Detentions re­viewed weekly, says Murmu

Hindustan Times (Gurugram) - - Gurugram - Ramesh Vi­nayak let­ters@hin­dus­tan­times.com ■

CHANDIGARH: All detentions in Kash­mir are re­viewed from time to time, now al­most on a weekly ba­sis, and with­out any dis­crim­i­na­tion, Girish Chan­dra Murmu, the first lieu­tenant gov­er­nor of the Union Ter­ri­tory of Jammu and Kash­mir (J&K), said in an in­ter­view to Hin­dus­tan Times.

He said peo­ple in Kash­mir are op­ti­mistic and look­ing for­ward to see­ing de­vel­op­ment and cre­ation of jobs. Deny­ing that there is com­plete ab­sence of po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity in Kash­mir, he said, “At the grass­roots level, democ­racy is thriv­ing and kick­ing. We have em­pow­ered pan­chay­ats and mu­nic­i­pal bod­ies...”

NEW DELHI: A year ago, on the morn­ing of Au­gust 5, when home min­is­ter Amit Shah walked into the Ra­jya Sabha with a pile of pa­pers, the Op­po­si­tion, the me­dia, and most im­por­tantly, the Kash­miri street, did not know what to ex­pect. There had, of course, been in­tense spec­u­la­tion in the run-up to Shah’s en­try into the House. The se­cu­rity crack­down in Jammu and Kash­mir (J&K), abrupt can­cel­la­tion of the Amar­nath Ya­tra, the de­ten­tion of Kash­miri lead­ers, re­stric­tions on tele­com con­nec­tiv­ity, and an ad­vi­sory to tourists and out­siders to leave the Val­ley in­di­cated that some­thing big was in the off­ing.

But Shah sur­prised even the most as­tute of Kash­mir-watch­ers in un­veil­ing the po­lit­i­cal pack­age of ef­fec­tively nul­li­fy­ing Ar­ti­cle 370 that con­ferred spe­cial sta­tus on J&K, re­mov­ing Ar­ti­cle 35A that en­abled the state leg­is­la­ture to de­fine per­ma­nent res­i­dents, di­vid­ing the state into two units of J&K and Ladakh, and con­vert­ing both into Union Ter­ri­to­ries.

The de­ci­sion was met by con­trast­ing re­sponses.

In Kash­mir, there was, among po­lit­i­cal quar­ters, a sense of shock at the enor­mity of what had hap­pened; there was ap­pre­hen­sion about a pos­si­ble de­mo­graphic shift; there was re­sent­ment against what was seen as an ef­fort to cur­tail the pow­ers avail­able to po­lit­i­cal lead­ers; and there ap­peared to be sullen anger at the dis­rup­tion this caused to every­day lives. In Ladakh, there was ju­bi­la­tion and pride at hav­ing fi­nally got the Cen­tre to con­cede what was a long­stand­ing de­mand — a sep­a­rate ad­min­is­tra­tive ter­ri­tory not un­der Sri­na­gar’s con­trol. In Jammu, where the de­sire for closer in­te­gra­tion with the In­dian Union is deep, the an­nounce­ment was noted with re­lief and hope about a more equal and se­cure fu­ture .

But it was in the rest of In­dia that the re­sponse was the most telling. There had been anger on the In­dian street against what was widely per­ceived as the spe­cial treat­ment meted out to Kash­mir; re­sent­ment against main­stream Kash­miri lead­ers for speak­ing a lan­guage of rad­i­cal­ism in Sri­na­gar and of mod­er­a­tion in Delhi; hurt at the lives of sol­diers lost and in­no­cents killed due to ter­ror­ism. The de­ci­sion, in this back­drop, was wel­comed by the masses — with the hope that this would, fi­nally, re­solve the “Kash­mir ques­tion”, long seen as a prob­lem cre­ated by Pak­istan, with its use of ter­ror and pa­tron­age of se­ces­sion­ists.

And in­ter­na­tion­ally, there was con­cern not at the de­ci­sion it­self — which was widely recog­nised as a sov­er­eign right of Par­lia­ment — but at the re­stric­tions which ac­com­pa­nied the de­ci­sion, from ar­rests to sus­pen­sion of the In­ter­net, and at the im­pli­ca­tions of the move for the se­cu­rity si­t­u­a­tion in South Asia.

A year later, it is in these con­trast­ing re­sponses that the puz­zle of Kash­mir can be re­viewed.

NATIONALIS­M PUZ­ZLE The cen­tral ques­tion in Kash­mir is one of nationalis­m. And here two ideas col­lide — the no­tion of Kash­miri nationalis­m and the idea of In­dian nationalis­m.

The In­dian State has. for long, recog­nised sub-na­tional as­pi­ra­tions. Given In­dia’s stag­ger­ing di­ver­sity, the founders recog­nised In­dia was best served as a union of states. As re­gional as­pi­ra­tions grew, fed­er­al­ism be­came stronger and states ar­tic­u­lated their own as­pi­ra­tions and re­sent­ments. But sub-na­tion­al­ist as­pi­ra­tions — for the most part — did not clash with the idea of the In­dian na­tion. As a model of deal­ing with di­ver­sity, In­dia achieved what was con­sid­ered im­pos­si­ble, with the co­ex­is­tence of mul­ti­ple po­lit­i­cal iden­ti­ties within a con­sti­tu­tional, fed­eral sys­tem. You could be a proud Tamil, a proud Maratha, a proud Gu­jarati, a proud As­samese — and you could be a proud In­dian.

Kash­mir, how­ever, was unique, for here it was not just sub-nationalis­m. There was a strong strand of Kash­miri nationalis­m, which stood in con­trast to In­dian nationalis­m. This could be traced back to its re­li­gious com­plex­ion, the terms of ac­ces­sion, past agree­ments, the pres­ence and role of Pak­istan in its in­ter­nal pol­i­tics, the strong yearn­ing for au­ton­omy even among main­stream lead­ers, to a young gen­er­a­tion rad­i­calised by in­ces­sant anti-In­dia pro­pa­ganda, grow­ing ex­treme Is­lamist in­flu­ence, and ex­cesses of the In­dian State. You could be a proud Kash­miri with­out be­ing a proud In­dian.

The In­dian State recog­nised the unique­ness of Kash­mir and ac­cepted the idea of an asym­met­ric fed­eral mech­a­nism — where Kash­mir had its own Con­sti­tu­tion, its own flag, its own laws. To be sure, these spe­cial pro­vi­sions were grad­u­ally whit­tled down. And New Delhi made its own share of mis­takes, in­clud­ing by ar­rest­ing pop­u­lar lead­ers, man­ag­ing elec­tions, and giv­ing se­cu­rity forces an ex­ces­sively free hand. But the over­all sen­ti­ment in Delhi, for long, was that it was only by al­low­ing Kash­miri sub­na­tion­al­ism within the In­dian Union that Kash­miri nationalis­m could be de­feated.

Armed with a leg­isla­tive man­date, and com­mit­ted to its own core ide­o­log­i­cal be­liefs, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over­turned this con­sen­sus. It be­lieved that in­stru­ments which al­lowed Kash­mir to be a unique case were the root of the prob­lem, and the prob­lem of Kash­miri nationalis­m had to be tack­led with both a strong se­cu­rity of­fen­sive and a po­lit­i­cal re-imag­i­na­tion. Re­move state­hood — and send a mes­sage to those who wanted a sep­a­rate coun­try.

Re­move Ar­ti­cle 370 in ef­fect — and make it clear that J&K was just an­other In­dian State. Re­move Ar­ti­cle 35A — and en­sure that ev­ery In­dian had the same rights in Kash­mir that they had else­where. Re­move Ladakh — and en­sure Kash­mir’s po­lit­i­cal lead­ers can­not speak for sub-re­gions with dis­tinct iden­ti­ties. En­sure cen­tral con­trol — and stop any­one from putting po­lit­i­cal ob­sta­cles in the man­ner in which se­cu­rity forces op­er­ated.

THE DEMOC­RACY PUZ­ZLE This strat­egy — of in­te­grat­ing Kash­mir with the rest of In­dia on the same terms — to de­feat Kash­miri nationalis­m and the vi­o­lence and ter­ror that has of­ten ac­com­pa­nied it, how­ever, had one fall­out , a demo­cratic deficit.

The gov­ern­ment, to en­sure peace and quell the pos­si­bil­ity of protests which could turn vi­o­lent, de­tained po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, in­clud­ing those who par­tic­i­pated in elec­tions and com­mit­ted them­selves to the Con­sti­tu­tion (a few prom­i­nent lead­ers re­main locked in). It cur­tailed civil lib­er­ties, re­strict­ing po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and protests, en­hanc­ing sur­veil­lance, and de­priv­ing In­dian cit­i­zens in Kash­mir of their right to con­nec­tiv­ity (4G ser­vices have still not been re­stored). It held pan­chayat elec­tions, but within a con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment where the space for open dis­sent was lim­ited. It failed to hold elec­tions to the assem­bly. And it en­hanced con­trol over the lo­cal me­dia.

The ju­di­ciary, too, was crit­i­cised for not be­ing proac­tive enough in ei­ther judg­ing the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of Par­lia­ment’s de­ci­sions, or de­cid­ing on detentions and habeas cor­pus writ pe­ti­tions.

This had two im­pli­ca­tions. Do­mes­ti­cally, Kash­miri sep­a­ratists got am­mu­ni­tion to sug­gest that In­dia could never be trusted, its claims of sec­u­lar­ism were shal­low, its democ­racy was se­lec­tive, its in­sti­tu­tions were not ro­bust — and this view, it must be ac­knowl­edged, found a ready au­di­ence on the Kash­miri street. This view was en­cour­aged by sus­tained Pak­istani pro­pa­ganda.

Ex­ter­nally, it made western democ­ra­cies, in­clud­ing al­lies, wor­ried about the ero­sion of rights and lib­er­ties. To be sure, what Pak­istan does in­ter­nally or what China has done con­sis­tently with its own peo­ple, is far worse. But In­dia was be­ing held up to its own prin­ci­ples and record of be­ing a proud mul­ti­cul­tural, sec­u­lar democ­racy.

RESOLVING THE PUZ­ZLE A year later, there­fore, In­dia has to now re­solve this fun­da­men­tal puz­zle. It must keep the na­tional flag fly­ing high in Kash­mir. It must bat­tle ter­ror­ism and the sep­a­ratist in­fra­struc­ture that has grown over decades. It must make it clear that sep­a­ratism has no fu­ture. It must en­sure that non-dis­crim­i­na­tory le­gal pro­vi­sions ap­ply to J&K as much as it does to the rest of In­dia. And it must de­feat Pak­istan’s de­signs.

But this na­tional project will not be com­plete with­out the demo­cratic project. It must re­lease lead­ers com­mit­ted to the peace­ful path; it must lift re­stric­tions on con­nec­tiv­ity; it must al­low peace­ful protests; it must al­low ex­pres­sions of Kash­miri sub-nationalis­m (not to be mis­taken with sep­a­ratism) as it does else­where; it must ini­ti­ate a po­lit­i­cal dia­logue with all stake­hold­ers; it must be open to restor­ing state­hood in J&K, which may lead to main­stream par­ties re­turn­ing to the demo­cratic fold; and it must hold free and fair elec­tions in J&K.

It is only when both nationalis­m and democ­racy win that In­dia will win.

Para­mil­i­tary sol­diers pa­trol dur­ing cur­few in Sri­na­gar; chil­dren head to tu­ition cen­tres in old Sri­na­gar; and a barbed wire laid out dur­ing cur­few in the Sarie Bala area of Sri­na­gar on Tues­day.

Po­lice­men run near road block­ades set up by pro­test­ers in Sri­na­gar on Oc­to­ber 29, 2019.

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