the target of any developmental effort. A hurt, sulky and resentful population deeply stirred by recent events can hardly offer a testing ground for promised peace and prosperity. As yet there seems to be little indication to support the assumption that with sufficient time and economic sops ,the scars and the psychological shock will heal and there will be grudging acceptance of the new status quo. For one thing, as mentioned before, there exists a mental barrier between Kashmir and rest of India in spite of cohabitation since 1948 and the has perhaps worsened during the last three decades.
Second, the relentless instigation from across the border is expected to remain on a higher pitch than ever before with Imran Khan declaring his readiness to fight for Kashmir to his last breadth, recalling Bhutto’s pledge to fight for Kashmir for a thousand years. Third, and this is most important, economic development and prosperity do not always necessarily bring about a change of heart. The Chinese experience in Tibet and recently the Uyghur unrest in Xinjiang have shown that economic prosperity may not always be a panacea for socio-political integration. It is of course reasonable to ask what is the alternative course keeping in mind the Pakistani factor, particularly that of its military establishment, to bleed India through a thousand cuts.
The Vajpayee approach of adopting a humane solution had raised expectations but soon foundered in the aftermath of theforced removal of Nawaz Sharif and the unilateral aggression in Kargil. Perhaps Sharif is still paying the price for his attempts to improve relations between the two countries bypassing the army through personal contacts and dialogue with both the late Vajpayee and Narendra Modi. Interaction with the present regime is both fruitless and a waste of time as Imran Khan owes his power and continued existence to the Pakistani army. It is also true that the sudden abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A has put Pakistan on the back foot. Short of full scale war it has tried every other alternative to internationalize the issue and bring world criticism at India’s doorsteps but without any appreciable response so far.
The impromptu breakdown of the US-Taliban negotiations has also significantly weakened Pakistan’s bargaining strength with the cynically commercial outlook of the Trump administration. But at the same time, the continued muzzling of individual and press freedom in Kashmir and internment of its leaders have raised doubts about the Indian action among the discerning world press and the international community. It is also becoming increasingly difficult for the local administration and their bosses in the Home Ministry to restore even truncated normalcy that prevailed prior to 5 August so far as life for ordinary citizens is concerned.
(To be concluded)
(The writer, a retired Principal Secretary, West Bengal, may be reached at [email protected])