Kash­mir: ‘Chair’ with a price tag – stran­gu­lat­ing pub­lic opin­ion

Views from Sri­na­gar

Pakistan Observer - - KASH­MIR - Had we re­sisted the moves in 1947 or in 1953, the story would have been dif­fer­ent. [Writer is vet­eran jour­nal­ist/au­thor based in 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.

—Cour­tesy: GK

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