Table of Contents

Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri

Panun Kashmir


Symbol of Unity


Autonomy in Jammu & Kashmir and Regional Minorities

by Prof. K. N. Pandita (URL)

The author is the former Director, Centre of Central Asian Studies, University of Kashmir

The concept of sovereignty of states does not exclude decentralisation of authority on a territorial basis. The purposes of territorial subdivision can be several, not necessarily linked to efforts to accommodate different ethnic or linguistic groups, and very seldom intended to separate religious groups. It may, however, be a very useful device to facilitate the accommodation of different ethnic and linguistic groups which live compactly together in separate parts of the state. But it can also have its dangers, as evidenced by the Bosnian situation in recent times.

Autonomy, and sometimes 'greater autonomy', is the main plank of the National Conference's political agenda. The Assembly elections of September 1996 were fought and won by the party on that basis. Never before did it make autonomy an issue to be given any priority in successive election manifestoes in the past. Some differences, which had surfaced between the Congress and the National Conference in the past and had soured their relations temporarily, had nothing to do with the autonomy question. These differences were ironed out when Sheikh Abdullah-Indira Gandhi Accord came about in 1975 followed by Rajiv-Farooq Accord in 1984.

Autonomy Made A Condition

Dr. Farooq Abdullah resigned as Chief Minister in early 1990. The reason for his resignation was the appointment of Mr. Jagmohan as Governor for the second time. Autonomy was not the issue. But when, after seven years of insurgency, conditions were considered conducive for holding parliamentary and then assembly elections, the National Conference leadership made autonomy the condition for joining the democratic process.

The National Conference President, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, has reiterated Kashmir's accession with India as final and irrevocable. The militants in Kashmir have been orchestrating 'azaadi' - meaning freedom from Indian control. Their struggle - not considered reasonable by the nationalist sections of society - has taken a heavy toll of life and property in the Valley. The Government of India had to fight insurgency to fulfill its constitutional obligation of preserving India's sovereignty and territorial integrity. In the background of this political scenario, the demand of the National Conference for autonomy is an attempt to indirectly legitimise the movement and meet its demand half way. Therefore, there should be no doubt in anybody's mind about the ultimate destination of greater autonomy. It has to be remembered that there was neither any insurgency in the Jammu and Ladakh regions nor any demand for autonomy. The demand from these regions was decentralisation and removal of discriminatory treatment. What autonomy proposes is further centralisation of power in the hands of Kashmir's majority group.

Politically Motivated

I would not go into legal and juridical implications of autonomy to which legal luminaries may address. But it needs to be reminded that when Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah came to power for the second time in 1975, he appointed a committee headed by his lieutenant, Mirza Afzal Beg, the seniormost member and law minister in his cabinet, to examine the erosion of the State's autonomy after his ouster on August 9, 1953. The committee conducted the examination and when Mirza Beg died, another cabinet minister, Mr. Devi Das Thakur, assumed its chairmanship. The committee in its final report submitted that there was no erosion of constitutional and legal provisions governing the State's relations with the Centre. Does it not suggest that the present demand for autonomy is essentially politically motivated?

If the National Conference demanded that no further Central laws would be accepted for application to the State of Jammu and Kashmir hereafter, that would have carried a different meaning. But return to ambiguous cut-off line (pre- 1952, pre-1953, anywhere between 1953 and 1975, etc.) is reconfirmation of very unclear destination of the party's autonomy demand.

The support of absolute majority in the Legislative Assembly is a strong temptation for the ruling National Conference to introduce a bill for greater autonomy. The United Front government is already committed to granting it. Evidently, the government will shore it up with a plethora of arguments to legitimise the initiative. As such, we must consider the consequences that are likely to flow in the trail of the passing of the bill.

We do not know as yet the final contours and quantum of contemplated autonomy nor do we know the frame of regional autonomy which the Chief Minister has said a number of times he is prepared to concede to the three regions of the State. But we shall be justified in visualising what could be the fall-out of this measure on the minorities in the entire State.

Essence Of Autonomy

The essence of autonomy in theoretical terms is to find a mechanism of meeting the aspirations of the minorities in a given state and to help it develop its identity. This definition would have suited the State of Jammu and Kashmir without much debate if it was inhabited by a homogeneous national minority. That is not the case. Therefore, the concept of autonomy has to be dovetailed to suit the peculiar demographic distribution in the State. Essentially, we have to talk about religious minority/majority syndrome although the ethnic and linguistic aspect of demographic distribution in the State is of no little significance. The national minority in India becomes regional majority in Jammu and Kashmir and, conversely, the national majority in India becomes the local minority in Kashmir. In the case of the Jammu region, numerically there is only a narrow gap between the majority and the minority groups in comparison to the Kashmir valley. In the Ladakh region, there is also majority-minority situation. Again in the Jammu region, we have pockets with an overwhelming religio-linguistic majority with kinship extended to the Kashmir valley.

Avenues For New Aspiration

The question arising from this ground situation is this: Will the autonomy open avenues for the realisation of the aspirations of these minorities and will it tend to provide the wherewithal for the development of their respective identities? The ruling party will have to provide the answer.

It is generally believed that the demand of autonomy is raised essentially to meet the rising aspirations of the ruling Sunni elite of the Valley within whose circle political and economic power remained monopolised in the past. This elite wants not only to rule but also to reign. Autonomy being a power-sharing mechanism, what are the guarantees that the elite would share it, for example with the minuscule religious minority in the Valley. Not only that. What guarantee is there that it would share it with the ethnic and linguistic minority? The representation of the Shias, Pandits and Gujjars, who fall into minority groups in all the three regions of the state, have been abysmally negligible. In particular, in the straightjacketed bureaucracy of the State, the entry of these categories is an uphill task. In the light of the well-known axiom that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, the minorities would, undoubtedly, receive a rough deal under autonomy dispensation.

Security Concerns

Then comes up the question of security concerns. Jammu and Kashmir is a border state sandwiched between two inimical neighbours, namely, Pakistan and China, with mutual nexus. Both have grabbed whatever territory they could of the original state of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan has bartered away 5,000 squre miles of the occupied territory to China in return for the construction of Karakorum Highway. The highway has posed a serious threat to the security of India and of the State. An autonomous state sandwiched between these two uncanny enemies is highly vulnerable to their nefarious designs as in the past and to spying as in the case of Nepal. Pandit Nehru once said that he would offer Kashmir to Pakistan on a platter rather than opt for its independence. Everybody knows how the Anglo- American bloc has been responding to India's position in Kashmir. Only a massive presence of the Central authority in the State can be a guarantee against the designs of these enemies. Any other country placed in this situation would have turned the State into a sensitive strategic border area and placed it under full military control at least for another 20 years.

India is a multi-religious, multi-linguistic and multi-ethnic country. Parliament represents most of these identities. Naturally, laws passed by Parliament have a true national character. The purpose is to carry our Indian masses from economic backwardness and social deprivations to multi-faceted development. Application of the laws passed by the Indian Parliament to the State selectively in the past was guided by the principle of multi-faceted development of its citizens. A benefit of these laws, among other things, was judicious integration of the people of India of multitudinous identities. Autonomists have the compulsion and commitment to look at these national and people-based perceptions from a myopic regional standpoint, losing the sight of a futurist Indian society struggling for gradual integration.

Muslim Majority Character

The demand of autonomy linked with accession and Muslim majority character is not administrative decentralisation. It has serious ramifications for the survival of secularism in India as a principle of Indian nation state. There has neither been armed insurgency in Jammu and Ladakh nor has there been any demand for autonomy. Of course, there have been strong protestations in both the regions against discrimination by the Kashmir ruling elite over the years. Ladakh has a leaning towards a Union Territory status and Jammu has been fluctuating from Vishal Duggar Desh to regional autonomy to trifurcation of the State. These demands are the manifest reaction to the dominance of the ruling elite of the Kashmir Valley. Autonomy, therefore, means further empowerment of that group and further alienation of Jammu and Ladakh regions from the mainstream, besides strangulation of the minorities.

Economic Autonomy

A certain section of thinkers in this country speaks forcefully in favour of regional and subnational identities. Without attempting to destroy these, effort has to be made for integrating them through positive and healthy interaction. Autonomy on the basis of subnational projections means blocking the process of integration. Integration means not only socio- political but most importantly financial. As we see, the world is heading towards economic globalisation. Countries are moving from a military alliance to an economic alliance. The European countries have integrated into the European Council, the European Parliament and the European Market. The introduction of a common European currency is on the cards. One can travel in all the five countries of Europe with a single visa. Contrary to it, what the National Conference is proposing for the State is a ghetto where the people's mind gets shut through the psychological fall-out of an autonomous status of their State. Will this not lead to dealienation or further alienation of the people of the State and especially those of the Valley ? In such a situation, only the minorities get a raw deal.

Agenda Of Islamisation

An integral part of armed insurgency and Islamisation agenda in Kashmir has been the extirpation of small Hindu community from its homeland. In no other Indian state has such a thing happened in post-independence period, leaving aside occasional communal riots with causes other than those governing the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits. This has exploded the myth of communal harmony in Kashmir. If the Indian leaders wanted to sell to the world that Kashmir was a slap on the face of believers in two-nation theory, alas, they have miserably failed. They lived in a utopia of their own creation but at the cost of three lakh defenceless Kashmiri Hindus which we consider a crime against humanity. Rabid Islamic indoctrination of Kashmiri Muslim youth has been the primary instrument of conducting anti-India and anti-Hindu campaign in Kashmir during several decades in the past. This weapon of indoctrination has been more lethal than Kalashnikovs because indoctrination percolates through generations. The National Conference has vowed to eradicate the gun; a month's notice has been given to the militants to surrender weapons and those, who do, will be recruited into State police.

Fundamentalist Indoctrination

The nagging question is: What about this deadly weapon of fundamentalist indoctrination which has made the Kashmiri youth perverse? The government has not come out with any plan and programme of cleaning the slate and offering it for new impressions and symbols. Not only that, the real source of the grilling indoctrination campaign remains intact. Will the government impose a ban on Jamaat-e-Islami, the formidable machine generating communal hatred and violence? Will it close down the Jamaati schools mushroomed in the length and breadth of Kashmir and Doda? Will the government impose severe restraints on clerics not only from Kashmir but from U.P. and Bihar who continue with their hate-Hindu and hate-India tirades in the mosques? Will the government weed out communal elements in the administration and bureaucracy which have been the breeding grounds of anti-national activities and anti- minority measures? With a mentally diseased bureaucracy, with a sectarian dominated administration, with police units stuffed with surrendered militants (who have surrendered only their guns and not their ideology), with people still sadistically rejoicing the gutting of Hindu houses and property and with thousands of minority houses and shops either forcibly occupied or acquired through fake documents, is not autonomy going to put a seal on them?

In the final analysis, we think that given double constitutional safeguards, a functional democratic system and the experience of good-governance models, the State of Jammu and Kashmir should strive to come closer to the Indian Union in letter and in spirit, benefiting more from its progressive socio-political arrangement than running into the ghetto of autonomy. It should also be remembered that the real protection of a truly popular government is the support of the masses and not the prowess of the black cats. A government, which wants to retain the security forces in the state in a large number and then ask for their further increase, cannot instill a sense of security among the minorities. As such, it has little legitimacy to demand autonomy. These are two contradictory positions and the dichotomy runs vertically down. In the process, autonomy loses its substance and becomes a crude political gimmick, a blackmail of those who demand, those who give and those who receive.



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