Meaning of political problem: context Kashmir
by Hari Om on 27 May 2011 8 Comments

India is a democratic country where all adult Indians without exception enjoy the right to elect their government(s) every five years. They can, if they so desire, reelect the government, as they recently did in Assam. They can, if they so desire, vote out the ruling party, as they recently did in Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and West Bengal.


The story of West Bengal was all the more spectacular in the sense that a virtual newcomer, the Trinamool Congress, ended the 34-year-long rule of the Left. The people can, if they like, give a massive mandate to a political party as they did in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, and they can also produce a fractured verdict depending upon the situation and performance or non-performance of political parties, as they did in Kerala.


This is the beauty of Indian democracy, notwithstanding the several flaws from which the system continues to suffer after 51 years of Indian Constitution and the Representation of People’s Act. A notable flaw is the failure to induce public-spirited persons to contest elections and enter the law-making bodies. Then, money, muscle power, criminals, caste and religious factors, and even selfish corporate houses have vitiated the system.


But still the system has established that the people are the chief determinants and that they can make or mar any government and any political party, anytime. They can defeat the all-powerful Indira Gandhi and elect the little known Raj Narain. They can render Lalu Prasad Yadav and Ramvilas Paswan irrelevant and make a hero out Nitish Kumar in Bihar. The most notable aspect of the situation is that Manmohan Singh, who belongs to the miniscule Sikh community, has been ruling the country since May 2004.       


More startlingly, we now have four women chief ministers, all governing major states - West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Delhi. They became chief ministers because of their skillful and effective leadership. While the Delhi chief minister is quite assertive and enjoys the full backing of the Congress president, the other three have created their own constituencies through sheer hard work.


Many of our chief ministers belong to Other Backward Classes (OBC), as in Bihar, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, to mention a few. We have chief ministers who belong to the Scheduled Caste community, such as in Uttar Pradesh, which returns 81 MPs to the Lok Sabha. Jharkhand has a tribal chief minister. We also have a few Christian chief ministers, though this is a very tiny community.


This means the Indian political system is not exclusive. It is all-inclusive and gives equal opportunities to all irrespective of caste, creed and region. It springs surprises at regular intervals. Everyone in India is able to participate and compete freely for public office. Critics aver that the reality is often different, that it takes a great deal of money - and often specific ethnic and religious ties - to enter public life. This is a valid critique. But still the fact remains that the high turnout during the just-concluded assembly elections in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Kerala and Puducherry indicates people’s faith in the system, though a vast majority remain at the receiving end and large numbers are barred from seeking public office.


Jammu & Kashmir is also part of the Indian political system. The only difference is that while the adult population in the rest of the country elects governments every five years, here the electorate exercises this right once in six years. In 1975, the Indira Gandhi-led Congress government enhanced the life of the Lok Sabha and the assemblies from five to six years after amending the constitution, an extreme step aimed at retaining an office which was slipping out of her hands. The National Conference Government followed suit and enhanced the life of the assembly. In 1977-78, the Janata Party government of Morarji Desai did away with the amendment which enhanced the life of the Lok Sabha and Assemblies. But the Jammu & Kashmir Government has not thought it prudent to bring the life of the state assembly at par with other assemblies and hence, its life continues to be six years.


Significantly, the attitude of the electorate in Jammu & Kashmir to the Indian political system is no different. A vast majority of the people in the otherwise troubled and militant-infested state has full faith in the system. This can be seen from the very high turnout in the ongoing electoral exercise to elect panches and sarpanches or to elect panchayats. Over 80 per cent of the electorate exercised its franchise facing all odds and ignoring the militants’ threats. The anti-democratic forces did try to disrupt the electoral exercise by killing some candidates and injuring a few others, but that didn’t deter either the candidates or the electors.


Yet Kashmiri leaders of all hues describe Kashmir as a “political problem” and urge New Delhi to resolve it “politically.” Chief Minister Omar Abdullah says so. People’s Democratic Party leaders like Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Mehbooba Mufti say so. CPI-M leaders like Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami say so. In fact, all Kashmiri leaders - “mainstream” or otherwise - hold identical views on Kashmir and advocate a “political solution” to the issue.


However, none of them explains what he/she means by political problem. Do they want a system other than the one enshrined in the Indian Constitution? Do they want a totalitarian government, Chinese-style or Hitler-style, or the type the Communists established in the erstwhile Soviet Union? Do they want a system under which social classes cease to exist or do they want a system that makes available to them means of achieving empowerment and “happiness consistent with the general good”? Do they want authoritarianism or a system of government in which “power is exercised by some particular element with minimum popular input” or do they want an absolute monarchy controlled by a king and assisted by the nobility accountable to none? 


Do they want a local oligarchy in which the ruling elite exercises absolute legislative, executive and judicial powers, or a system with a committed judiciary and committed constitutional head that bars the people from enjoying even normal civil and political rights, including the right to speech and assembly? Do they want a system similar to Pakistan where none is safe and where dissent is viewed as sedition, which promotes fanaticism and terrorism and believes in Punjabi Sunni exclusiveness? Do they want a theocratic rule of the type the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Toiba/Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Jaish-e-Mohammad have been striving to introduce in the region? Or, do they consider Kashmir an unfinished agenda of partition and want another communal division of India?  


Ask any Kashmiri leader what exactly he/she means by political problem and political solution and his/her response would be vague. Instead of explaining, he/she would simply reiterate that “Kashmir is a political problem that needs a political solution.” However, each one of them would speak against the Indian Constitution, Indian Army, paramilitary forces, in fact, against all symbols of the Indian State. Besides, each and every Kashmiri leader would endorse the view that the presence of India in Kashmir is illegal and that one of the causes for the alienation of Kashmiri Muslims is the application of Indian laws and institutions to the state and that New Delhi has not fulfilled the promises it made from time to time. They would also remind that India did not fulfill a promise to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir.


It is not really difficult to know what Kashmiri leaders stand for when one takes into account what they contemptuously say about India and the Indian Constitution. They want secession because they believe they are Muslims and, hence, a distinct nation. To be more precise, they are ardent believers in the concept of two-nation and consider themselves a race apart. This should clinch the issue and establish that Kashmiri leaders consider any kind of truck between Kashmir and the rest of the country as utterly unacceptable.    


It is important to note that it is Kashmir which has been ruling the state since October 1947, when it acceded to India under Maharaja Hari Singh. It is also important to note that all chief ministers have been from Kashmir. Even Ghulam Nabi Azad (Congress) of Doda (Jammu), who ruled from 3 November 2005 to 1 July 2008, is ethnically Kashmiri. The fact of the matter is that Kashmir is the most prosperous region in the country, where not a single Kashmiri has ever died of hunger or cold. Another important fact that needs recognition is that members of a particular religious sect (read Kashmiri-speaking Sunnis) have been exercising extraordinary powers since 1947 and it is the members of this sect who are involved in subversive activities and demanding a “political solution to a political problem.”


Mercifully, there are elements in the Indian political establishment such as Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, whose ministry has committed faux-pas after faux-pas during the past few months, even including wrong names in the Most Wanted List and making India a laughing stock in the eyes of the international community, who subscribe to the Kashmiri Muslim view on relations between Kashmir and New Delhi.


This has complicated an otherwise simple matter. It’s time for New Delhi to call the Kashmiri leaders’ bluff and integrate the state fully with India by doing away with Article 370 – the root cause of all problems in the state. There is no Kashmir problem. There is a problem in Kashmir and the problem is patently communal and needs to be tackled as such. The Kashmiri leaders consider Kashmir as part of the unfinished agenda of partition and this just cannot be accepted. Hence, the need of the time is to hasten the process of constitutional integration between Jammu & Kashmir and New Delhi and not weaken it by making ridiculous statements like “autonomy within the Indian Constitution is possible.”


The author is former Chair Professor, Maharaja Gulab Singh Chair, University of Jammu, Jammu, & former member Indian Council of Historical Research

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