Kashmir: Crisis or Continuity

9 August 2008
The Indian Express
Meghnad Desai

NEW DELHI: When I was in my early teens, we used to have heated family arguments. The argument was not about property or family matters. It was about Kashmir. It was about Sheikh Abdullah’s illegal arrest and imprisonment without trial. There was every reason to think, one side said, that he was a traitor and an agent of Pakistan. The other side said, so why don’t we try him and prove it. We can’t, said the first side, because it will reveal the secrets of Pakistani spying. OK, so do it in camera, the younger ones said. No, said our elders, he does not deserve a trial at all. Panditji cares about Kashmir, and as a great democrat and a champion of the Rule of Law, trust him to do right by Abdullah. End of argument. I tell this story just to illustrate that India has felt awkward about Jammu and Kashmir ever since the accession. Like the Muslims in India, it can never be a normal part of India; it is either special, or it is suspect. Kashmir has to stay where we want it to be, because it is a testament to our secularism, and to the great historic (and totally untrue) rejection by the Congress of the two nation theory which Jinnah and the British forced on us. So J&K did not have democracy like the rest of India, but a succession of puppets after Sheikh’s imprisonment. After his release, he was still manipulated by the Daughter. His dynasty was allowed to flourish, but it took 50 years before J&K had an honest election. Since 1989 it has been a military station, and, despite that, a terrorist haven. What is it about India’s borders, Nagaland is another example, that they become Army occupation zones? But the latest crisis has quite cheered me up. This is the first time in 60 years that J&K is becoming just like the rest of India. It is at last getting thoroughly politicised by (if I may use the expression) ‘mainland’ parties. After all, if Rajasthan can have a purely synthetic Gurjjar crisis, where a perfectly privileged community can go around ripping up rail tracks and causing mayhem from Rajasthan across to Delhi, for no reason other than their desire for self-degradation to a humble tribal status and if Sikhs can do the same against the Dera Sacha Sauda — rip up rail tracks etc.— why not Jammuwalas? In all these quarrels, the official legal situation is entirely beside the point. The fact that the land has not changed hands or that it will not have any permanent structures or that the entire Cabinet approved of the transfer is neither here nor there. There is a chance to cause political mayhem and any side that can do so, will happily oblige. The transfer is made public, so a part of the Cabinet which had approved resigns and the Government falls. It is election time, and we must all take our places under new pretensions. Not to be outdone, the pro-transfer people retaliate. Rails are ripped off which is now becoming de riguer for any agitation to earn its proper status. There are bandhs as if a bandh solved any problem, be it inflation or land transfer. Ordinary people are inconvenienced, small traders lose money, casual workers lose their livelihood but then who cares? Certainly not the Government in Delhi or Srinagar. I bet you if any VVIP or his or her remotest cousin had been even slightly inconvenienced, heaven and earth would have been moved. They would have airlifted supplies of fresh mangoes so that the Z security person can have his breakfast in the style he is accustomed to. The fact that thousands of ordinary Kashmiris faced problems is no reason to airlift supplies. This is a democracy where the aam aadmi is only a slogan, not reality. This is the integration of J&K into normal Indian politics. This is the rehearsal for the Big Match coming up soon. The Dynasty, whose private property Kashmir is, after all, has gone off to Beijing. So there can be no crisis.