February 2000 News

Kashmir: Roots of the problems

7 February 2000
By Ajoy Bagchi

This is with reference to the article, Political solution (February 1), by ML Kotru. According to him, the problem in Kashmir, besides terminating terrorism, is addressing the peculiar needs of the state and its harried people . While castigating Dr Farooq Abdullah for his failures, Mr Kotru prescribes a political strategy for solving it. To see the problem only in political terms is to take a restricted view. Besides political overtones, it also has cross-border and economic dimensions. Without holding any brief for Dr Abdullah s style of functioning, it is fair to say that he did not create the problem but inherited it, and is hamstrung by the constitutional provisions and also factors in the shaping of which he had no hand.

The roots of the problem lie not only in the state s political situation but also in some of the steps taken by the Centre since 1947. Threatened by Pakistani marauders, Maharaja Hari Singh acceded to India. While the other princely states were integrated into India, Kashmir got a special status for no apparent reason. The constitutional provisions further reinforced it. Thereafter, the political dynasty at the Centre handed it over to another dynasty from within the state. The political dispensation at the Centre consistently connived with the National Conference to stifle political opposition. Over decades, it generated disaffection in the politically ambitious sections and, in turn, fuelled hostility in the masses towards the state s ruling oligarchy and the Centre. The latter is viewed as oppressor and the former as its stooge.

Pakistan s persistent effort to integrate Kashmir into its polity because of its demographic complexion is the other aspect. It is not argued that the cross-border terrorism would have ended if Pakistani intruders were ejected to the last man in 1948. By thoughtlessly rushing off to the United Nations, the conflict that was patently bilateral got internationalised, and a legal part of India became a disputed territory. If the state s boundaries were secured in 1948, the texture of international opinion would have been different from what it is today, and India would have been on a stronger wicket to garner international support against Pakistan s adventures in Kashmir. The psyche of the Kashmiri people would also not have been torn between its two divided parts.

The aggressive assertion of ethnic identity is partly fuelled by denial of share in decision-making processes of governance but mostly because of lack of economic advancement. A community s feeling of political and economic subjugation creates the fear of its cultural submergence. The situation is made explosive by the machinations of those with shared religious affinity from across the LoC.

Further, Kashmir is an economic basket case, surviving on the Central aid. Barring tourism, other economic opportunities are meagre. Indigenous investment in the economy is minuscule and that from outside the state is barred by Article 370. Such being the case, the unemployed educated youth are deeply frustrated and are easy prey to the lure of the gun and money from across the border.

Against this backdrop, the deepening of political process through devolution of administrative power and financial resources to the village level will help in addressing the problem. The proposal to reorganise the state on ethnic lines is fraught with the grave dangers to its integrity. It will aggravate the process of ethnic cleansing already set in motion by the extremist elements. Economic revival is equally crucial. Roadblocks to it, particularly the induction of private capital from outside the state, must be removed. India s insistence on cessation of cross-border terrorism before resuming bilateral talks should be tempered by the ground realities. The move for an umpire to ensure a level field for dialogue with Pakistan will be in India's long-term advantage. Finally, the cross-border terrorism must be made expensive to Pakistan. All solutions are predicated on this premise.


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