Think the Unthinkable by Vir Sanghvi
Have you been reading the news coming out of Kashmir with a mounting sense of despair? I know I have. It’s clear now that the optimism of the last few months — all those articles telling us that normalcy had returned to Kashmir — was misplaced. Nothing has really changed since the 1990s. A single spark — such as the dispute over Amarnath land — can set the whole valley on fire, so deep is the resentment, anger and the extent of secessionist feeling. Indian forces are treated as an army of occupation. New Delhi is seen as the oppressor. There is no engagement with the Indian mainstream. And even the major political parties do not hesitate to play the Pakistan card — Mehbooba Mufti is quite willing to march to the Line of Control.
At one level, the current crisis in Kashmir is a consequence of a series of actions by the Indian establishment. New Delhi let the situation fester until it was too late. The state administration veered between inaction and over-reaction. The Sangh Parivar played politics with Hindu sentiment in Jammu, raising the confrontation to a new level.
But we need to look at the Kashmir situation in a deeper way. We can no longer treat it on a case-by-case basis: solve this crisis, and then wait and see how things turn out in the future. If the experience of the last two decades has taught us anything, it is that the situation never really returns to normal. Even when we see the outward symptoms of peace, we miss the alienation and resentment within. No matter what we do, things never get better, for very long.
It’s not as though the Indian state has no experience of dealing with secessionist movements. Almost from the time we became independent 61 years ago, we have been faced with calls for secession from nearly every corner of India: from Nagaland, Assam and Mizoram, from Tamil Nadu, from Punjab etc.
In every single case, democracy has provided the solution. We have followed a three-pronged approach: strong, almost brutal, police or army action against those engaging in violence, a call to the secessionist leaders to join the democratic process and then, generous central assistance for the rebuilding of the state. It is an approach that has worked brilliantly. Even in, say, Mizoram, where alienation was at its height in the 1970s, the new generation sees itself as Indian. The Nagas now concentrate their demands on a redrawing of state boundaries (to take in part of Manipur), not on a threat to the integrity of India. In Tamil Nadu, the Hindi agitation is forgotten and in Punjab, Khalistan is a distant memory.
The exception to this trend has been Kashmir. Contrary to what many Kashmiris claim, we have tried everything. Even today, the state enjoys a special status. Under Article 370 of our Constitution, with the exception of defence, foreign policy, and communication, no law enacted by parliament has any legitimacy in Kashmir unless the state government gives its consent. The state is the only one in India to have its own Constitution and the President of India cannot issue directions to the state government in exercise of the executive power of the Union as he can in every other state. Kashmiri are Indian citizens but Indians are not necessarily Kashmiri citizens. We cannot vote for elections to their assembly or own any property in Kashmir.
Then, there is the money. Bihar gets per capita central assistance of Rs 876 per year. Kashmir gets over ten times more: Rs 9,754 per year. While in Bihar and other states, this assistance is mainly in the forms of loans to the state, in Kashmir 90 per cent is an outright grant. Kashmir’s entire Five Year Plan expenditure is met by the Indian taxpayer. In addition, New Delhi keeps throwing more and more money at the state: in 2004, the Prime Minister gave Kashmir another $ 5 billion for development.
Kashmiris are happy to take the money and the special rights but they argue that India has been unfair to them because no free political process has developed. And, it is true that we have rigged elections in Kashmir. But, it is now nearly a decade since any rigging was alleged. Nobody disputes that the last election was fair. Moreover, even though the Congress got more seats than the PDP, the Chief Ministership went to Mufti Mohammad Sayeed as a gesture.
Given that Kashmir has the best deal of any Indian state, is there anything more we can do? Kashmiris talk about more autonomy. But I don’t see a) what more we can give them and b) how much difference it will make.
If you step back and think about it, the real question is not “how do we solve this month’s crisis”? It is: what does the Centre get in return for the special favours and the billions of dollars?
The short answer is: damn all.
As the current agitation demonstrates, far from gratitude, there is active hatred of India. Pakistan, a small, second-rate country that has been left far behind by India, suddenly acts as though it is on par with us, lecturing India in human rights and threatening to further internationalise the present crisis.
The world looks at us with dismay. If we are the largest democracy on the planet then how can we hang on to a people who have no desire to be part of India?
The other cost of Kashmir is military. Many terrorist acts, from the hijacking of IC 814 to the attack on parliament have Kashmir links. Our response to the parliament attack was Operation Parakram, which cost, in ten months, Rs 6,500 crore and 800 army lives? (Kargil cost us 474 lives.) Each day, our troops and paramilitary forces are subjected to terrorists’s attacks, stress, and ridicule.
So, here’s my question: why are we still hanging on to Kashmir if the Kashmiris don’t want to have anything to do with us?
The answer is machismo. We have been conned into believing that it would diminish India if Kashmir seceded. And so, as we lose lives and billions of dollars, the Kashmiris revel in calling us names knowing that we will never have the guts to let them go.
But would India really be diminished? One argument is that offering Kashmiris the right to self-determination would encourage every other secessionist group. But would it? Isn’t there already a sense in which we treat Kashmir as a special case? No other secessionist group gets Article 370 or so much extra consideration. Besides, if you take this line, then no solution (autonomy, soft borders etc.) is possible because you could argue that everybody else would want it too.
A second objection is that Indian secularism would be damaged by the secession of Kashmir. This is clearly not true. As history has shown, Indian Muslims feel no special kinship with Kashmir. They would not feel less Indian if some Kashmiris departed.
Moreover, too much is made of the size of Kashmir. Actually secessionist feeling is concentrated in the Valley, an area with a population of 4 million that is 98 per cent Muslim. (The Hindus either left or were driven out). Neither Jammu nor Ladakh want to secede. So, is the future of India to be held hostage to a population less than half the size of the population of Delhi?
I reckon we should hold a referendum in the Valley. Let the Kashmiris determine their own destiny. If they want to stay in India, they are welcome. But if they don’t, then we have no moral right to force them to remain. If they vote for integration with Pakistan, all this will mean is that Azad Kashmir will gain a little more territory. If they opt for independence, they will last for about 15 minutes without the billions that India has showered on them. But it will be their decision.
Whatever happens, how can India lose? If you believe in democracy, then giving Kashmiris the right to self-determination is the correct thing to do. And even if you don’t, surely we will be better off being rid of this constant, painful strain on our resources, our lives, and our honour as a nation?
This is India’s century. We have the world to conquer — and the means to do it. Kashmir is a 20th century problem. We cannot let it drag us down and bleed us as we assume our rightful place in the world.
It’s time to think the unthinkable.
Independence Day for Kashmir by Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar
On August 15, India celebrated independence from the British Raj. But Kashmiris staged a bandh demanding independence from India. A day symbolising the end of colonialism in India became a day symbolising Indian colonialism in the Valley. As a liberal, i dislike ruling people against their will. True, nationbuilding is a difficult and complex exercise, and initial resistance can give way to the integration of regional aspirations into a larger national identity — the end of Tamil secessionism was a classical example of this. I was once hopeful of Kashmir’s integration, but after six decades of effort, Kashmiri alienation looks greater than ever. India seeks to integrate with Kashmir, not rule it colonially. Yet, the parallels between British rule in India and Indian rule in Kashmir have become too close for my comfort. Many Indians say that Kashmir legally became an integral part of India when the maharaja of the state signed the instrument of accession. Alas, such legalisms become irrelevant when ground realities change. Indian kings and princes, including the Mughals, acceded to the British Raj. The documents they signed became irrelevant when Indians launched an independence movement. The British insisted for a long time that India was an integral part of their Empire, the jewel in its crown, and would never be given up. Imperialist Blimps remained in denial for decades. I fear we are in similar denial on Kashmir. The politically correct story of the maharaja’s accession ignores a devastating parallel event. Just as Kashmir had a Hindu maharaja ruling over a Muslim majority, Junagadh had a Muslim nawab ruling over a Hindu majority. The Hindu maharaja acceded to India, and the Muslim nawab to Pakistan. But while India claimed that the Kashmiri accession to India was sacred, it did not accept Junagadh’s accession to Pakistan. India sent troops into Junagadh, just as Pakistan sent troops into Kashmir. The difference was that Pakistan lacked the military means to intervene in Junagadh, while India was able to send troops into Srinagar. The Junagadh nawab fled to Pakistan, whereas the Kashmir maharaja sat tight. India’s double standard on Junagadh and Kashmir was breathtaking. Do you think the people of Junagadh would have integrated with Pakistan after six decades of genuine Pakistani effort? No? Then can you really be confident that Kashmiris will stop demanding azaadi and integrate with India? The British came to India uninvited. By contrast, Sheikh Abdullah, the most popular politician in Kashmir, supported accession to India subject to ratification by a plebiscite. But his heart lay in independence for Kashmir, and he soon began manoeuvering towards that end. He was jailed by Nehru, who then declared Kashmir’s accession was final and no longer required ratification by a plebiscite. The fact that Kashmir had a Muslim majority was held to be irrelevant, since India was a secular country empowering citizens through democracy. Alas, democracy in Kashmir has been a farce for most of six decades. The rot began with Sheikh Abdullah in 1951: he rejected the nomination papers of almost all opponents, and so won 73 of the 75 seats unopposed! Nehru was complicit in this sabotage of democracy. Subsequent state elections were also rigged in favour of leaders nominated by New Delhi. Only in 1977 was the first fair election held, and was won by the Sheikh. But he died after a few years, and rigging returned in the 1988 election. That sparked the separatist uprising which continues to gather strength today. Many Indians point to long episodes of peace in the Valley and say the separatists are just a noisy minority. But the Raj also had long quiet periods between Gandhian agitations, which involved just a few lakhs of India’s 500 million people. One lakh people joined the Quit India movement of 1942, but 25 lakh others joined the British Indian army to fight for the Empire’s glory. Blimps cited this as evidence that most Indians simply wanted jobs and a decent life. The Raj built the biggest railway and canal networks in the world. It said most Indians were satisfied with economic development, and that independence was demanded by a noisy minority. This is uncomfortably similar to the official Indian response to the Kashmiri demand for azaadi. Let me not exaggerate. Indian rule in Kashmir is not classical colonialism. India has pumped vast sums into Kashmir, not extracted revenue as the Raj did. Kashmir was among the poorest states during the Raj, but now has the lowest poverty rate in India. It enjoys wide civil rights that the Raj never gave. Some elections — 1977, 1983 and 2002 — were perfectly fair. India has sought integration with Kashmir, not colonial rule. But Kashmiris nevertheless demand azaadi. And ruling over those who resent it so strongly for so long is quasi-colonialism, regardless of our intentions. We promised Kashmiris a plebiscite six decades ago. Let us hold one now, and give them three choices: independence, union with Pakistan, and union with India. Almost certainly the Valley will opt for independence. Jammu will opt to stay with India, and probably Ladakh too. Let Kashmiris decide the outcome, not the politicians and armies of India and Pakistan.