Friday, August 22, 2008

Groping for answers

A lot of water has flown since I uploaded my last blog. Throughout this week I had been desperate to write but the excessive workload got the better of me. Situation is no better even now but I am using the time I have on my hands by the time my car reaches my hotel in Colombo, an hour’s drive from my client’s plant.
The situation in Jammu and Kashmir has aggravated to astronomical proportions. No one, even those well-acquainted with the fragile relationship between the valley and rest of India, would have ever imagined that the chain of events-starting from what was a routine administrative decision and its subsequent revocation, will lead to the situation today. Kashmir is back to its 1989 days, with lakhs of supporters of a Kashmir independent of India, spilling onto the streets chanting anti-India and pro-Pakistan, pro-freedom slogans. People in the valley are now talking about putting an end to the “forced occupation of Kashmir by India since 1947”. The Hurriyat and other separatist parties, which were on the brink of oblivion, have suddenly got a fresh lease of life. Situation has become all the more complicated with the mainstream political parties in Kashmir, primarily to secure their vote bank (the PDP and NC), also echoing sentiments similar to those of the separatists and joining the anti-India protests in the valley. The line separating mainstream parties and separatist elements is fast disappearing and this does not augur well for India. It looked like peace was finally returning to the valley but the pathetically inept handling of the entire issue by the centre has ensured all the good work done in the past few years in the valley has come to a nought.
The massive public outcry in the valley in the past few weeks clearly indicates India has faltered in handling the Kashmir issue. Even after 61 years of accession to India and the center doling out massive benefits to win the confidence of people from the valley, it has failed to bring the Kashimiri Muslim community on its side. Everything within the book has been tried-article 370, special economic packages, healing touch policy, promotion of democracy talks with separatist elements at various levels; but all these initiatives have failed miserably. In fact, each of these initiatives has been exploited by the separatist elements to further alienate the valley from rest of India. This brings me to the question I am trying to raise in my blog today. Is it worth to have Kashmir stay with India or should we let it go? I will also delve on various options currently suggested from various quarters, and my own opinion on each of these. I am no political expert, but giving my opinions as a commoner. Please note the sequence of options is not in any order.

1. The first option, which a vast section of the valley wants, is going by the UN resolution of 1948 of holding a referendum in the valley under the supervision of UN watchdogs and let them decide their future. Pakistan has been harking on this point since forever but the situations between 1948 and 2008 have grossly changed. First of all, this referendum has to be held in both Indian-occupied and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir under a joint military control. Unless India and Pakistan are not willing to vacate their territories, this cannot happen. Another point is that demography of the two areas has vastly changed over the past 60 years. Lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits have been driven out of the massive anti-Hindu militancy in early 90’s in Kashmir, similarly in PoK, several Pakistanis have settled in the region over the past 60 years while many ethnic minorities have been cleaned up there as well. Any decision on the region needs to involve all the people, which seems quite complicated now. I am emotionally biased towards not going for this option as I know if we do a referendum in the valley today; it will for sure not be in favor of India, whatever the reasons might be.

2. Second option is for India to let go of Kashmir and let the KM community decide it future course of action. This will be a desperate decision for India and all Indians. Even in 60 years we have failed to change the mindset of a majority of the KM community. It costs us billions every year to maintain massive troops in the valley. We lose hundreds of our valiant army men every year fighting the enemy within. We spend so much of our energy and resources on trying to make Kashmir a part of mainstream India, but results are futile. A significant section of KMs still do not feel a part of India. Had it not been for Kashmir, the four wars between India and Pakistan probably would never have happened. Most of the extremist activities in India today have a Kashmir angle. It does not help that we are a moderate, secular democracy, where secularism has taken an entirely new shape-that of appeasing members from one particular community. Keeping this in retrospective, our government will never take the anti-national elements head-on. We have not been able to execute one Afzal Guru in spite of his being convicted in the attack on the supreme authority of the Indian constitution, the Parliament house; doing something like a Tienmann square against the separatist elements in India cannot even be dreamt of!! So does this all mean we should, or eventually have to, let Kashmir go? Not really.
Letting go of Kashmir is fraught with several emotional. political and strategic risks for India. First, people like me will be disappointed if this happens. For the past 60 years we have used every possible forum to promote that “Kashmir is an integral part of India” and we have invested significant money, resources and even lost precious lives in making that happen. We cannot let go of Kashmir to a bunch of protestors who are exploiting the secular credentials of India and its softness on extremist. The decision will also have several political and strategic repercussions. An independent Kashmir is expected to develop better relationships with Pakistan and China and there is a high possibility that it could become the launching pad for extremist activities in rest of India. Imagine China setting up a missile base in Srinagar-they will have easy access to Delhi even with their low-end missiles. Further, with an independent Kashmir bordering northern India, Pakistani and Chinese armies will have easy access to the Indian borders and they may use this to launch a military offensive against India. A Muslim-dominated valley can easlly become the new university of terrorism in the world which Pakistan is desperate to shift out of its country. I am not saying that all Muslims are terrorists, but any nation created on the basis of a religion is bound to be prone to religious extremism, in this case it being Islamic terrorism.
Forgoing Kashmir can also have serious implications on the fragile fabric of entire India. Let us not forget that India was formed by a merger of hundreds of princely states in 1947, many of them being forced acquisitions as well. Liberating Kashmir will encourage many of such fragilely-bound states to raise their voice. The struggle for freedom in the North-East may intensify with demands like “If Kashmir, why not us?”, or even in some parts of West Bengal and South India. In short, forgoing Kashmir may actually open a Pandora’s box, resulting in dissolution of the Indian state, similar to what happened to the USSR in early nineties.

3. Some political parties in J&K have been pushing for giving greater autonomy to the state. This will mean additional powers to the state, which already enjoys special status under article 370. Under autonomy, the state will have its own Prime Minister and the centre will have minimum control on the state. Autonomy will bring not only additional privileges to the state, but will also further alienate the valley from the country. People like me, who want Kashmir to be brought closer to mainstream India, will never accept this.

4. Another option, but which seems unviable in a moderate democracy like India, is the use of force to silence such elements. Ideally, we should get rid of the anti-India elements-shoot/impeach a few of them, arrest a few others; and present a hard-line stand that there is no place in India for people who say against the nation. But this is unlikely to happen as we are not known to be a hardliner state and even our governments in centre are wary of taking these issues head-on. Further, a hard-line state might also alienate some sections of the society and cause religious extremism to rise.

5. Now here comes what I feel could be the solution to the turmoil. People might tend to disagree but I would reiterate, this is my personal opinion. We need to adopt a carrot-and-stick approach in the valley. The Indian government must launch a massive campaign simultaneously in the valley and the rest of India around why the demand for azadi for Kashmir does not make logical sense. An independent Kashmir cannot survive on its own due to its land-locked nature and limited resources of its own to create a self-sustaining economy. Friendly overtures with Pakistan can be dangerous; their track-record in keeping their promises is legendry. This message needs to go clearly to the common man on the streets of Kashmir. They need to realize that it makes sense for them to be with one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and a future superpower, rather than being with a failed state which itself is struggling for its own existence. In addition, the government needs to create job opportunities for the people in the state. Many individuals are enticed to extremism due to the attractive money they are offered for deviating from the mainstream. Even though the educated class of the valley also has anti-India sentiments, most of it does not really involve in anti-national activities as such individuals are more concerned about building their careers. The alienation from the valley has to go away and this can come through mutual dialogue and addressing at least the genuine demands of the valley. The government should bring all the stakeholders onto the table and those talking nonsense should be thrown out of any sort of negotiations.
At the same time, we should not hesitate from using force as and when needed, a point in case being the recent march to Muzaffarabad. The government should have stopped it in the first place, but the government’s weakness was highlighted when it let the march happen and haplessly watched Indian flags being burnt in the valley. The anti-national leaders need to be reprimanded clearly that if they want to be in India, they have to speak for the country. An individual like Syed Geelani who openly declares that he is a Pakistani, should not be allowed to be in India and should be deported to Pakistan. Even the mainstream leaders like Mehbooba Mufti who has been issuing provocative statements, should be arrested for raising communal passions.
We need to drop our soft attitude towards terrorism. The likes of Afzal Guru must be hanged immediately to send a strong message to the community that anti-nationalism will not be tolerated. Further, the government should also frame a clear policy towards Kashmir. For the situation in the state today, the central government has no one to blame but herself. Our leaders set quiet and let the situation go out of their hand. They woke up only a couple of days ago when they finally arrested the Hurriyat leaders. But by then, the damage had already been done!

Today, not only the government, but every person in the country is under this dilemma-how can the ongoing fire in the two regions subside? Unless the Indian government does not show a firm resolve to resolve the issue and put its strongest foot forward, Kashmir will continue to burn as the rest of India continues to simmer in its heat.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Why does Kashmir cry foul

For years Kashmir has been relying on massive grants from successive central goverments. Even after 61 years of being a part of India, the state has failed to create a self-sustaining economy. Think about what will happen if the central government stopped showering money to the state and treated it at par with other states; it will not take us more than five years to turn into another Bihar!
There is a widespread mistrust in the valley towards India but that can be explained and also resolved!
1. Article 370 that ensured the state always remained aloof from rest of the country, socially and culturally. Because outsiders have been refused entry into the state by not being allowed to buy property and set up industries, there was never any cultural exchange of the valley with rest of India. Back in the valley, the extremist elements took advantage of the isolation in the valley and made sure that by the time a Kashmiri muslim learns how to speak, he has enough venom in his mind towards India.
2. The politicians, be it the Hurriyat or the mainstream poltical parties (including several national political parties), all have exploited the post-1947 situation to their benefit. Successive governments let extremism propagate under their nose but little did they bother to control it as long as their vote bank was secure. Many of the mainstream parties, including the Congress, NC & PDP have for years indulged in double-speak. It's high-time the people in Kashmir understood this. At the end of the
day, who suffers? It's the common man on the street, not the leaders who live in high-security and move in bullet-proof cars! 
3. Presence of army in Kashmir is indeed hurting the people and I admit they may be wrong at times, but such things are bound to happen in Kashmir, where the anti-India sentiment is extremely strong. If the situation in Kashmir improves and all the anti-national and extemist activities stop, army will be out of Kashmir. No questions on that! Even the Indian government does not like spending billions of dollars every year on maintaining the security situation in Kashmir! In fact this money can be spent for the betterment of the state and bringing it back to what it used to be-The heaven on earth!
But little will our "pro-azadi" supporters understand this!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

A victory and then a downer-Jammu tales continued

First of all, those expecting an installment of Galle tales in this post are sure to meet with disappointment. There have been some fresh developments which I could not resist from sharing with all of you. So here we go.

I was feeling ecstatic yesterday, when the three individuals who claim to "represent the sentiments and aspirations of Jammu and Kashmir", were denied entry into a central-governement sponsored meeting meant to broker peace with the SASS (the group that is spearheading the campaign in Jammu), even though they were representing the team from central government. These three will definitely top of the list of those completely responsible for the current situation (in addition to Mufti,Omar,Hurriyat Conference and the Congress leadership-both central and state), and hence their presence on a group meant to find a solution to the problem did not make sense at all! In fact I believed we had achieved the first victory in for our self-respect and that too a big one at that! At least from August 9 onwards, these three will not be able to say that they represent the STATE of Jammu and Kashmir. The people of Jammu gave them the taste of their own medicine by refusing to talk to them.

But my happiness was short-lived, not that I expected anything better from the government. But it is really shocking that even though the central team was supposedly formed to defuse tensions in Jammu, it has ended up appeasing the anti-national sentiments. Today the government announced that traders in Kashmir who have had to suffer losses because of the so-called "economic blockade" from Jammu region, will be suitably compensated-all this at their threat of sending goods to Muzaffarabad (for the uninitiated, a city in PoK which was a couple of years ago connected to Srinagar via a road)!!

So, again a blackmail from a section of people and the government's relucatance to take them head-on has again landed the government into a questionable spot. This also goes on to show that while the Indian government considers the concerns of people who raise Pakistani flags, burn Indian flags and raise anti-India slogans as legitimate, those protesting for self-respect in their own country, are not at all important! Where else in the past in India have people been compensated because of losses due to protests? West Bengal is closed for 200+ days of the year due to strikes. Did the governement ever compensate the traders there? Why is the government so much concerned about the well-being of the people who in the first place do not even believe India is their own country? What is the kind of message we are trying to send across? That this country values only those who raise anti-national slogans, else you are a part of a billion-strong crowd that does not matter!!

While the government has already done suicidal mistakes by spitting and then licking back on the Amarnath land transfer issue, it is further complicating the situation and is getting itself deeper into the pit. The government still believes that like always, the people in Jammu will finally shut their mouths while the sentiments of Kashmir need to be kept in check. But this time, they are grossly mistaken and even after 45 days of unrest, it seems the government has still not realized it. This reaction of the government to the ongoing tussle will have far-reaching repurcussions. Public opiniong all over India is strongly building up in favor of the protests in Jammu and against what has been happening in Kashmir, it's high time the government realized this.

The media finally seems to have woken up to the fact that the anguish of people of Jammu is indeed genuine, and that the protests are not communal or driven by political parties. The past couple of days have seen much more news-space being granted to print and digital media, but the stand they have taken is still variable. I am particularly disappointed with the timesgroup who have given limited coverage to the events in Jammu. While Yasin Malik's illness makes first-page headlines both in print and the internet, they didn't even bother to mention the martyrdom of people from Jammu in the protests.

While media has finally stepped in, I expect different messages and perspectives to come out. For all the readers of this blog, I am repeating the following points just to make sure those not completely aware with the situation in Jammu are not left confused:

1. This is not a Hindu vs Muslim fight. People from all communities in Jammu are supporting the building up of shelters for pilgrims at Amarnath and for the larger issue of continuous discrimination that Jammu has faced over the past 60 years
2. People are protesting against the appeasement policies of the government. Every time an anti-India slogan is raised in Kashmir, every time an Indian flag is burnt there, the government starts offering them goodies instead of taking them head-on
3.People in Jammu too have sentiments, they can't be played around with; especially when each inhabitant of Jammu feels for the country, people from all communities included

Thank you for reading through this. As before, please do not fail to post your comments.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

For the people in Jammu Part 2


Thank you so much for your tremendous response and commenting on my first post. This has really encouraged me to take up blogging more regularly. Unfortunately I have been neck-deep into work this week and am not able to put something substantial into this post. But apart from a hundred other items, I am adding another blog post to my list of to-dos over the weekend (those working with me know this. These days my standard response to any fresh piece of work or a query is, "I will do this over the weekend!"
I just read through two articles on Hindustan times, one by Prof.Amitabh Mattoo, one of the better-known and highly respected academicians in J&K, and another one by Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, the Chairman of the moderate faction of the APHC (All Party Hurriyat Conference). Read through the two articles. I personally found Amitabh Mattoo's solution as the most logical while Mirwaiz as usual struggles with words to justify the stand the APHC has been taking. Read through the two articles:

Link to Prof.Mattoo's article:

Link to Mirwaiz's article:

In addition, I have also started a community in orkut through which we intend to push for a separate state of Jammu. Those interested may join. I've just started, so am currently struggling to build up a sizeable membership base before I start thinking about next steps. Here is the link to the community:

I guess it is also time to move a bit away from politics. In my next post I will be sharing some tales from my visit to Galle in Sri Lanka last week.

Thanks for reading through this.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

For the people in Jammu

The recent events in my state of Jammu and Kashmir may not have mattered much to people as a whole, but these have shattered the souls of each and every Hindu in the state. I apologize if this sounds communal, but unfortunately this is a fact-the state today stands clearly divided on communal lines. The people in Jammu are demanding the land to the shrine board be given back, so that temporary shelters can be created for pilgrims visiting the Amarnath shrine. Please note the words in bold-this is what the original order said, but the so called proponents of the spirit of Kashmiriyat protested this move saying that this was a move to change the demographic structure of the state! Is it wrong to build a shelter for people who face inhumane conditions every year during the yatra? By these people, this was seen as the first step to infuse some Hindus back into Kashmir, which could jeopardize their plans to push for a separate homeland for Kashmiri muslims. By giving in to their demands, the government has meekly surrendered to the anti-national elements. This also goes on to show that the dream of Kashmiri pandits to go back to their homelands does not look like a possibility, at least in the near future. We have seen the reaction to this step which just aimed to build temporary shelters for hindu pilgrims, it is not difficult to imagine what will happen if an attempt to bring back the Kashmiri migrants into the mainstream of the valley or even a Panun Kashmir (a separate homeland in the valley for Kashmiri pandits, which the Kashmiri migrants have been demanding) is initiated.
Some of you may be wondering whether these protests, in which people are dying, communal tensions are flaring up and the entire state has transformed into a virtual war-zone over the past one month, are really worth it? Let me tell you, on face value, these may not really seem worth; that people are fighting for a few acres of land. But this incident has been just the tipping point. For the past 60 years, the people from Jammu have been subjected to massive discrimination. We never wanted article 370, it was forced on us. We never wanted the special status which has alienated us from the rest of the country. And all these years, the governments at the center kept appeasing the Kashmiri majority community. The people from Jammu do not get government jobs, they do not get seats in government colleges, they pay all the taxes while even the basic amenities are denied to them. This has been happening for all of the past 60 years-this is the prize they have got for showing solidarity with India, while those openly against the country have been appeased to the most shameful of limits-the latest example being just one of the countless other instances.
What is all the more painful is the apathy shown by both the government and media towards the anguish of protestors. No one in the media has come out in the open to support what is a genuine cause for the nation's integrity. While the media is quick to take note of any protests in the valley, precious little space has been given to what has been happening in Jammu for more than a month now. Even the government, in spite of the massive public outrage, still chooses to appease the anti-national sentiments. As per the latest statement from the center, the state authorities have been directed to control the violence in Jammu "at all costs" while there is no mention of addressing to the core issue.
The events in the past two months have opened up the wounds of Jummuties who have been living with these for years now. These are not going to heal very soon and unless the government does not give in to their demands, the protests are not going to stop. I am supporting my brethren in these protests and believe every sane Indian citizen will resonate with the feelings that I am nurturing. 
Thanks for reading through this long post. Please feel free to add your comments. I will be updating my blog on a regular basis from now on.