J&K needs people-friendly policies, not moves that strengthen separatism
Jammu & Kashmir is strategically located on the border of Pakistan. One-third of the state’s territory is under Pakistani occupation. Kashmir is part of Pakistan’s unfinished agenda since the partition of India. Pakistan, after initially snatching away a part of our territory, has consistently attempted to internationalise the issue. Its initial strategy of conventional war to occupy larger territory has failed. India’s military strength was superior.
For two decades Pakistan resorted to proxy war through cross-border terrorism. The world started frowning upon terror tactics. India gained strength in both intelligence and security operations to crush terror. Pakistan’s strategy did not work beyond a point. Through separatists in Kashmir it is now resorting to a strategy of stone-pelting while arguing that it is a peaceful protest.
Violence has always been the separatists’ strategy. It invites police and security action. In clashes that follow, many innocents suffer. This results in curfews, hartals and disruption of normal life. Homes are searched and human dignity is compromised. Separatists feel, by adopting this strategy, they can create a wedge between the people and the Indian state. In a peaceful Kashmir, separatist leaders are reduced to becoming Friday speakers. In a stormy Kashmir they become mass leaders. Violence and disruption of life suits them, not the Indian state.
How did we reach this stage? Three historical mistakes were committed by our government immediately after independence. Firstly, when a natural migration after the partition was taking place, the then government did not allow resettlement of any refugee in J&K. Refugees who migrated from the PoK region have not been accorded the status of state subject till today. Secondly, Nehru’s insistence on ascertaining the wishes of the people – a principle not adopted anywhere else in the country – resulted in the plebiscite resolution, the UN’s resolution and the internationalisation of the issue.
Thirdly, grant of special status prevented J&K’s economic development. It created a psychological barrier between
the state and the rest of India. The state’s political merger was complete with the signing of the instrument of accession. Accession to Indian law, however, was incomplete because of Article 370. The six-decade journey of separate status has not been towards fuller integration but towards separatism. Separate status created a faint hope of azadi in the minds of some. It prevented investments in the state. Even with its huge human resource potential and natural beauty, the state could never realise its economic potential. It did not gain from economic development in the last two decades.
Pakistan has aided separatists and terrorists. Violence, terrorism coupled with security actions harassed the Indian state and the people of J&K. The faint hope of azadi at times culminated in a realisable reality in the minds of separatists. None amongst Kashmir’s people has considered whether azadi is realistically possible. Azadi’s political content and the prospect of an ‘azad’ state’s survival have never been seriously analysed. It was an idea of protest against India.
If separate status gave birth to this faint hope of azadi, mainstream parties, by advocating autonomy, pre-1953 status, self-rule and dual currency, aided and abetted this.
Under our constitutional scheme, J&K enjoys more executive and legislative powers than any other state in India. The Centre’s jurisdiction is confined to security, defence, currency, foreign affairs, telecommunication and the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and Election Commission. None of the abovementioned jurisdictions can ever be transferred to the state. J&K’s current problems are due to the environment being created by separatists, terrorists and our western neighbour. The problems may be economic, employment-centric or those of regional imbalances. None has anything to do with inadequacy of power being vested in the state legislature or state government.
The whole object of some political parties is to weaken the political and constitutional relationship between the state and the nation. Special status already started this, with a relationship of modest strength. Autonomy, self-rule and azadi are all intended to weaken this relationship even more. It is for this reason symbols of India’s national identity are objected to by the votaries of separatism. There was an objection to the army’s presence in the state. Army cantonments are objected to. If yatris visit the Amarnath shrine, grant of land for basic toilet or lodging amenities was objected to. If a national political party endeavours to fly the national flag at a prominent market place in the state capital, it is considered provocative.
The tragedy of J&K is that the Nehruvian policy of this loose political and constitutional relationship between the state and the Centre was flawed. Votaries of this policy never accepted its disastrous consequences. They wish to further pursue it to loosen the relationship. Hence the present dichotomy. If somebody advocates segregation of the state from the Indian nation, it is free speech; if you fly the national flag, you will be arrested for breach of peace.
It is time governments and policy makers realise the consequences of what they have pursued for over six decades. Unquestionably to eliminate separatism we need to have the people of J&K on our side. Our policy has to be people-friendly, but not separatist-friendly. The state needs peace, prosperity, jobs and security. It does not need moves which strengthen the separatist psyche. Regrettably, the move to consider the unfurling of the national flag by the BJP youth wing representatives in the Valley as a possible breach of peace was psychological surrender to the psyche of the separatists.
The writer is a BJP MP and leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha.