Unhealthy political ecosystem has flourished in J&K under the iron curtain of Article 370 as it shields the politics and the politicians in the state from relentless national scrutiny
Dr Sudip Kar Purkayastha
An endless streak of blunders by successive political leadership right from 1947 on the Kashmir issue makes common Indians today ask this question: Do we really consider Kashmir and Kashmiris as our own or, do we want to get their allegiance to India by bribing them variously? Articles 370 giving valley politicians supremacy over Jammu & Ladakh by creating a synthetic province, announcing successive packages of trillion-plus rupees, not imposing any obligation on them to resettle lakhs of long exiled Pundits, suddenly beginning to induct youth of the valley into Union Public Services as if in a mission mode, etc give rise to such suspicion.
Through adoption of complex and contradictory policy architecture, successive ruling regimes at the centre managed to keep the Kashmir issue beyond the comprehension of and scrutiny by the vast Indian population for long decades.
This may have helped hiding series of policy blunders but simultaneously deprived the governments of the involvement and wisdom of the great nation in sorting out the issue. The mindset of the political class that they alone have the solution needs to change in favour of objective analysis, wider consultation, greater receptivity to new ideas, and willingness to discard policies that hindered a complete integration of Kashmiris with rest of the Indians.
Kashmir’s deep and holistic linkages with Bharat since the ancient times need no elaboration. In fact, post-1947 accession, the integration should have been spontaneous. Only Pakistan and its disguised Indian agents have been hindering the consummation by raising questions on Kashmir’s annexation to India. Successive ruling regimes in the centre have unwittingly encouraged these forces by callousness, timidity, inconsistency and confused posturing.
Mother of Blunders
It began in October 1947. Alongside organising the tribal raid in the Srinagar Valley from its western border, Pakistan, on coming to know of the Maharaja signing the instrument of accession in favour of India, had, in connivance with some British army officials, swiftly occupied over 72,000 sq kms of land of Gilgit and Baltistan in the north of the former princely state.
In the aftermath of that shocking event, India had the legal authority and requisite military superiority to retrieve the entire territory. In any case, the Indian army was driving away the Pak -sponsored hoarders from the Srinagar valley. But she stopped mid-way, drove the raiders only till Uri border and unwittingly internationalised the issue through UN. In the process, she squandered the immense wealth that the instrument of accession had brought to her.
A vicious coalition of Pakistan sympathisers in India across political classes, media and intelligentsia has been inciting the people, especially the youth in Kashmir
Pakistan turned out to be the major beneficiary of that fateful decision. She retained not only more than 13,000 sq kms in the west, which she mischievously call as Azad Kashmir, but also the whole of Gilgit-Baltistan that happened to be nearly six times larger than it.
Alas, neither the loss of control over such enormous land area in the north & north-west Kashmir, nor the fact that this would deprive India the only direct land linkage to Afghanistan and thereby to the Central Asia, seemed to have sunk deep enough in the psyche of the ruling regime.
Incidentally, since then Pakistan’s occupation of Gilgit-Baltistan has been a major headache for India. Pakistan has been using it not only for organising infiltration but also for attempting to grab more territories. Siachen in the north of Ladakh range has been an endemic problem and necessitating round-the-clock vigil by the Indian army. Pakistan made a major incursion bid in Kargil in Ladakh in 1999 from Gilgit-Baltistan. Incidentally, that mischievous and unprovoked intrusion had presented India opportunity to recover at least some parts of the Pak-occupied territory, but she chose not to exercise that option.
Losing Aksai Chin
The loss of control of Aksai Chin measuring nearly 32,000 sq kms in the eastern side of Kashmir to China was no less unfortunate. Unlike in the west and north of the former princely state where Pakistan was fomenting trouble, India had secured effective control of the entire eastern Kashmir after the treaty of accession was signed in October 1947 and it was in a position to organise the boundary defence in the eastern part in a full proof manner. Incidentally, communist China emerged as independent People’s Republic only in October 1949 and posed no challenge then. But the required sense of responsibility did not seem to have dawned in the then ruling dispensation. It was only in the 1950s, China managed to slice off this vast territory while New Delhi did not even seem to be aware of the terrible loss. Aksai Chin is central to China as a link to Tibet. If India retained its possession, it could be an invaluable help in her border disputes with China!
Earlier in January 1948, by moving the UN India had unwittingly turned Jammu and Kashmir as a disputed region. In the aftermath of Indo-China war of 1962 both of her enemies began to unite and exploit India’s self-inflicted injury. The very next year Pakistan ceded over 5000 sq kms of area from Gilgit Baltistan to China as India seemed too feeble to resist. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor which can bring China’s defence strength uncomfortably close to India through land route is also planned through Gilgit Baltistan.
Gilgit-Baltistan is the sole route connecting Pakistan with China and the Central Asian
states through the 1300-km Karakoram Highway
Two Different Mindsets?
The configuration of the state of J&K and imposition of Article 370 to govern it may be examined in the light of series of blunders as listed above and the challenges arising therefrom. In this scheme of things, India had prima facie accorded exaggerated importance to the valley probably hoping that it would help her mission to eventually recover the rest of Kashmir under Pakistani occupation. Thus, to the Srinagar valley of nearly 16,000 sq kms, about five times larger combined territories of Jammu (about 26,300 sq km) and Ladakh (about 59,200 sq km) were tagged against the majority views of people of the latter two divisions. Both Jammu and Ladakh differed from the valley ethnically, culturally, and linguistically. Most importantly the majority view of the two divisions did not favour Article 370. The majority in Jammu wanted full integration with rest of India, while Ladakh too wanted the same but as a Union Territory. As such this Article essentially aimed to address the concern of the Valley.
Article 370-An End in Itself?
Since the inception of J&K, the valley politicians have been dominating the state by having more seats in the assembly. Alongside, a group of separatist and pro-Pakistan leaders questioning Kashmir integration with India and boycotting elections have been a potent force. By spreading the ideology of separatism and communalism in the valley over last several decades they secured a vicious hold over a considerable population, kept the state terrorised, disrupted successive elections, played a key role in expelling the whole Kashmiri Pundit community from the valley and successfully resisted their rehabilitation up till now. They find overt or covert support from sections of mainstream politicians in the state who have both fear and sympathy for them. That makes matter worse.
It may be argued that such unhealthy political ecosystem has flourished under the iron curtain of Article 370 as it shielded the politics and the politicians in the state from relentless national scrutiny. Simultaneously it has built up a strong lobby of vested interests who vociferously advocate for its continuation. Thus, the Article which was conceived as a temporary, self-liquidating provision to facilitate the integration of Kashmiris with India in an ambience of trust and goodwill and was supposed to be meant to be an end is threatening to become an end by itself.
Nearly seven decades of experience reveals the futility of both the scheme of the configuration of the state and the Article 370. Leave aside regaining the Pakistan held territories, there is no trace of the liberation struggle in Muzaffarabad or Skardu. On the contrary, Pakistan has been ever engaged in smuggling trained terrorists through 700+ kms long LOC stretching from near Kathua in the south-west of J&K to Siachen in the north running through areas adjacent to Akhnur, Nowshera, Poonch, Kupwara, Kargil, etc. She counts on the support of the separatists in the valley and together they have been spreading their anti-Indian mission. Today the fire of separatism, religious fundamentalism and terrorism are burning brightly in the state of J&K.
What causes more anxiety is the fact that by leveraging the shield of Art 370 this attitudinal demography of separatism and fundamentalism today threatens to engulf five times larger land area of Jammu & Ladakh as well. There seems to be palpable apprehension in the people of these two divisions to such possibilities as also resentment against the valley politicians for their colonial mindset and exploitation. Do such disparateness and conflict of interests help India, or, needlessly expose a much bigger area to the potential influence of separatism and terrorism to the glee of Pakistan?
Between ‘peace talks’ and ‘military action’
Coming back to the valley, a vicious coalition of Pakistan sympathisers in India across political classes, media and intelligentsia has been inciting the people, especially the youth in Kashmir, to separatism and terrorism. Today the valley has turned into a bloody trap where India has been losing scores of defence personnel in terrorist attacks. Launched at time and locations suitable to the terrorists, not infrequently sheltered by some misguided natives, these are resulting in much higher casualty ratio than in a conventional war. Simultaneously by raising the bogey of human rights, they have been stonewalling army actions against supporters of the terrorists.
Pakistan’s occupation of Gilgit-Baltistan has been a major headache for India. Pakistan has been using it not only for organising infiltration but also for attempting to grab more territories
By spinning and propagating various myths and lies, humanitarian pretensions, and fear mongering this coalition has also been successful in keeping successive ruling regimes in the centre in eternal confusion and making it restlessly alternate between peace talks and military actions vis-à-vis Pakistan. Each cycle of such alternation has ended up helping the ideology of separatism sit tighter on the chest of the state.
There is urgent need today to have a fresh and objective analysis of the Kashmir issue. In this connection it is also relevant that last month the present ruling regime in the centre has strongly re-asserted India’s right on Gilgit Baltistan. India reacted when Pakistan declared its plan of converting that land, which it calls as Northern Area, as its fifth province. This has reminded the nation about India’s original mission of getting back the whole of Jammu & Kashmir, which are her integral parts. Predictably, the diplomatic interactions between the two nations heated up leading to protest, warning and demarche.
Indian reaction has been laudable. The control of territories which India had lost to the enemies must be regained. But it is a matter of extensive diplomacy and time. What is of immediate relevance is to introspect whether the path India is treading the right one? Can the continuation of present policies lead us anywhere to such challenging goal? The past track records do not give such hope.
The Way Forward
If we sincerely consider Kashmiris as our very own, as our flesh and blood, and not outsiders to be appeased, India should be ready for a paradigm shift in approach and revamp the policy architecture. We have seen rather than facilitating integration of the Kashmiris to the rest of Indians, Articles like 370 and 35A have aggravated their insulation. While the Indian handlers of Pakistani interests have been harnessing these exclusivist provisions to promote communalism, secessionism, sedition and terrorism in the state, simultaneously the policy of ‘appeasement’ and ‘more appeasement’ in various forms by successive ruling regimes in the centre seemed to have created a sense of exaggerated self-importance in them making them ignore the tremendous love and sacrifice entire India hold and undergo for them.
It is disquieting to observe how due to the present policy framework the strength of a mighty republic of 1.25 billion people is being drained away daily in a valley of 16,000 sq kms of a population of 65 lakhs. If tackling terrorist activities deep inside the state overwhelm the government resources, if the Indian armed forces fighting Pakistani forces across the LOC are being routinely attacked from behind by the terrorists supported by stone pelting public, and if their recourse to self-defense is condemned in the name of human rights violation by vested interests what are the chances and ways of achieving the greater objectives of retrieving the vast area of Kashmir that is under the occupation of Pakistan and China?
Clearly, the present political organisation of the state and constitutional ecosystem fall far short of that mighty task. There seems to be only one way – it is a quick reverse journey implying a complete integration of people of the state to the rest of Indians.
(The writer is a senior columnist)