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Options post-Pulwama ~ I

Those who are advocating the use of force, military or economic, in the hope that Kashmiris will then accept the authority of the Indian state to govern Kashmir, are living in a fool‘s paradise. If the majority of Kashmiris wanted freedom, they would have had it by now, despite all the might of the Indian Army.

Govind Bhattacharjee | New Delhi |

In the aftermath of the death of 40 CRPF personnel in the Pulwama outrage perpetrated by a Kashmiri youth, the outpouring of grief, revulsion and anger of the nation is understandable. It is also understandable that the anger may sometimes vent itself irrationally. The precision and brutality with which the massacre has been perpetrated obviously points to the culmination of months of meticulous planning and moibilisation of resources, coordinated by a deadly terror outfit propped up and supported by a “Deep Pakistani State”, which has been a terror manufacturing factory for several decades now. But we must not lose our sense of balance even in our hour of grief, and plan and calibrate our responses carefully and appropriately so as to neutralise the real enemy, without seeking retribution upon ordinary Kashmiris for a crime in which they are not complicit.

A message attributed to a Colonel of the Indian Army is circulating briskly in the social media, exhorting all Indians to boycott Kashmiri goods and Kashmiri shops, and not to travel to Kashmir so as not to subsidise Kashmir’s tourism industry ~ indeed a terrorism industry ~ for at least two years. There is another message widely circulating, which argues that Muslims constitute a majority only in 15 per cent of Jammu & Kashmir, and only in 5 of the 22 districts far away from the international border/ LOC, viz. Srinagar, Anantnag, Baramullah, Kulgam and Pulwama. The separatists exercise some control, pelt stones, hoist Pakistani flags and organise anti-India demonstrations regularly. The border districts of Poonch and Kargil, even with 90 per cent Muslim population, have never witnessed any anti- India protest. While the message urges all Indians to stop the nefarious designs of Pakistan, the intention is clearly to advocate a hardline approach against the Sunni Muslim population these five districts. A third set of messages is also circulating asking the Government of India to stop all financial assistance to Kashmir which provides their livelihood, subsidises their food, education and healthcare and has succeeded in alleviating poverty. It argues that the Kashmir Valley be allowed to go its own way if the disloyal Kashmiris so desire, but then they will have to forego the Indian State’s generosity, and their dream of azadi will then turn into nightmares and the evaporate.

All the three approaches are dangerous as they will only push more and more youth to the folds of jihadis and to the delight of Pakistan. First, no Indian will be ready to substitute our democracy, howsoever imperfect it might be, by any other form of Government. Democracy has empowered the marginalized in our country; the rights and liberties given to the people have by and large prevailed despite attempts by the State through means covert and overt, to curtail or curb these rights. Now, democracy survives and thrives on the willing consent of the governed, not on force, which has sustained democracy nowhere in the world. Those who are advocating the use of force, military or economic, in the hope that Kashmiris will then accept the authority of the Indian state to govern Kashmir, are living in a fool’s paradise. If the majority of Kashmiris wanted freedom, they would have had it by now, despite all the might of the Indian army. The fact that Kashmiris participated in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in 2014 in large numbers despite the boycott call by separatists and threats of violence by militants, testifies to their intrinsic faith in Indian democracy and their willingness to be a part of it.

Despite the substantial level of violence recorded during the May 2014 Lok Sabha elections, 43 per cent of the people turned out to vote, an increase of 12 per cent over 2009. While the voting percentage in Jammu, Ladakh and Udhampur constituencies were respectively 68 per cent, 65 per cent and 71 per cent where the voting was peaceful, there were widespread militant violence and killings in the Valley districts. Nonetheless, the three Valley constituencies of Srinagar, Baramulla and Anantnag recorded respectively 26, 39 and 28 per cent turnout.

If anyone still doubted the loyalty of the majority of the Kashmiris to India’s democracy, these doubts were dispelled during the Assembly elections a few months later in November-December 2014. Despite freezing temperatures, even as people were struggling to reclaim their lives after the devastating floods of September 2014, the overall voter turnout of 69.5 percent, while the voting percentages in Jammu, Ladakh and the Valley were respectively around 80, 72 and 60 percent. All parties went on record hailing the fairness of the election and not a single civilian life was lost in the entire electoral process. This was the true victory of democracy, despite frenetic attempts by separatists and militants to disrupt the elections. Those who today are blaming the Kashmiris for their support to terrorism must not forget that it was the Congress Government at the Centre that subverted the democratic process in Kashmir by indulging in massive rigging in the 1987 elections which was the trigger for the insurgency in the state.

The success of the 2014 elections in a way redeemed the fraud of the 1989 elections, committed by the Centre. Today if we want to boycott Kashmir and Kashmiris, we shall alienate these 60 per cent Kashmiris who sincerely want to be with India. It does no good either to the Indian nation, Indian democracy or to Kashmir.

Second, Hinduism has an intrinsic secular ethos, which advocates not merely tolerance but acceptance of others’ faith. Hindu rulers had never persecuted people of other faiths, and if the State decides today to discriminate against citizens and population groups based on their faith in any part of the country, it will be unacceptable to most Hindus, except perhaps the hardcore Hindutva proponents. If indeed the five Muslim dominated districts of the Valley are prone to the separatists’ agenda, there are other ways to neutralize these separatists ~ by arresting them, blocking their funding channels or any other strong-arm measures. But to treat the entire population as outlaws is disingenuous. India is not an occupying country in Kashmir, and such methods if ever applied would not incur international reprobation, but also give Pakistan a ground to claim a strong moral victory.

Third, regarding the so called largesse given to J&K by the Indian State, we must remember that India has been a federation since its birth. The Centre and the States together share power, authority and responsibility for development. Fiscal federalism is an integral part of such an arrangement, in which resources are transferred from the richer to the poorer states so as to attain balanced regional development which is a sine qua non for harmonious relations between the states and the Centre and among the states. J&K, being a state of India, is entitled to its share of Central taxes depending on the formula prescribed by the Finance Commission as well as grants and loans, just like any other State. Besides, being a special category state, it is entitled to a higher share of Central grants in respect of Centrally Sponsored Schemes, like the other ten special category states.

(To be concluded)

(The writer is a commentator. Views expressed are personal)