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Kashmir Roundtable Conference: Turnaround or Downturn?

The government of India must place the aspirations of the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir at the centre stage and uphold their dignity. In the absence of this crucial political gesture, the recent roundtable conference on Jammu and Kashmir was bound to be a futile exercise.

Kashmir Roundtable Conference: Turnaround or Downturn?

The government of India must place the aspirations of the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir at the centre stage and uphold their dignity. In the absence of this crucial political gesture, the recent roundtable conference on Jammu and Kashmir was bound to be a futile exercise.

GAUTAM NAVLAKHA

T
he importance of an Indian prime minister hosting a “roundtable conference” on Jammu and Kashmir (on February 25) cannot be denied. But it was robbed of its importance by the fact that this conference took just 11 days to organise and was called just four days before the arrival of the US president to India. This gave it an appearance of a diplomatic face-saver, since it seemed like a response to the Pakistan president’s suggestion for “self-governance”. Besides, the speed contrasts sharply with the slow pace of dialogue with those who espouse self-determination. Had the Indian government been sensitive to the need to involve groups who question accession to India, this would have involved going through the exercise of revoking some repressive measures to get them aboard. This could have made the roundtable conference representative as well as meaningful. However, the real drawback of the roundtable lies in the projected goalposts for a solution contained in the PM’s opening statement, where he spoke about the “need to evolve a common understanding on autonomy and self-rule in Jammu and Kashmir…. within the vast flexibilities provided by the Constitution”. Instead of assuaging an alienated people, these remarks smack of a take-it-or-leave-it proposition.

Going by what the national security advisor told reporters after the roundtable meeting, separatists form a “minuscule” group and they will get “further marginalised” if they refuse to participate in the next round. This is an attempt to browbeat them into compliance that augurs ill for a dialogue of “equals” that the PM so eloquently spoke of at the conference. That apart, it cannot be denied that opposition to India remains strong in Jammu and Kashmir. It is reflected in a million and a half signatures collected by Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) all of whom want to be made a part of the dialogue to decide their future. Kashmiri opposition to India is also reflected in the fact that nearly 70 per cent of the electorate boycotted the 2002 assembly and 2004 parliamentary elections as a reminder that such elections are not a substitute for their demand for selfdetermination. However, the reason for the Indian government’s optimism stems from the fact that infiltration has come down from 1,313 in 2003 to 231 in 2005, militant-army casualty ratio is currently 7.5:1, and the number of militants are now only between 1,500 and 1,700. At a regional level, US-India bonhomie is seen as paying dividend insofar as the ceasefire holds along the LOC with Pakistan, the government of Pakistan has clamped down on infiltration and is under pressure to rein in militants, and steps are being taken by the two governments to encourage people-to-people contacts.

Remote Control from New Delhi

Now it is true that militancy has come down. But it has certainly not ceased. Even then, 1,500-1,700 militants are far too few to warrant the deployment of nearly five lakh personnel of the security forces. Counter-insurgency doctrine argues for 50 soldiers for each militant. It is also far above what the situation demands now that the ceasefire holds. In the event, it is not wrong to say that the Indian government remains unsure about the loyalty of the people. The persistence of the regime of extraordinary powers conferred on the administration substantiates this. Leave aside

Economic and Political Weekly March 18, 2006 the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or the physical location of security forces camps across villages and towns in J and

K. Instead, consider the curbs maintained over political activities of those who question accession to India through ‘normal’ laws. Section 144 of the Cr PC bans gathering of more than five persons. The Public Security Act allows for preventive detention of up to two years without the bother of a charge sheet. The movement of people within J and K or even outside is controlled by the Egress and Internal Movement (Control) Ordinance (1948), through notification in the government gazette. The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act proscribes most groups in J and K, which the Indian government considers “anti-national”. Thus, even without the proclamation of J and K as a “disturbed area,” routine political activities are not tolerated. What makes a mockery of “selfrule” by an “elected” state government is the fact that the authority to release a political prisoner in J and K is vested in the union home ministry. Therefore, if the government is convinced that people in J and K are with them and that the separatists form a “minuscule group”, why do they need extraordinary control over people? Again, if the Indian government is serious about “autonomy” why does it not first divest itself of those powers which remote control the lives of people in J and K from New Delhi?

Brutality of Suppression

The conspicuous absence of such political gestures reveals the tenuous nature of what the Indian government credits itself as having achieved. The hiatus between what people perceive and what our policymakers think is brought out in the February 22 case of killing of four youths at Dudipora in Handwara block of Kupwara district. According to the army version, militants killed Abdul Samad Mir and Ghulam Hassan, fearful that their arrest could lead to their capture, whereas two boys, Shakir Ahmad Wani and Amir Ahmad Hajan were killed in a “cross-fire” between the army and the militants. The villagers insisted that the 33 Rashtriya Rifles (33 RR) had been trying to get Abdul Samad Mir, a one time militant, to act as an ‘informer’ for them. This, he was refusing to do and went into hiding to escape their pressure. It was on hearing that he was in the village that a raiding party from 33 RR went to Dudipora on February 22. However, before they could capture Abdul Samad he escaped and ran through a field where children were playing cricket. Army opened fire killing him and three others. There was no firing by the militants. This was corroborated by the J and K criminal investigation department (CID) in its report submitted to the chief minster on February 24 (Indian Express, February 28, 2006). But the killings drew 10,000 people out on the streets in anger and the valley remained shut for the next two days. This is not an aberration but something that happens all too frequently and will recur because counter-insurgency demands obedience from people. To resist their diktat invites reprisal. Therefore, one must move beyond the pretence of “normalcy” to appreciate the mood of the Muslims of J and K, which has been shaped not just by the policy of suppression of the last 16 years, and the brutal manner in which it has been carried out, but also their experience since 1947.

It is a perception of betrayal by the Indian government of the solemn promises and by their leaders who are seen as having sold their peoples’ rights for their self-aggrandisement. The much-vaunted Article 370, instead of guaranteeing internal sovereignty, became the vehicle through which it was subverted. This is the conclusion reached by the committee set up by the National Conference government after it came to power in 1996. It has been compounded by the fact that New Delhi dominates the economy of J and K whose annual grants and loans make up for the state’s gross revenue deficit running as high as 75 per cent. Administrative costs, in any case, consumed nearly 20 per cent of the total expenditure in 2004-05, thus contributing to the recurring revenue deficit. The new chief minister of J and K claimed on December 10, 2005 that there are up to 50 per cent surplus state government employees without any work. This number is bound to go up once the Indian PM’s November 2004 instruction to the state government to fill the 21,000 vacancies in the state sector comes into effect! Equally alarming is the augmentation of armed police. Thirty-six thousand people were made special police officers and received a sum of Rs 1,500-2,000 per month as honorarium. And, approximately 50,000 have been recruited as constables in the regular security forces. Those in the state police, on joining service, have a pay scale of Rs 2,750-4,400. Recruitment to the forces is now an annual feature of job creation. It is necessary, however, to interrogate the nature of employment generation, because such job creation can hardly be a socially productive use of human resources, let alone one that enhances labours’ self-worth. Paradoxically, social investments, such as in education and health, continue to receive short shrift. Thirty-one thousand persons were made Rehbar-i-Taleem, or teachers since 2000 on a monthly stipend of a mere Rs 1,500

MEDIA FELLOWSHIPS ON CONFLICT REPORTING IN NORTHEAST INDIA

Panos Institute South Asia invites print, radio and television journalists from Northeast India to apply for a fellowship to research conflict-related issues in the region.

The Fellowship will run from July 2006-June 2007. Selected Fellows will be provided editorial support by an advisory panel comprising of senior journalists and peace and conflict experts. They will also be provided financial support for travel and research. The fellowship awards are as follows: Type of Media Number of fellowships Total amount Print 3 50,000 INR each Radio 1 50,000 INR Television 1 1,00,000 INR

Based on their investigative work, selected Fellows must produce: > At least five 1000-word feature stories to be published in quality publications between July 2006 and June 2007/ At least five short features for radio/TV broadcast within the same time frame.

> One 5000-word in-depth report, which may be edited and included in a book to be published later by Panos. The radio and TV journalists may submit a written script for inclusion.

Applicants must submit the following no later than April 15, 2006:

  • Curriculum vitae
  • Up to five samples of published/broadcast work on the issue
  • A draft proposal for the fellowship
  • A brief personal statement on why they consider themselves as suitable candidates (not exceeding 500 words in English)
  • Two references from persons who have known the applicant professionally for at least one year.
  • Women, journalists writing in local languages and persons from under-represented areas are encouraged to apply. However, their CV and the write-up should be in English and at least one sample of their work must be translated into English.

    Please mail all relevant documentation to guwahati@panossouthasia.org or send it to Programme Manager, Panos Institute South Asia, 110 Kharghuli Road, Guwahati 781004 (Assam). Applications should be marked, “Media Fellowships on Conflict”.

    Panos Institute South Asia is an independent non-profit organisation specialising in information and communication.

    Economic and Political Weekly March 18, 2006

    on a fixed contract for five years. Their status remains unchanged. Fourteen thousand aganwadi workers are to receive Rs 1,000 monthly as honorarium. Whether they will be in service once central funds dry up is a cause for uncertainty. In such a climate, promise of employment in large central projects in J and K remains doubtful. Assurance of job for locals in the Udhampur-Baramulla railway line remains unfulfilled. Instead fear of demographic influx, once the railway reaches Baramulla by 2008, creates a sense of insecurity. Many choose to migrate outside J and K for jobs or even for higher studies, attracted by the relatively better opportunities in India. But this move is tempered by the petty harassment and insecurity of being Muslims from J and K, in a none too friendly atmosphere that prevails in India.

    Nourishing Alienation

    One cannot dismiss this even if it appears to be exaggeration, because what lies underneath is the fear and angst of the Muslims of J and K at being assimilated within India, over which they have little choice. Consider a small example. Unlike Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra or Gujarat, which banned the shifting of orphans from their respective states, the J and K government did no such thing after the October earthquake. As a result 500 orphans were shifted to Pune by the Bharatiya Jain Sangathan. Local organisations protested but were helpless in preventing this. It is all this that nourishes alienation. Popular perceptions do matter. And the Indian government will need interlocutors for reaching out to those alienated. But who are the leaders who can represent them? People remain suspicious of those who enter into dialogue with the government of India. The reason why Yasin Malik of JKLF had to quickly hold a press conference following the Indian prime minister’s remark at his press conference on January 23, 2006 that he had met him was precisely out of concern that he would be seen as holding secret talks. The lukewarm response to his subsequent meeting with the Indian prime minister, which appeared to have been hurriedly organised on February 17, was predictable. Take another example. Mirwaiz Omar Farooq lamented that he took a risk in coming forward to hold talks with the Indian government. As a result his uncle was killed, an educational institute run by him burnt down, and he himself barely escaped a mortar attack on his residence. He then pointed out that all the assurances made to him during the two rounds of talks with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in January and March 2004 as well as with the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in September 2005 remain unfulfilled. This has been the fate of Imran Rahi, Babar Badr, Bilal Lodhi, Ghulam Mohiuddin Lone, all of whom gave up militancy and came forward to hold talks in 1995. And this fate befell Abdul Majid Dar, number two in Hizbul Mujahideen. The point is that there is deep mistrust of the Indian government among the Muslims of J and K. This is reflected in the rising popularity of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who in recent times, has attracted large crowds to his meetings. The people see him as standing up to India and fighting for their right to determine their future, and it is this that counts where ‘hearts and minds’ are concerned.

    War, it is said, is politics by other means. However, politics must offer more in order to avert war/insurgency. For this to be accomplished it must place the people’s aspirations at the centrestage and uphold their dignity, if not for anything else than for the fact that by oppressing people we bleed our own polity and society of its democratic sensibilities and compel those aggrieved to take up arms. It is here that the roundtable conference falls short. Consequently, there is merit in holding special elections to allow people to choose their representatives, along with an agenda that allows purposeful dialogue, lest the roundtable conference turns from being a futile exercise to a farce.

    EPW

    Email: gnavlakha@gmail.com

    Economic and Political Weekly March 18, 2006

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