Rahul Gandhi, like the rest of the Nehru-Gandhi clan before him, will never contest an election from Kashmir. When he says, “I myself am from a Kashmiri family and want to have lifelong relations with the people of Jammu and Kashmir”, it is a declaration of the divine right of the potentate in a jigsaw puzzle of a state.
A delegation of panchayat leaders from the state visits him in Delhi; he lands up in Sonmarg and tells the people he wants to “understand your pain deeply”. This makes former chief minister Farooq Abdullah so emotional he blurts out, “We are Indians and we will die as Indians. No power can separate us from India. A day will come when children of Rahul and Omar will see fruits of steps taken by us.” In July, Hurriyat leaders met Pakistan’s foreign minister on her official trip to India.
So, who is ruling the state?
Rahul Gandhi organises a corporate picnic with big industrialists. Many promises will be made. Perhaps, for more formula racing, tulip gardens and skiing facilities, to ensure tourist traffic. These are mirages used to market the state to others. He wants to “connect Kashmiri youth with the development process”. There is no introspection as to why that has not happened yet.
Twenty-two-year-old Altaf Ahmad was shot dead in a deliberate attack by Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel in civilian clothes only because he was protesting against the power cut in the biting cold of January. Did it help that Omar Abdullah had also wanted to feel the pain of the common man then? As People’s Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti had said, “The CM announces that power should be cut off to VIP areas, why these gimmicks? Which VIP is here? All are in Jammu and the only VIPs here are the CM and me and both of us have generators and invertors.”
Only a week ago, Gandhi’s tone was decidedly patronising: “Kashmir is a tough and sensitive job … He is the leader of the National Conference (NC) and it is the NC’s decision who runs Kashmir. Omar is a youngster and Kashmir is a difficult place.”
Replace difficult with ‘disputed’ and a similar charade was played out at the UN General Assembly. If Jammu and Kashmir is “disputed territory”, then do India and Pakistan have the right to fight over it? Neither country has followed the UN Resolution of 1948 where a plebiscite would make it incumbent on all of Kashmir to opt for one of the two countries. There is no provision for division. That bits and pieces have been occupied or squandered leads to the question: Do Kashmiris indeed have a case for absolute independence?
The freedom struggle in the state precedes 1947. In 1846, the British — born traders — sold the state to Gulab Singh, the Dogra king of Jammu, under the Treaty of Amritsar. In 1931, the Kashmiris revolted. It would probably qualify as the first attempt at self-determination. Two months after Partition, when India announced its tryst with destiny and Pakistan formed its cocoon Muslim state, Kashmir’s accession to India was neither smooth nor valid. Muslims in Jammu were given an option to cross over to the other side. The brutalities they suffered are consecrated as one more Martyr’s Day.
The rest of India was not affected by the occupation of Pakistani government-propped tribal incursions. The Kashmiris, once again, saw their state preyed upon. The two countries were not going to let go of this one touchy issue history had handed them on a platter. Pakistan, unconcerned about the parts it annexed, wants to assert its identity in Kashmir. Stressing insurgency and militancy, India promotes the victim narrative of how the whole nation is held hostage because of just one state.
In a 2009 survey conducted in both sides of Kashmir by London’s think tank Chatham House, it was found that there was “no support either for joint sovereignty or for maintaining the status quo”. Robert Bradrock, who conducted the study, also said, “… there is no support at all for militancy in the Kashmir valley … About 84-98 per cent oppose militancy in the Valley and there is strong criticism of militant activity”. Is that not the reason it took 40 years after Independence and 10 years after inception in the UK for the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front to become active in the state?
Turn the killing of a deputy sarpanch from a false alarm militant attack to envy and it exposes how these local leaders are being used. Mohammad Shafi Teli’s was a rags-to-riches story. He owed his wealth to the Border Security Force (BSF) that compensated him well by acquiring his land. Indian Express quoted a police officer: “We know that unlike earlier, local factors like a village feud became a reason. Even last year, former militants were used to get a contractor killed in Kreeri only to settle personal scores.”
Yet, Teli’s murder became a pivot, leading to resignations. The superficial importance given to the 35,000-member local bodies is not as innocent as it appears. They are the call centres of political promotion. It is, therefore, quite natural for Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to flaunt the turnout of over four million people at the elections. What could be the relevance of panchayats in a state where separatist organisations have their own unofficial constituencies and dispense quick justice? Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s fears about these new politicians, although opportunistic, reveal how the centre can deflect the autonomy of the state that has been granted separate rights under the Constitution.
There is some kind of battle here and it seems rather obvious that the state and the centre, as well as some separatist outfits, are aware that frittering away power to small groups will loosen their slippery grip over Jammu and Kashmir.
In the big scheme of owning Kashmir, surrogates are co-opted to display cosmetic democracy.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 6th, 2012.