A lopsided policy on the Kashmir issue will surely boomerang and create more problems than resolving the existing ones.
Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is not a normal state; it is complex, and a mini India. It consists of three historically, politically, culturally, ethnically and economically distinct regions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.
Jammu, which was at the helm of affairs in the state between March 1846 and October 1947, is Hindu-majority. Its population is at least equal to that of Kashmir, if not more. Muslims constitute nearly 30 percent of this strategic region’s population. The land area of Jammu is two times that of Kashmir. The people of the region — Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs included – represent the most neglected segment of Indian society, despite the fact that they contribute more than 70 percent of the state exchequer’s revenue every year. It has little or no say in the governance of the state. It’s a region which is sitting on a volcano of discontent. There are many reasons for that. A reference here to at least four of them would be quite in order.
One is that the office of the Chief Minister has been with a leader from Kashmir since 1947 and it is being held by a particular religious sect that constitutes only about 26 percent of the entire state’s population. The other is that Kashmir has excessive and a bigger share of representation in the J&K Legislative Assembly and Council of Ministers, which takes policy decisions and decides questions of supreme importance to the well-being and happiness of the people. Jammu has only 37 seats in the Assembly, as against Kashmir’s 46, and its share in the all-powerful state cabinet is a little more than 30 percent. Besides, all the portfolios with political weight, considerable funds and patronage are the sole preserve of Kashmir after the state’s accession to the Indian Dominion in October 1947.
The third reason is that Jammu is conspicuous by its absence in the Civil Secretariat, the seat of the government. The number of employees from Jammu working in the Civil Secretariat is not even 10 percent. The fourth reason is New Delhi’s preferential and differential treatment to Kashmir. There is unjust, invidious and humiliating distinction that New Delhi makes between Jammu and Kashmir in all matters and at all levels.
The political demands of the people of Jammu range from the state’s three-way spilt into a Regional Council invested with adequate legislative, executive and financial powers to complete merger with India. In fact, they have been consistently struggling since 1 November, 1947 to link their destiny with India for better or for worse, notwithstanding what they call the “negative and hostile attitude of New Delhi towards them”.
Kashmir, which constitutes less than 12 percent of the state’s land area, is predominantly Muslim. Over 99 percent of its population is Muslim. The number of non-Muslims in the Valley at present is not even 50,000. Over three lakh Kashmiri Hindus migrated from Kashmir in January 1990 to save their lives, dignity and culture. As a matter of fact, they were hounded out by the extremists and separatists. The people of Jammu and Ladakh are conspicuous by their absence anywhere in the Kashmir Valley. At the time of accession, the people of Jammu region constituted almost 10 percent of the Valley’s total population.
It may appear unbelievable, but it is fact that Kashmir is one of the most prosperous and highly developed regions in the whole of the country. Not a single Kashmiri Muslim is without a roof. The per capita meat consumption and per capita expenditure on woollen clothes in Kashmir are highest in the world. Not a single Kashmiri Muslim till date, unlike Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha and other states of the country, has died of hunger or cold. In terms of employment in government and semi-government establishments, Kashmir holds almost 3.5 lakh positions out of a total of nearly 4.5 lakh positions. The rate of unemployment in Kashmir is less than 30 percent, as against over 69 percent in Jammu region. These are the official figures. Besides, Kashmir controls trade, transport, tourism industry and what not.
Sadly, however, the people of Kashmir are not happy with New Delhi. It is not their fault; they have been trained and indoctrinated by the Kashmiri leadership, both “mainstream” and separatist, that way. They never allowed genuine democracy to grow in the Valley. But more than that, they never left any stone unturned to keep the Kashmiri Muslims aloof from mainstream politics. In fact, many of Kashmir’s “mainstream” as well as separatist leaders did all that they could to create a wall of hatred between New Delhi and the Kashmiri people by consistently terming India an “alien country” and creating in the minds of Kashmiri Muslims very serious doubts about J&K’s very political status vis-à-vis India.
The worst was the role of the Kashmiri ruling elite which used its position in the corridors of power to the hilt to subvert the polity both from within and outside. It would repeatedly tell the Kashmiri people that “J&K only acceded to India and has not merged with it”; that “J&K was a political problem that needed a political solution” (read separation from India or a dispensation outside the Indian political and constitutional organisation); and that no solution to the Kashmiri issue will click unless Pakistan was recognised as a factor in the political situation in J&K.
The upshot of its whole argument was, and continues to be, that the accession of J&K to India was only “limited” and “conditional”, but New Delhi brought the state under the provisions of Indian Constitution in a “surreptitious” manner to break the “status quo” that “alienated” Kashmir from India. The genesis of the political turmoil lies in the erosion of the state’s special status and internal autonomy, it says again and again.
The prevailing anti-India sentiment in the Valley has everything to do with what the Kashmiri leadership did in the Valley after 1947. Indeed, about a dozen “mainstream” and separatist leaders, who virtually worked in tandem for almost 68 years, muddied the Indian waters in the Valley. Unfortunately, New Delhi never ever strove to understand the Kashmiri leadership and its nature and ideology. In fact, its ambivalence and actions taken from time to time only added to the woes of the nation in Kashmir. The fact is New Delhi is more responsible for the mess that the nation witnessed, and continues to witness, in the Valley after the accession of the state to India in October 1947.
Very few Kashmiri leaders vouch for India. It is a hard fact. The situation has climaxed to the point that it is the Hurriyat Conference that decides which party or which formation should run or not run the government in J&K. How else should one interpret the Peoples Democratic Party President Mehbooba Mufti’s New Delhi statement on 12 December 2015 that her party sought consent from the Hurriyat Conference for forming a coalition government with the BJP in J&K. “With Vajpayee the experience was good, but forming an alliance with the present BJP was not easy for us. It took us two months to decide the agenda of the alliance. Hurriyat party was also called….” she said while speaking at Agenda Aaj Tak.
The demands in the Valley range from merger with Pakistan to independence from India to self-rule to autonomy to demilitaristion to Islamic banking to dual currency (Indian and Pakistani) to porous and irrelevant borders and so on.
The story of the cold desert Ladakh, which remains cut-off from the rest of India for almost six months in a year, is no different. Like the people of Jammu region, the Ladakhis, a majority of whom are Buddhists, also have little or no say in the governance of the state. Its representation in the J&K government and Civil Secretariat is almost nil. Its share in the J&K Legislative Assembly is also very inadequate. It returns only four members to the 87-member House.
The people of Ladakh have been struggling since decades for obtaining Union Territory status for their region, saying this is the only panacea available to end the “Kashmiri hegemony” and “domination over the state polity and economy”. They say day-in and day-out that “they cannot have any kind of truck with the Kashmiri leadership” and that “complete merger with India is their sole motto”.
On 21 December, all the BJP executive councillors of the Autonomous Hill Development Council (AHDC), and some BJP activists headed by Lok Sabha Member Thupstan Chhewang, Minister for Cooperatives Chhering Dorjey and other Ladakh leaders met with BJP national President Amit Shah in New Delhi to solicit the party’s support to the Ladakhis’ demand for UT status.
The delegation told Shah that this had been the consistent demand of the people of the region since Independence. “Ladakh has been a victim of gross neglect and discrimination ever since 1947. Never once, however, have its inhabitants wavered from their spirit of patriotism and commitment to the country. Their selfless service, bravery and fighting spirit during all wars has been widely recognised and admired. Our Army has consistently found a reliable ally in us while fighting either China or Pakistan next door. Yet, the region has been ignored in matters of development and its exclusive attributes dismissed as non-existent. This has created a feeling among the people as if they are being used as sacrificial goats,” the delegation told Amit Shah.
All these facts prove that J&K is the most difficult state in the country. But the problem is that there is hardly anyone in New Delhi who is willing to appreciate these realities and diagnose what ails the three regions of the state. As a result, things have only worsened. It is time for policy-planners in New Delhi to refashion policy towards the state by accepting that the socio-cultural and political aspirations of the people of Jammu and Ladakh are different from those of the Kashmiri leadership.
There are reports that the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre is thinking considering the “political demands in Kashmir”. The BJP national General Secretary and J&K in-charge Ram Madhav assured the people of Kashmir through his controversial interview to Al-Jazeera (25 December) that the “political demands in Kashmir…will be taken care of”, but added the caveat, “short of separating from India”.
This lop-sided approach will not work; it will only provoke political explosions of portentous dimensions in Jammu and Ladakh, like it happened in the past when New Delhi tried to strike a truce over Kashmir over their heads. What is needed is a holistic approach and a solution that is acceptable to the people of all the three regions of the state while also bringing the state closer to India. A lopsided policy will surely boomerang and create more problems than resolving the existing ones.