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'J&K's UT status has to be a stopgap'

August 08, 2019 12:11 IST
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‘The ideal thing that should be done in Kashmir is call for an election -- before the end of the year.’

Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi on a visit to J&K

Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi on a visit to J&K. Photograph: PTI Photo

‘Far too much emphasis is put on youth as if they are a separate category. They are not. They are Kashmiris like everybody else.

'An overall political process is needed to win hearts and minds in Kashmir. It can’t be done by targeting one section alone,’ historian Dr Radha Kumar, one of the three interlocutors on Kashmir appointed by the Government of India in 2010, tells’s Archana Masih in the second part of the interview.

Dr Kumar is the author of the just-published Paradise At War, A Political History of Kashmir (Aleph).

Part I: 'Is Kashmir going to be a military-police state forever?' 

How do you assess the Modi government’s handling of Kashmir from 2014?

The government’s own figures show that violence has increased year on year since 2013. Policies that lead to increased violence should be seen as a failure because the goal is to end violence, not to increase it.

It started with Afzal Guru’s hanging. It was no secret that the BJP pushed for his hanging and a weak Congress party gave in.

This government has shown a clear contempt for Kashmiris in its first term and even more in the second. Won’t this alienate and instill hatred in people?

Unfortunately, the display of contempt and personal attack has become very prevalent in our nation. No one likes it, so why won’t the Kashmiris hate it when it is so much stronger in their case?

Why do you think Jammu and Kashmir have been yoked together as a Union territory? It was thought that the state would be divided into Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.

Though the BJP’s view is that Jammu is primarily Hindu and pro-India, we have to bear in mind that 8 out of 11 districts of Jammu are Muslim majority.

The Muslims of Jammu, who were not earlier supportive of the Valley, have grown sympathetic towards them because of the anti-Muslim sentiment -- the lynchings, the beef ban and anti-Muslim statements -- over the past 5 years.

I think the government may have known that turning Jammu into a UT could cause considerable protest and trouble from the Muslim majority districts.

Jammu’s population is slightly lower than that of the Valley, whereas Ladakh has a very small population.

In Ladakh, Kargil has a Muslim majority and has never supported a UT demand. In fact, it has opposed it. There could well be trouble ahead over there too.

I have long believed -- in fact, we wrote in our report -- that devolution -- the transfer of some administrative powers to Leh and Kargil as well as to Jammu -- was essential.

Once people were able to administer themselves and not feel dependent on the Valley, it could have been a way of avoiding the UT issue.

Let us remember that a Union territory is not a desirable status. The aim is to progress out of UT status. The existing UTs want statehood and elected governments, not lieutenant governors ruling them from outside.

J&K’s UT status has to be a stopgap. Maybe it can be a route to get more powers over time, but it’s not in itself a desirable goal.

The creation of Hill Development Councils in Ladakh was an attempt to find a solution to the problems that were leading to the UT demand, and to a large extent, a solution was found.

The Leh Hill Council was working very well. Only a small minority of BJP people were demanding a UT.

In the last local election the BJP did not do very well in Ladakh, so the UT demand is a hype and is masking the fact from the ground.

It is being said that the news has been received with celebrations in Jammu, with the focus being on Jammu city and Jammu district, which do not represent the whole province.

Do you feel the Nehruvian Idea of India is over and India now bears the stamp of the Modi Idea of India?

The Idea of India concept seems fashionable with intellectuals -- of whom I would like to be considered one [laughs].

However, in my view, the Indian Constitution showed us the ambition of independent India; of what it was going to be -- and that document was crafted by a very large number of founding fathers, not by Jawaharlal Nehru alone.

Do not forget that Nehru had to give up many of his so-called ideas of India – for example, he wanted restrictions to the right to property, a socialist system, but the Constituent Assembly simply outspoke him.

He himself said that I recognise that I am in a minority, and therefore I give it up.

I consider the Nehruvian Idea of India to be historically wrong. It was the founding fathers’ Idea of India. The Constituent Assembly represented different interests and different people from around the country -- and a consensus was carved out of that debate.

Law and order as a state subject was not the goal, but Sardar Patel agreed because those were the terms that would persuade all the princely states to merge with the Union.

Certain decisions that have become part of our lived India were decisions of that moment and what could be achieved at that time. They were compromised consensus decisions.

India is not an Idea, it is a living country and territory and people.

It is incorrect to call it Nehruvian, but there is no doubt that Modi’s government is out to overturn many of the consensus elements that came out of the Constituent Assembly and our founding fathers’ vision of democracy in India.

Now that Article 370 has been abrogated, what is the best way forward?

I see very dark days, not only for J&K, but the rest of us as well. I have never been afraid of speaking my mind, but I am now. There must be millions of far more louder voices than me who must be far more afraid.

It is very difficult to turn around once you have instilled the fear of dissent and vigilante justice.

There is popular support for this government, but I still believe there is a silent majority that does not go along, which cannot afford to stay silent any more, whether it is a majority or not.

But the question is -- what are the avenues, where do we go?

The ideal thing that should be done in Kashmir is call for an election -- before the end of the year.

The Presidential Order must not be used for carrying out delimitation and creating new constituencies. That would lead to suspicion that it is being done to gain political strength under the cover of governor’s rule.

Delimitation has to be done with an elected government in the assembly.

The Bill has been passed, but it has to be debated by the J&K legislature and cannot go into force until a free and fair legislature conducts free and fair debates and then obey the majority decision.

That is the only thing that can rescue the situation a little bit.

How should the government address the concerns of the Kashmiri youth that already feels so alienated?

The youth receive propaganda daily on social media. It tends to spread faster in the Valley because Kashmiris tend to be far more politically sophisticated. They tend to see facts that rest of us may not, simply because of having lived in a state of conflict for so long.

However, their educational systems -- which are better than many parts of India -- are still poor. They have no sources of activity, there is no entertainment, and there is little public space for socialising.

Sport is one field that was thought to be encouraged, but is always done by the army or police.

The football team that has gained success was set up by two Kashmiri entrepreneurs because it is not under the aegis of the army and police -- so there is a whole allied set of problems around education, culture, expression, freedom and the other is unemployment.

The extent of unemployment in the Valley is astronomical. The education we are imparting across the country does not equip people for jobs.

Far too much emphasis is put on youth as if they are a separate category. They are not. They are Kashmiris like everybody else.

An overall political process is needed to win hearts and minds in Kashmir. It can’t be done by targeting one section alone. You have to realise this is a political and security problem.

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