Kashmir: ‘Chair’ with a price tag – strangulating public opinion
Views from Srinagar
SOMETIMES, an old experience comes handy to analyse new po litical developments like the ones that have been taking place in the State in quick succession for past few months. Such as hideous moves for changing the demography of the state by constructing “settlement colonies” or through its new Industrial policy establishing territorial hegemony and squeezing space of the state subject - ominously suggesting driving people to the wall.
In an interview in April 1984, the former Prime Minister of India Morarji Desai told me that people of Jammu and Kashmir should be thankful to him for having allowed them to taste the first bite of the forbidden fruit ‘democracy.’ He was referring to the 1977 Assembly elections in the state. These elections compared to farce elections of 1950, and four fraudulent elections held in the state after 1957, were considered as freer. The then Janata Party leaders of the state that included old guards like Masoodi, Bazaz and Qara supported by some top Janata Party leaders had pleaded for rigging of the Assembly elections. Morarji Desai had refused to oblige the state leaders and reportedly asked the State governor to ensure a fair election in the State.
Here, I am not to vouchsafe for the fairness of the 1977 election. Nonetheless, his statement had made me believe that democracy has come to stay in the state and hereafter Prime Ministers and Chief Ministers in the State will not be installed by New Delhi. Moreover, it had also made me believe now on the coveted chair of Chief Minister will carry no price tag- a price that people had been made to pay since forty seven.
My this belief was shortest lived, three months after my interview with the former Prime Minister of India, New Delhi was again at its game. It removed an “elected” Chief Minister and through machinations installed a new government. This act did further strengthen public perception that Indian democracy stops at Lakhanpur.
And the Chair of Chief Minister in the state continues to have a price tag- strangulating public opinion, denying fundamental rights of people, furthering New Delhi’s interests in the state against the wishes of the overwhelming majority in the state, etc.
The fallout of the 1984 game plan in itself is an important watershed for understanding the post1987 scenario that like a tornado overnight changed the political landscape of the state. Nonetheless, it is not subject of this column instead it will be analysing how New Delhi has used and has been using the chair of the chief executive for furthering its agenda in the state and perpetuating the status quo.
That New Delhi for installing a “Prime Minister” /Chief Minister in the state had fixed a price tag or fixed terms to use a Shakespearean phrase “I’ll have my bond” becomes obvious in Nehru’s letter of 27 September 1947, to Sardar Patel. In this letter, he mentions to him about the importance of enlisting Sheikh Abdullah’s support for ‘bringing an accession of the State to India and handing over reigns of the state to him. For offsetting international pressure on holding a plebiscite in the State, Dr. Karan Singh in chapter eight of his book ‘Heir Apparent’ has recorded how Sardar Patel asked Maharaja Hari Singh to leave the state and relinquish power for Sheikh Abdullah. Sheikh Abdullah, after serving New Delhi purpose as a ‘show boy’ in the United Nations was shown the door.
The Chair of the ‘PM’ was then leased to Bakshi for ten years for bartering right to self-determination of the people of the state by getting the conditional accession ratified by the “State Constituent Assembly”. Having served, New Delhi’s purpose Bakshi was asked to quit. Even gifting seven mound gold throne from the State treasury to New Delhi failed to get him lease extended by few more years. Then it was leased to Sadiq for enabling New Delhi to bulldoze its way for integrating the state by eroding the article 370 by carrying out 6th Amendment to the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution and concurring for extending of the central laws to the state.
(In his book on Article 370Noorani has discussed the subject in detail). After Sadiq’s death, New Delhi used Syed Mir Qasim as a sales agent for marketing the “chair” to the “tallest” of all leaders, Sheikh Abdullah. The price tag, this time, was the twentytwo years movement for plebiscite and sacrifices of thousands of the Plebiscite Front workers.
In the post, 1995, scenario we see more than one bidder at the auction shop. The barrage of the hideous moves that surfaced during past couple of months including constructing of shelters for the nonstate subject Saink Colonies, industrial policy ostensibly aimed at changing the demography of the state. Or what a fellow columnist M. Ashraf called “physical integration” seem to be part be the same kind of contracts that earlier “leaders” had entered into for the “Chair.”
It is no secret that the ‘sale of chair’ under the façade of democracy has been right from 1947, used at the international level has a diplomatic tool for telling the world that all was hunky dory in the state. It is not something unique that has been happening in our State. The uncertain political situation as has been obtaining in the state for past sixtyseven years throw up vested interests that barter away political aspirations of the people for power and personal comfort.
Nonetheless, their acts find no legitimacy with their people and history is replete with instances where leaders pursuing anti-people policies or go against the political aspirations of the masses have faced the massive public wrath as was seen in the recent times against dictators like Stalin and Gaddafi. Let us introspect, had we as a nation ab initio resisted the moves in 1947 or even in 1953, the price-tagged- chair political culture would not have survived.