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Home > India > News > Columnists > Sushant Sareen

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The case against azadi for Kashmir

September 11, 2008

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In recent weeks, a seditious assault has been launched on the will of the Indian nation by rootless liberals, 'mobile republics', and amoral columnists who are exhorting India to 'think the unthinkable' and concede the demand for azadi in Kashmir.

There are two ways of responding to those who advocate azadi for Kashmir. The first way is to gun them down, throw a grenade on their house, kidnap their children, threaten to rape their wives and daughters, or drive them forcibly out of their homes. This is precisely what was done to Kashmiris -- Muslims and Pundits -- who opposed the so-called 'freedom-fighters' in Kashmir, whose brief these faux-intellectuals hold. Of course, the moment any of these steps is taken, these same people will demand protection from the very law enforcement agencies that they so ardently revile. At the same time, there will be a manufactured uproar by the NGO industry over how voices of dissent are being stifled. Only, those shouting about their right to dissent seem to readily acquiesce when dissent is brutally throttled in Kashmir by the jihadists and separatists.

There is however a more civilised way of answering those who propose a vivisection of India. This is the way of an 'argumentative Indian', a way that is in keeping with the 'Idea of India'.

As it stands, the Idea of India is good and noble. It is an idea that is progressive, inclusive, pluralistic, tolerant and accommodating. Above all it is a Republican idea which holds the ideal to be more important than the extant beliefs of the common herd. Compare the idea of India with the idea of a Talibanised Kashmir (as professed by the Geelanis, Salahuddins and their ilk), or even the idea of Pakistan -- denominational, exclusivist, reactionary, intolerant and very violent. No doubt, there is a lot of prejudice and discrimination still present in India. But the task of nation-building in India is a 'work-in-progress'. Countries like the US are over 200 years old and have not yet solved all their social and communal problems.

The important point is that the Idea of India must prevail over the idea of exclusivist and regressive states like Pakistan or its fan club in Kashmir. The campaigners for Kashmir's azadi (especially those based in Delhi [Images]) should perhaps be sent on a year-long study tour of Waziristan, Swat and Bajaur (with a week in the Lashkar-e-Tayiba camp in Muridke thrown in as bonus) to make them understand why Kashmir cannot be abandoned for the Taliban [Images] and al Qaeda-inspired 'freedom-fighters'.

The proponents of azadi and their apologists misuse, if not abuse, concepts like secularism and democracy that embody the Idea of India to undermine India. Frankly, India does not need certificates on democracy and secularism from anybody in the world, least of all from Kashmiri separatists and their supporters and sponsors who while mouthing these concepts are totally unfamiliar with the meaning, much less the practice, of these words. Nor does India need to amputate a part of herself simply to prove her commitment to democratic values.

Accepting azadi will mean subscribing to the doctrine of clash of civilisations, the fundamental assumption of which is that pluralistic societies are a quirk of history and will not be able to survive the assertion of primordial identities. This was exactly the logic that created Pakistan. It is hardly important that the bacon-loving Mohammed Ali Jinnah didn't want a theocratic state; the Talibanisation of Pakistan is a logical outcome of the demand for a Muslim state. If today we accept that logic, then India will become a country only for Hindus.

The argument that granting azadi will be the democratic thing to do is even otherwise totally specious. What is it that prompts some people to give more weightage to what five million Kashmiris want (assuming they all want azadi) than the desire of one billion people who don't want a communal division of India? How can we be so cavalier about the security, safety and well being of 165 million Indian Muslims for the sake of five million Kashmiris? Secularism in India is bound to suffer if we accede to Muslim communalism in Kashmir. The forces that will be unleashed by another communal division will be beyond the control of armchair intellectuals. After all,  if we are willing to give one small part of the population the right to secede, how can we deny a larger population the right to decide who stays and who is forced to leave India? Perhaps the democratic urgings of the faux-intellectuals will be satisfied by nothing less than a billion 'independent, mobile republics' in India.

Other than Muslim exclusivism, what is the justification for the demand for azadi in Kashmir? Kashmiri separatists normally give three or four reasons in support of their demand. The first is that Kashmir was sold to the Dogra rulers by the British. But surely acquiring territory for a state by purchasing it is far more civilised and legitimate than military conquest. In any case, the cut-off point of history on which they base their case cannot be arbitrarily and self-servingly selected by the separatists. The second argument is that Kashmir is a disputed territory. Well, in South Asia a legal dispute can be created out of nothing at all, so this argument doesn't hold any water. Thirdly, it is said that Kashmiris are a distinct and homogeneous ethnic group and as such are entitled to azadi. The answer to this is that every ethnic group in India is distinct and if this argument is to be extended then tomorrow a condominium complex in Gurgaon or cooperative society in Mumbai could demand independence on the same grounds. Finally, the separatists talk of how much they have sacrificed for Kashmir's azadi. But then India's sacrifices in men and material for Kashmir are far greater.

Another false argument in favour of azadi is that India is unnecessarily spending billions to keep Kashmir in India and will be better off without it. But let's extend this argument a little further: Why should we spend money in the northeast? What are we getting out of it? So, let's give azadi to the north-eastern states as well. And, while we are at it, how about throwing UP and Bihar out of the Indian Union? Aren't these two states a huge drain on India's resources, and dragging India down?

Ultimately, Kashmir is a question of national will. If Indians lose the will to keep Kashmir today, it won't be long before they lose UP tomorrow and Bengal the day after.

It is therefore time that India starts 'thinking the unthinkable' to end Kashmiri separatism. If the case for Kashmir's azadi rests only on numbers, then let us change the numbers in Kashmir. If this means settling people there from other parts of India, then so be it. After all, if Kashmiris have never been stopped from settling down and prospering in the rest of India, why should people from the rest of India not be allowed to seek their fortune in Kashmir? Why should Kashmir be treated like an anthropological laboratory which must be kept insulated from outside influences? Kashmiriyat, a syncretic concept so favoured by neo-liberals, will only flower after absorbing new and diverse influences from the rest of India!

The law forbidding non-state subjects from settling in J&K was a law made by the Dogra kings (so detested by the Kashmiris today) to protect their own interest. There is no reason why this law should not be repealed and Kashmir thrown open to every Indian -- Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian -- who wants to settle there. This is not an argument to dispossess the Kashmiri; rather it is to offer him a much better price for his land and his produce than he would get if Kashmir remains a no-go area for other Indians.

India should in fact offer incentives to Kashmiris who seek their fortunes in India, and other Indians who seek their fortune in Kashmir. Projects to provide greater access to and from Kashmir -- the Mughal Road, railway lines, an international airport -- should be speeded up. The Muzaffarabad road too should be opened up for trade, so that Indians who settle in J&K can do some direct business with Pakistan. This road will have the added advantage of making the Kashmiri trader aware of the difference between the Indian and Pakistani market. At the same time, any Kashmiri who considers Pakistan the promised land should be allowed, nay encouraged, to go and settle there; just make sure to shut the gate after they cross over.


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