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Kashmir after Shopian

New Delhi's triumphalism over last year's assembly elections in Kashmir and subsequent inaction run the risk of damaging the triumph of democracy in Kashmir. The large-scale protests over the recent incidents in Shopian and Baramullah should serve as a wake-up call for the political establishment to creatively and imaginatively build on proposals for autonomy, as well as political and administrative reforms which were incubated by this very dispensation during its previous term in office. These proposals, enjoying a fair degree of consensus, will address the more pressing demands of peace, dignity and security while also providing a model of federalisation for the Indian union. Will the government of India show some initiative at last, or will it allow conditions to drift as usual?

PERSPECTIVEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW july 11, 2009 vol xliv no 2839Kashmir after ShopianAmitabh mattooNew Delhi’s triumphalism over last year’s assembly elections in Kashmir and subsequent inaction run the risk of damaging the triumph of democracy in Kashmir. The large-scale protests over the recent incidents in Shopian and Baramullah should serve as a wake-up call for the political establishment to creatively and imaginatively build on proposals for autonomy, as well as political and administrative reforms which were incubated by this very dispensation during its previous term in office. These proposals, enjoying a fair degree of consensus, will address the more pressing demands of peace, dignity and security while also providing a model of federalisation for the Indian union. Will the government of India show some initiative at last, or will it allow conditions to drift as usual?It has taken two unfortunate incidents in Shopian and Baramulla to demon-strate, once again, the continuing sense of anger and alienation of the people of Kashmir. In the last week of May, the bodies of Asiya and her sister-in-law Nelofar were found in Shopian after they went missing from an orchard. A series of administrative mistakes, including the absurd unwillingness of the police to even register a case initially, contributed to a huge but largely peaceful uprising, remi-niscent of last summer’s protests. What-ever may the final conclusion about the cause of death (and there is now a judicial inquiry being conducted into the incident), there are few in Shopian, or indeed in the entire Valley, who are willing to believe that the security forces were not involved in the rape and murder of the two women.A month later, Baramullah erupted when Haseena alleged that she was har-assed and abused by a police official when she had visited the police station to seek the release of her husband, who had been detained by the security forces. Again, there are multiple versions of the incident, but local protests soon snowballed into a separatist mobilisation across the valley. In many ways, Shopian and Baramullah have come to symbolise a bigger and obvious reality: the Kashmiris continued lack of trust and faith in the State and its instruments, the deep sense of insecurity faced by the ordinary citizen day after day and the over-securitisation of the Valley. While the Union Home Minister, P Chidambaram, visited the Valley at the height of protests in mid-June, and there has been some movement towards giving the Jammu and Kashmir police greater responsibility for law and order and for reviewing the application of the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) to the state, all this seems too little and too late. Indeed, it does not require an astrologer to predict that there will be continued protests and many more uprisings, in the days to come, with or without the tragedy of Shopian or Baramullah, unless there is shift in the mindset of the “establishment” in New Delhi, which is reflected in real policy change. Unfortunately, the under-standing of Kashmir, despite all these years of problems, remains shallow and this is most clearly reflected in the missed opportunity after the elections to the statelegislative assembly in November- December 2008.A Missed OpportunityElections in Jammu and Kashmir are much more than a democratic ritual. In the popular Kashmiri imagination, they have been powerful symbols: of faith and betrayal; of resistance and accommoda-tion; of hope and disillusionment; of confi-dence and uncertainty. Through the 1950s and the 1960s, stage-managed elections were seen as a betrayal of the “trust” of 1947. The 1977 election, the fairest the state had witnessed since independence, became a leit motif of faith and accom-modation. The 1987 election, neither free nor fair, paved the way for militancy in the state. Confidence in the democratic pro-cess was restored considerably when, for the first time ever, in 2002, the electorate was able to dislodge the ruling party. The 2008 election will also be recognised as a marker for its inclusiveness and credibility, despite considerable odds. While 43.69% of the electorate had voted in 2002, the figure was 61.49% in 2008, respectable by any national or international standard. More significantly, all the districts of the Kashmir Valley (outside Srinagar) witnes-sed a healthy turnout of more than 45%, with Kupwara and Bandipora – once at the heart of separatist politics – registering 68.22% and 59.66%, respectively. The real long-term importance of the 2008 elections, however, would be judged by the manner in which New Delhi and the state government responded to the as-pirations of the people and the multiple challenges that existed within the state. This unique opportunity was missed. That Kashmiris, who took to the streets a few months earlier in a mass Intifada-like uprising during the Amarnath land controversy, turned out in even larger Amitabh Mattoo ( is with the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
PERSPECTIVEjuly 11, 2009 vol xliv no 28 EPW Economic & Political Weekly40numbers to vote in the state election was mistakenly seen as evidence of Kashmiri fickleness. It was a mistake also to view the elections as signalling a return to “business-as-usual” in the politics of the state and as obviating the need for a special and more imaginative approach. The triumph of democracy became, tragi-cally, a moment of triumphalism for the NewDelhiestablishment. By acting in a statesmanlike fashion, New Delhi would have demonstrated a willingness to re-ward participation in the democratic process and not be seen as capitulating to extra-constitutional pressure. Instead, there was total inertia. For nearly six months, and admittedly also because of other priorities (including the general election), Kashmir was no longer on the agenda, not even on the margins. What was not recognised was the nature of the new transformative politics in Kashmir: the “ordinary” Kashmiri was seizing every opportunity to achieve peaceful change, from the politics of the street to the politics of the ballot. And if the ballot did not fulfil its promise, the people would be back on the streets. Taking advantage of the improved situa-tion on the ground, the government could have struck a better balance between the rights of the people and the need to deal with militancy. The release of political de-tainees should have been a top priority. A general amnesty would have been a pow-erful gesture symbolising the new spirit of reconciliation. It was also time to consider seriously returning the armed forces to their pre-1989 position, ensuring – in letter and spirit – a zero-tolerance for human rights violations and repealing many of the laws that had given the security forces a virtual carte blanche in the Valley. But this remained a wish list.An almost farcical incident, days after the Omar Abdullah-led National Confer-ence (NC)-Congress coalition government came to power, was illustrative of the bureaucratic approach to Kashmir.On the eve of the 2009 Republic Day when the highest civilian awards were an-nounced, in the entire list there was only one name from Jammu and Kashmir. The president of India had approved confer-ment of Padma Shri to Hashmat Ullah Khan under the category of arts. But who was Khan? For days, the news media in the state tried to locate him, with little success. Only two Hashmat Ullah Khans were publicly known. Was he the former vice chancellor of an agriculture university who had kept his passion for the arts sequestered from public view? Or was he former civil servant who lived and worked in the state in the 1940s and had written a readable history of J&K? Neither, it turned out. The state government initially dis-tanced itself from the awardee. Neither the state academy of arts and culture nor the general department (through which nominations are routed) knew of Khan nor had they nominated him for the award. The mystery was finally solved. Khan was apparently a promoter and trader of Kashmiri shawls who had worked for the revival of the celebratedkaaniand jamawar tradition, who had a shop in Delhi’s Chandini Chowk. And he had been nominated by the local MLA. Meanwhile, there were reports that the president’s secretariat, and the Ministry of Home Affairs had ordered an internal inquiry to identify how Khan could pass muster through several levels of vetting. Hashmat Ullah Khan may or may not be a deserving awardee. But the incident is a powerful metaphor for the New Delhi establishment’s traditional approach towards Jammu and Kashmir. Bureaucrats in the corridors of Lutyen’s Delhi, long out of touch with the reality on the ground, use their power of patronage to craft poli-cies which have no resonance with the majority of the people of the state. This has to change if the people of Jammu and Kashmir have to be rewarded and not punished for overwhelmingly expressing their faith in democracy.J&K’s UniquenessKashmir is unique, and must be dealt with specially. Jammu and Kashmir’s unique-ness is obvious for a variety of historical reasons recognised even by the Supreme Court. In 1984, in Khasan Chand versus the State of Jammu and Kashmir, the court unambiguously held that the state holds “a special place in the constitutional set up of the country”. The 1983 Srinagar Declaration adopted by the opposition conclave that included Jyoti Basu, Inder Kumar Gujral, Chandra Shekhar and Prakash Singh Badal stated that “the special constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir should be preserved and protected in letter and spirit”.More important, however, is Kashmir’s singular importance to the very idea of India, which is often forgotten. A Muslim majority state that voluntarily acceded to India in 1947 lent tremendous strength to the construction of India as a vibrant, secular and pluralistic state. The battle, therefore, to win back the hearts and minds of the Kashmiri people is critical not just for the recovery of the ideals that inspired Indian nationhood, but is central to the war against obscurantism and fundamentalism. Comprehensive SecurityFortunately, while the immediate oppor-tunity offered after the state elections was missed, the window is far from closed. Even while any meaningful dialogue with Pakistan on Kashmir may have to wait until Islamabad is less fragile, New Delhi can and must implement, internally, a plan of action that can assuage the anger and fulfil, at least partially, the expecta-tions of the people. And there is no dearth of practical and implementable ideas. Recall that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in his opening remarks to the round table conference on Jammu and Kashmir on 25 February 2006 said:Real empowerment, my friends, is not about slogans. Only when every man, woman and child from Ladakh to Lakhanpur and from Kargil to Kathua through Kashmir feels secure, in every sense of the word, can we truly say that people have been empow-ered. Security is freedom from fear and this is what we want to achieve. We want the people of Jammu and Kashmir to be free from all fears about their future. It is only this sense of comprehensive security, within a framework of good governance that can really empower the people.Style Sheet for AuthorsWhile preparing their articles for submission, contributors are requested to follow EPW’s style sheet.The style sheet is posted onEPW’s web site at will help immensely for faster processing and error-free editing if writers follow the guidelines in style sheet, especially with regard to citation and preparation of references.
PERSPECTIVEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW july 11, 2009 vol xliv no 2841We want the people to be physically secure and this can only happen if violence and terrorism ends permanently. We want the people to be economically secure and this can only happen if the tremendous potential of the state is channelised and ever citizen has access to quality education and health-care. We want every group to be politically secure and this can only happen once power is decentralised to the villages. Finally, we want every community to be culturally and socially secure. This means that we value the cultural distinctiveness of every commu-nity and create conditions for the flowering of their languages, their lifestyles and their arts and crafts. And we have to ensure that those who have been displaced can return to their homes. This vision of empowerment and comprehensive security is related to good governance and people’s active partici-pation in formulating policies and monitor-ing their implementation.This vision of comprehensive security must surely guide all new initiatives towards Jammu and Kashmir. For New Delhi, the working group reports offer a perfect starting point. Set up during the second round table conference of the prime minister in May 2006, the five working groups had a specific agenda: (i) confidence-building measures (CBMS) across segments of society in the state; (ii) strengthening relations across the line of control in Kashmir; (iii) economic development; (iv) ensuring good govern-ance; and (v) centre-state relations. Apart from the working group on cen-tre-state relations, all others submitted their reports in April 2007. The govern-ment had, in principle, accepted the rec-ommendations and virtually committed itself to their implementation. But, in real-ity, little has been done. New Delhi must signal its sincerity by first acting on the recommendations of the working group dealing withCBMs across the state.Chaired by Hamid Ansari, the group included representatives from all main-stream political parties and groups, in-cluding Chaman Lal Gupta of the BJP (a former minister of state for defence in the Vajpayee government), Agni Shekhar of the Panun Kashmir movement, Ali Mohammad Sagar (currently a minister in the state government) of the NC, Shia leader Molvi Ifthikar Ansari of the People’s Democratic Party, Omkar Nath Trisal of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Yashpal Kundal of the Panther’s Party, Tsering Dorjee, former chairman of the Ladakh Hill Development Council, Asgar Hussain Karbalai, former chairman of theKargil Hill Development Council, T S Wasir of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, Shabir Khan of the State Pahari Board and the gujjar leader Taj Mohi-ud-Din. A Workable AgendaThe group’s agenda included the follow-ing: measures to improve the condition of the people affected by militancy, schemes to rehabilitate all widows and orphans af-fected by militancy, issues relating to the relaxation of conditions which have fores-worn militancy, an effective rehabilitation policy, including employment, for Kashmiri Pandit migrants, an approach considering issues relating to return of Kashmiri youth from areas controlled by Pakistan, and measures to protect and preserve the unique cultural and religious heritage of the state.The group had recommended, among other things, review and revocation of laws that impinge on the fundamental rights of common citizens, such as the AFSPA, review of cases of persons in jails and general amnesty for those under trial for minor offences, devising effective re-habilitation policies for Kashmiri Pandits and a comprehensive package to enable them to return to their original residences and for the Kashmiri youth in Pakistan-controlled areas, who may have joined militancy for monetary considerations or misguided ideological reasons, measures to strengthen the state human rights com-mission, and setting up of a state commis-sion for minorities.On 20 June this year, Hamid Ansari, now vice-president of India, speaking at the 17th convocation of the University of Kashmir in Srinagar said:Two years ago I had, as the chairman of the working group constituted by the prime min-ister on confidence-building measures, sub-mitted a set of recommendations which also focused on the Kashmiri youth. The prime minister had expressed complete agreement with the view that implementation of the working group recommendations was the key to retaining the confidence of the people.The centre must also consider revamp-ing the fifth working group on centre-state relations which failed to arrive at a consensus. A new expert group can con-sult all the stakeholders to forge a com-mon ground on issues such as autonomy, self-rule, regional balance and sub-region-al aspirations. Autonomy and self-rule must not be viewed as dirty words, and an “autonomous” or “self ruled” Kashmir could become a model of cooperative federalism. Autonomy is about empower-ing people, making people feel that they belong, and about increasing the account-ability of public institutions and services. It is, in essence, synonymous with decen-tralisation and devolution of power, phrases that have been on the charter of virtually every political party in India. In Jammu and Kashmir, autonomy carries tremendous resonance with the people because puppet leaders from the state colluded with the central leadership and gradually eroded the autonomy promised by the constitution. There is no con-tradiction between wanting Kashmir to be part of the national mainstream and the state’s desire for autonomous self-governance.Separatism grows when people feel dis-connected from the structures of power and the process of policy formulation, in contrast, devolution ensures popular participation in the running of the polity. If this balance is struck, Jammu and Kashmir could become a model of “cooperative federalism”, a model that could even be applied gradually to other states in the union.The Importance of AutonomyRestoration of autonomy in Kashmir, how-ever, does not require elaborate reports or reference to past agreements and accords. They obfuscate rather than clarify the issue of meaningful self-governance. Autonomy can be achieved in the state through a simple six-point plan. First, restore the nomenclature. The terms “Sadar-I-Riyasat” and “Wasir-e-Asam”, which were used until 1965 for the governor and the chief minister of the state, still have important symbolic value for people of the state. Literally translated the terms stand for head of state and prime minister. This nomenclature should be restored. In substance, this change will neither enlarge nor diminish the powers of the governor or the chief minister. This


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PERSPECTIVEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW july 11, 2009 vol xliv no 2843an imaginative solution, this demand, if conceded, could lead to violent social dis-ruptions in the state and create a commu-nal polarisation that would not just irre-trievably destroy the cultural and social fabric of the state, but have perilous con-sequences for communal relations in the rest of India. In addition, trifurcation would forever end the possibilities of re-viving the plural traditions of communal harmony in the state that had once made it a symbol of the very idea of India: unity in diversity. The Danger of DivisionThe demand for a division of the state, per se, is not new. The UN mediator Sir Owen Dixon had recommended a partition of the state in 1950, and elements within the Praja Parishad agitation of the early 1950s had also sought that Ladakh and Jammu be detached from the Valley if full integra-tion of the state was not achieved quickly. But, in its new avatar, several factors have coalesced to produce a potentially explo-sive situation. Most important is the widespread feeling within Jammu and Leh of deprivation as well as political and economic discrimination by politicians from Kashmir.While this feeling of deprivation may have some grounds, it is being exploited by sectarian political groups who are de-manding separate statehood for Jammu and union territory status for Ladakh. They argue that not only will separation from Kashmir ensure better governance, more economic opportunities and a great-er share of political power, but Jammu and Ladakh will also be able to distance them-selves from the militancy. In its most ex-treme form, ideologues of this demand suggest that it is in the national interest to limit the “area of operations” of the secu-rity forces to Kashmir, and that division will ensure that only one-sixth of the state will then remain troubled.This logic is dangerous for at least four reasons. First, trifurcation will destroy the composite identity of the state, which has existed as one unit since 1846, and send a dangerous message to the whole nation. If Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists cannot live together in one state, can they do so in a larger entity? Second, it will most prob-ably lead to a transfer of Muslims from various parts of Jammu, including parts of the city but also Doda, Rajouri and Poonch, assuming that the entire province is made into a separate state. Finally, it will lead to such deep communal polarisa-tion that bloody communal riots will in-evitably follow. It is no coincidence that the only group in Kashmir that has sup-ported the idea of the division of the state is the Jamaat-e-Islami.Regional harmony, it should be clear from experience, cannot be ensured through partitions, but through a decen-tralisation and devolution of financial and economic power that will treat the pan-chayat as the primary unit of governance. Jammu and Kashmir is not Assam or Uttar Pradesh where the carving of smaller states will provide for better governance; it is a recipe for disaster. The state government must also pay at-tention to the recommendations of the working group on ensuring good govern-ance in the state, which include the ap-pointment of a chief information commis-sioner for the effective implementation of a more robust Right to Information Act, the introduction of e-governance – to make government at the district and tehsil level more efficient, accountable and transparent – and for extending the 73rd amendment to truly empower the pancha-yati raj system.Education and EmploymentHowever, for the state government, an im-portant priority must be to devise and im-plement a comprehensive policy for the young men and women of the state. The state has witnessed consistently high levels of educated unemployment and low levels of vocationally skilled human resources. With more than 2,00,000 un-employed, and in many case unemploya-ble (other than as white collar workers for the government), the youth have formed the bedrock of the militant movement over the last two decades. The challenge now is to use the energy of these young Kashmiris to build peace. Retraining hubs in all the district head-quarters must be immediately established to ensure that a significant section of unemployed educated youth become employable within six months to a year. With an extensive use of information and communication technology, it should be possible to annually produce more than 20,000 skilled and employable workers from the 22 district retraining centres. These centres could be established through a public-private partnership or by creating a special purpose vehicle (SPV). Public-private partnerships are also need-ed to enhance international connectivity by extending broadband access in the state – with stronger incentives provided through the existing universal access funds for telecommunications. In the long-term, given the geography of the state and its growing endowments of skills, elec-tronic exports of services may play a more significant role in revitalising its economy than other traditional sectors. The youth of the state can indeed be-come the state’s greatest strength, its soft power. Investing in the right education, training and skill development have to be, therefore, part of the fundamentals of the new government if it has to take advan-tage of the huge demographic dividend in the state. It is vital that the gross enrol-ment ratio in higher education is at least 15% in the next 10 years. This calls for a massive expansion in education: more universities, more off-site campuses, more colleges, more industrial training insti-tutes (ITIs) and more polytechnics, all using new ICT instruments extensively for content delivery of updated, globally relevant course ware. The state government must also consid-er building a knowledge city in the state: where there is a seamless transition from studying to training to working within the same geographical space. The Dubai Knowledge village is one, but not the only example. The raison d’être was a long-term economic strategy to develop the region’s talent pool and accelerate its move into a knowledge-based economy. Imagine a knowledge city in a valley on the foothills of the Himalayas, where potentially the best and the brightest young men and women, from all over the region, can come and study, live and work together in an infrastructure that is world class.The tragedy of Shopian is a wake-up call for the state and the central govern-ment. Will we see New Delhi move towards finally building peace in the state?

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