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Current Developments in J&K

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  • August 28, 2008
    Round Table
    Only by Invitation

    The IDSA organized a Round Table on 28th August 2008 to discuss the current developments in Jammu & Kashmir. A number of leading experts and academics participated.

    The idea of the Round Table was triggered by a spate of recent articles in the mainstream media which suggested that the alienation in the Valley and anti-India sentiment was so strong even after 61 years of accession that India should think of letting the J&K go rather than keep it as a millstone around its neck.

    The participants at the Round Table were unanimous that India should not bow to the pressure exerted by the separatists for “Azadi”. Any weakness shown will seriously compromise India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It will lead to the unraveling of India. Giving independence to Kashmir would trigger similar sentiments in the other parts of the country. The suggestions made in the media that India should let go of the Valley were preposterous, highly irresponsible, mischievous and probably orchestrated.

    A time line of important events in the present crisis was presented and analysed. It was felt that a firm handling of the crisis in the initial stages could have contained the problem. The issue of land transfer was handled in a most inept manner. The crisis was allowed to fester for far too long. The various political parties behaved in an unbecoming and partisan fashion. Their actions only accentuated the crisis. They failed to appreciate the threats to national unity and integrity.

    The role of the media in the current Kashmir crisis was also discussed. There was unanimity that some of the leading channels had gone overboard in giving disproportionate coverage to the separatists’ sentiment. The coverage could have been more balanced and restrained.

    There was considerable discussion on what had gone wrong in J&K. It was quite obvious that the issue of “alienation” needed to be addressed urgently and sensitively. The people were fed up with poor governance and corruption. The intensity of the agitation in Jammu had taken every one by surprise. The people in Jammu & Ladakh regions have their own grievances of discrimination by the State and the Central governments. The genuine grievances of the people in Jammu and Ladakh regions should not be ignored.

    The participants felt that in the current crisis, the government should act firmly and make it absolutely clear that it would not tolerate secessionism and separatism. J&K is an integral part of India. India is a secular democracy. The government should not be defensive on the use of force according to the law of the land. Care should be taken not to use force excessively or indiscriminately. At the same time the government should not show weakness vis-à-vis the extremists who have hijacked the agenda and taken advantage of the prevailing volatility. The rule of law must be enforced at all costs.

    Why do the Kashmiris think of themselves as being different from rest of India? This issue evoked considerable discussion. The people of J&K have been the beneficiaries of the aid from the Central government. Per capita Central assistance to J&K is about Rs.11, 000, as compared to Rs.700 for U.P. However, economic assistance has not overcome the feeling of alienation of the people of the state. The problem has political dimension. Many participants felt that Article 370 has contributed to the feeling of separateness among the Kashmiris and has come in the way of integration of J&K with the rest of India. It was suggested by some that the State of Jammu & Kashmir should be trifurcated into three separate states to improve the quality of governance. It was pointed out that the division of states is nothing new and the existing boundaries were not sacrosanct. Many states have been pared down with good results. Similar solution could be tried out in J&K also. However, the suggestion should come from the people themselves.

    An alternative could be decentralization through strengthening of local government institutions i.e. Panchayat Raj Institutions and Municipal bodies. Constitutional provisions on the subject applicable in the rest of the country were not adopted in the State of J&K. This aspect also needed urgent consideration as good local-self government Institutions would improve transparency and governance.

    The various dimensions of the concept of “Azadi” were analysed. A point was made that “Azadi” means different things to different people. “Azadi” does not necessarily mean “independence”. Most Kashmiris realize that independent Kashmir is not a viable entity. While a sizeable section of the minority in the Valley is in favour of accession to Pakistan, most would oppose the idea. They know what Pakistan is. The Kashmiris will lose their freedoms that they enjoy in India if they join Pakistan. What they need is the freedom of action. That is what “Azadi” means to them. The government of India should try and ensure that all the freedoms which a democratic and secular India gives to its citizens are available to the Kashmiris. Efforts should be made to ensure that the Kashmiris get good governance through clean and efficient administration as well as local institutions.

    The rise of radical Islam is a matter of grave concern. It has complicated the situation. Since 1989, the Valley has been radicalized by extremist elements. Srinagar alone has nearly 100 Ahle-Hadis mosques which preach radical Islam while undermining the local traditions.

    It was suggested that the mainstream political parties should display maturity and reach out to the ordinary Kashmiris including the separatists so that their mindset is changed in favour of India. They should not act for narrow political gains. India has a lot to offer to the Kashmiris. The government should, however, ensure that it does not adopt an overbearing and patronizing attitude towards the Kashmiris. It should carefully listen to all sections of J&K society. The suggestions for change and reform should come from the Kashmiris themselves.

    The Pakistani factor remains crucial to the stability in the state. Pakistan is behind the rise of terrorism and separatism in the state. The government should remain alert to the enormous capacity of Pakistan to take advantage of the present volatile situation and stir further trouble in the state and for the country.

    While the Round Table did not discuss specific measures, the consensus was that the situation can be and should be defused urgently. However, bold decisions will be required to solve the problem in the long term. There was no case for the government of India bending before the separatist elements and their loud sloganeering. The government should signal this appropriately and firmly not only to the agitators but also to the rest of India.