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Where is the Mufti heading?

December 31, 2002

Mufti Mohammed Sayeed's "healing touch" prescription in J&K is just not working out. On the contrary, the fidayeen [suicide squad] attack on the Raghunath temple last month and the splurge of recent killings in Poonch and Rajouri villages indicate that the supposed remedy is aggravating the disease; the lay Indian certainly thinks that way.

However, the Mufti and his daughter continue to release all manner of captives and to distribute employment letters to one member of such families who have lost a breadwinner in the collateral damage from terrorism in the state.

The beheading of some women and the throat slitting of men hasn't forced the PDP-Congress government to even pause and review its line of treatment designed to bring peace to J&K. Instead, the Mufti has said that nothing can deter him from going ahead with his "healing touch" policy. Can people who constantly fear acts of terror ever be "healed" by any potion at all until terror itself is killed at the roots? In any case, it seems perverse to believe that freeing prisoners held on criminal charges can bring a sigh of relief to the climate of terrorism.

There's one other despicable facet to this act of the coalition government. Reacting to the initial criticism of such release followed by acts of terrorism, the J&K government said that it had consulted the central intelligence agencies before doing so. As it transpired, this was not so. In an interview to The Times of India, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, BJP's general secretary, dubbed this statement of Sonia Gandhi as "completely untrue" -- a charge that hasn't yet been refuted.

Why then this duplicity and deceit by the Mufti-Sonia duo? After all, the release of terrorists was an item on the Common Minimum Programme of the coalition; it should then have rebutted the initial criticism on merit rather than trying to seek shelter in the Centre's so-called approval. Going by this event, the Mufti, it would appear, does not consider truth to be sacrosanct as it moves ahead with a lot of bravura.

The self-proclaimed liberal media of ours does believe, however, that the increased barbarism of terrorist activity in J&K represents part of the strategy of the "militants" to thwart the new state government's goal of working for a negotiated settlement of the vexed "Kashmir" problem.

What is the truth here? Is the freeing of persons earlier jailed under some law or other nothing but a licence for increased terrorism? One will have to wait a while before giving a final verdict on that question. But it does seem at the moment that by playing the kindly big brother to one and every citizen on each and every issue, the Mufti coalition is only exposing the state's underbelly to charges of being far too tender for comfort.

No such reservation seems necessary on the other moves of the Mufti. Thus --

  • He wants the country's prime minister to hold talks with "representatives of the people of J&K." Now, now, isn't the Mufti government itself the representative of the people? And hasn't he himself met the PM twice or thrice already in New Delhi? What is the solution he has in mind? And if he wants the country's PM to hold talks with the Hurriyat and the separatists, why doesn't he himself, as the elected rep of the people, speak to these groups and put up a proposal for New Delhi's consideration on the basis of those talks?
  • He wants foreign investment in his state and Delhi's help in the matter. But why doesn't he first retract the present state law that is widely believed to permit only J&K's registered "state subjects" -- and not persons from outside J&K -- to acquire immovable property in J&K? (A few months ago the Principal Advisor to the then chief minister evaded the specific query as to whether industrialists desirous of setting up units in J&K were exempted from the application of this particular law.). BTW, will foreign industrialists come to a state where prisoners are released like pigeons on our Independence Day?
  • He wants more funds from New Delhi for development projects in J&K. But why does he not first give the nation a true and complete picture of the state's utilisation of the massive aid the state has been receiving for several years? Let him note that the rest of the country is almost in the dark about almost everything concerning his state except the deeds of the terrorists, and, therefore, the feeling persists in the common Indian that J&K is never happy despite being the most pampered state in the federation. (Star TV just the other day brought a pink newspaper editor who, poor fellow, believed that Delhi's aid to J&K was nothing but a part of the federal scheme of things. Poor fellow, he's obviously never seen the detailed Expenditure Budget document released annually by the Government of India on Budget day.)
  • He wants to assuage the hurt of the alienated people of J&K. Then why doesn't he first digest the sordid conditions of the camps in which thousands of Kashmiri Pandits have been living for some 13 years? Why doesn't he plan a whole new mini-city in Srinagar region for them to come back to? In short, why does he not have detailed talks with the KP organisations in order to evolve a scheme that will restore the property, the jobs and the honour of thousands upon thousand of those tragic victims of the most horrendous pogrom of ethnic cleansing since independence? (Gujarat post-Godhra was a mere skirmish in comparison.)

This repeated allusion to the "healing touch" to the "alienated people of J&K" and this repeated demand for more funds by almost every J&K government of recent times were two issues which Arun Jaitley touched upon innovatively in a recent public speech he delivered on "Terrorism and India". The points which BJP's general secretary made were:

  • One of the hidden costs of terrorism is the political cost that tends to undermine democratic values and democratic institutions. It leads to strong anti-terrorism methods the end result of which is the phrase "sense of alienation". This is built into the use of strong counter-terrorism methods whereby innocent citizens may become victims of those methods. After all, security forces don't go into J&K to alienate the people; they go in fact to protect people from terrorists. When the security forces act, the kind of propaganda that builds up results in "alienation" of the people.
  • The per capita non-security expenditure on an average citizen of J&K is seven to ten times more in terms of central assistance than that spent on an average citizen of the rest of the country. Despite that a sense of alienation can get built in because when terrorists strike, people don't like investing where jihadis are moving with guns; in such a situation, even traditional income avenues suffer along with the sense of security. Yet, curiously enough, the percentage of people living below the poverty line for the year 1999-2000 in J&K was just 3.8 per cent as against nearly 6.5 per cent for Punjab and 26 per cent for India as a whole. Thus the perverse fact that you can have seven to ten times more grant from New Delhi and a below-poverty-line proportion of 3.8 per cent even as the message goes nationally and internationally that there is growing sense of alienation among the people of J&K. The basic cause is the entire environment created by terrorists on civil society.

It seems queer logic, then, that the Mufti government continues, with the consent of the Congress, to desist from using POTA in the state. Much less harmful is another queer fact that the Mufti always moves ahead almost everywhere with a two-piece suit irrespective of the kind of his audience.

There is, lastly, the business of "separatists" in J&K. For the life of me, I haven't ever understood why any government in India --- central or state --- should discuss or negotiate with any Indian person or body of persons who openly declare the desire to secede their region from the Indian nation. One's blood boils to read that the third "separatist" was released from jail by the Mufti regime the other day; one's blood boils when Yasin Malik, the chief of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front is profiled in glorified terms -- colour pic and all -- like in The Times of India Sunday edition of December 15.

The patriotic sentiment would be that the only way to deal with the likes of Malik is to prosecute them under Section 124A (Sedition) under the Indian Penal Code, 1860. But, unbelievably, the Muftis of our country want them to be released from jail -- for the "healing touch" presumably.

Tragi-comic as it may seem, the Yasin Maliks of J&K cannot be prosecuted under IPC because that Parliamentary law of India is not applicable to J&K under a provision permitted by Article 370 of the Constitution of India. One has vaguely heard, of course, of the Kashmir Penal Code but whether "sedition" is an offence therein is something that cannot be known unless one personally goes to the Srinagar secretariat because laws of J&K are almost impossible to get hold of in the ordinary course in any other part of India.

This is one aspect which publications based in that state must take up seriously in the interest of those who want to project before the nation the whole truth about the constitutional and legal links between J&K and the rest of India. These publications must carry, in a series, the whole list of Indian Parliamentary laws that are not applicable to J&K and the implications thereof. Believe it or not, it's easier for a Mumbai man to get information on London than on Srinagar.

That is precisely why there are "experts" in the media and elsewhere who, ignorant of the entire legal-cum-constitutional elitism accorded to J&K, live in the belief that what J&K needs is greater autonomy. The Mufti hasn't as yet echoed that demand, but it will surely come, the way he's moving ahead. And never mind that one doesn't quite know where exactly he's moving.


The Mufti Mohammed Sayeed Interview


Arvind Lavakare

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