New Delhi’s Kashmir policy is driven by Hindutva pressures

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The centre’s policies towards Kashmir have also been greatly influenced by the pressures the Hindu nationalist parties have been bringing to bear upon the governments. Being a Muslim majority state and the one where the Muslims fought against the Princely order headed by a Hindu, pressurising the government to be uncompromising towards Kashmiri Muslims satisfies the psychological states of the Hindutva forces. 

Their emotional involvement in seeing Kashmiri Muslims oppressed is fuelled by the ‘disloyal’ Kashmiri Muslims who are supported by the neighbouring Muslim country—the traditional enemy. 

Even though the Congress party ruled India for pretty long time, they were constantly under pressure from Hindu nationalist parties who, right from the time of transfer of power to NC government in 1947, extended their anti-Muslim agenda to Kashmir and played proactive role in separative and anti-Kashmiri politics of Jammu Hindu Dogras and Ladakhi Buddhists. Special position of Kashmir has always been an eyesore to them. 

In prompting Nehru to integrate Kashmir with India, they brought no less pressure upon him. It was largely because of the threat of Hindutva forces that the Congress governments adopted a hardline policy towards Sheikh and his demands. 

The role they played during [former J-K Prime Minister and then the Chief Minister, Ghulam Mohammad] Sadiq’s time against his policy of ‘liberalization’ is disapprovingly underlined by Prem Nath Bazaz. So was their provocative role in Pandit agitation both within and outside Kashmir. It may be mentioned that the Hindu Nationalists and Buddhists were not even in favour of Indira-Abdullah Accord. According to Mir Qasim, Mrs. Gandhi approved the participation of Jamat-i-Islami of J&K in election process because she could not impose ban on RSS. 

And what is most disturbing is the fact that Kashmir is the only place in India which has been so consistently complaining against not having been asked to exercise their choice over its political future despite the repeated pledges made by the Indian Prime Minister on behalf of the Indian nation. This is the root cause of Kashmir problem; from this has stemmed the politics of azadi which is the dominant note of the political aspirations of Kashmiris. 

To be sure, Kashmiris were disappointed with the governance of Sheikh Abdullah, but he immediately re-gained ground when he took cudgels with the Indian government over the autonomous position of Kashmir. His position was further enhanced when he sacrificed power and suffered repeated imprisonments for the collective political sentiment of Kashmiris. Bakhshi rendered a memorable service to the economic and social development of Kashmir. 

Still the political sentiment preceded over the material factor which expressed itself during Mou-e-Muqaddas agitation. Sadiq was a clean man. He institutionalized the system, and followed the policy of ‘liberalization’, but Kashmiris developed no love for him because he rough shod over their basic political sentiment. 

Following the Indira-Abdullah accord Sheikh Abdullah had to give false hopes to people to retain his popular base. But when the reality got exposed with the passage of time, the Muslims followed the new leaders who represented their collective political sentiment. 

True, despite using multiple ways by the successive governments, including corruption and paternalistic role of the state, for identification of the people with the Indian nation-state, the ground situation bears little resemblance to a carefully designed policy. 

State led development brought substantial economic and social changes, but the results are a far cry from what policy makers had planned or intended. The disjuncture between the state leaders’ will and the outcome is the dominant note of this book. Prem Nath Bazaz sounded a warning in mid 1960s saying:

I can never believe that Kashmir will be integrated with India by some trick, intimidation or draconian law……It would be foolish to labour under the false hope that they would be afraid of it 

Sheikh Abdullah also had similar understanding of Kashmiri people, “you can hold Kashmir in subjugation with bayonets only for a short while. You can cut Kashmiris to pieces but you can not win their hearts by force”. To be sure, the plebiscitary political sentiment, which itself is the product of geography, history, economy and culture, is deeply embedded in the hearts and minds of Muslims of the state. 

It is so strong that no amount of oppression could silence it, and no dose of development could appease it. This is the reason, as Praveen Swami says, “If some had abandoned the struggle to throw India out of Kashmir, though, another generation was readying itself to take up the baton”  

However, Kashmir proved a difficult state to govern. The divide between the political sentiments of the Muslims on the one hand and Hindus of Jammu and Buddhists of Ladakh on the other has made it extremely difficult to strike a balance. A ‘nationalist’ in Kashmiri political discourse becomes ‘anti-national’ in Hindu and Buddhist political discourses of Jammu and Ladakh and vice versa. It happened with the Sheikh and it continues to happen today. 

Besides conflict, governance in Kashmir is constrained by financial crisis. Indeed, there are some geographical constraints that have impeded the economic growth, but the nature has not been altogether harsh to the state. It is bestowed with such locational advantages and resource endowments that they have not only the potential to compensate the ecological limitations but would surely make the state economically self-sufficient. 

The real cause of Kashmir’s economic poverty is the geographical siege of the state, which snapped Kashmir’s age old ties with its neighbourhood, converted it into a citadel with a narrow opening and denying it the opportunities of multidimensional interaction with a greater world. 

One may recall that the state of J & K had close commercial relations with China, Russia and Central Asia upto the beginning of the twentieth Century. The Anglo-Russian rivalry resulted into snapping the ties of Kashmir with these countries to suit the interests of British paramountcy. 

Then the partition of India and the resultant hostilities between India and Pakistan culminated into the closure of Baramulla route–the most important thoroughfare of Kashmir with Indian Sub-continent and other neighbouring countries. 

Although colonialism demised long back and the world has undergone revolutionary changes since 1947, the colonial legacy and the baggage of partition continues to strangulate Kashmir.  

Soft borders–the buzz word of contemporary global order–has yet to make any meaningful impact on Kashmir as the historic linkages of Kashmir with its neighbourhood are yet to be restored except for the recent half-hearted initiative of having a limited trade with Pakistan. 

Clearly, Kashmir has suffered enormously by depriving it of its age old position when it was functioning as a trade entrepot between the different empires and was famously called as “Where Three Empires Meet” and “Switzerland of Asia”. Even though J & K has been suffering huge losses for ‘national interests’, the state has not been even marginally compensated. 

Worst, it has been deprived of its precious water resources without any recompense. Ultimately these man-made subversions of nature robbed Kashmir of its natural advantages with devastating effects on its economic health which in turn fuelled the political discontent…

Till Kashmir continues to be a disputed territory, governance in Kashmir, especially in the Valley and other Muslim dominated districts of the state, would not mean more than containing the conflict by any means—more foul than fair. And the well wishers of humanity would continue exclaiming in pain: What happened to governance in Kashmir!

An excerpt from ‘What happened to governance in Kashmir?’ by Aijaz Ashraf Wani. Published by the Oxford University Press.

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