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J&K in the pack

The recent agitation in Jammu & Kashmir can be traced well beyond just a land transfer issue, writes Balraj Puri.

india Updated: Jul 08, 2008 22:48 IST

Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad submitted his resignation to Governor N.N. Vohra when the former was not only isolated in the J&K state assembly but also in the region as a whole. A nine-day popular agitation against his government for the allotment of government land to the Amarnath Shrine Board in Kashmir was followed by a similar conflagration in Jammu against the revocation of the order of allotment and is still continuing. In Kashmir, the crescendo was reached when the two regional parties, the PDP and the National Conference competed with each other in adopting more and more populous postures in preparation for the coming elections. In the process, they not only encroached on the space of the separatist parties but also isolated the Congress. Of course, the agitation was not under the control of either the mainstream or the separatist parties.

The spontaneous upsurge got a favourable opportunity due to popular alienation, that did exist in the Valley. It had continued even after militancy had reached at its lowest level, Pakistan's attitude towards India was most conciliatory and separatist parties were isolated not only from the people of Kashmir but also from the new Pakistani government. The Government of India missed an opportunity to take any steps to deal with indigenous causes of alienation.

The present situation poses a challenge to all Kashmiri parties. The recent upsurge was compared to what the Valley had witnessed in the early 90s. If that could not be maintained for long — despite Pakistan's support to militants as well as their diplomatic and political efforts in the international fora — how can it be done without that support now?

Though 2001 census figures for different ethnic groups have yet not been released, the Kashmiri-speaking population is not much more than half the total population of the state. The separatist movement was confined to the Valley. This weakness was pointed out to the Hurriyat Conference by the then Prime Minister of the Pakistan-administered part

of the state, Sikandar Hayat Khan, during their visit there, that it did not fully represent the Indian part of the state because there was not a single non-Kashmiri speaking person with them.

The mainstream parties too suffer from that weakness as they have lost whatever support they had in Jammu, following the recent upheaval in both regions. Kashmir-based parties, separatist as well as mainstream, must start a dialogue with other regions to help create a system that can harmonise the interests of all of them.

The alternative would be to drift towards a division of the state, which would be more or less on religious lines. This would not be in the interest of Kashmir which will lose its unique identity and civilisational heritage.

The resignation of the Chief Minister has caused considerable confusion in the Jammu region; while a section is celebrating the event, others want to continue the agitation. It did provide an outlet to the pent-up discontent in the region. But even if the order for the revocation of land to the Board is withdrawn, it will not even touch the fringe of the accumulated regional discontent.

Those in Jammu who seek a solution of its problem in a separate Jammu state, will divide the region on religious lines as its Muslim majority districts are unlikely to support the idea. It would communalise not only the region but also undermine the secular basis of the entire country.

This reminds me that I had been able to persuade Pandit Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah to grant regional autonomy in July, 1952. The roots cause of the divergence between the aspirations of the regions is the extremely centralised system in as diverse a state as J&K. The remedy obviously lies in a decentralised set-up that satisfies the popular urge for empowerment at the regional, district and panchayat levels.

The Congress committed a fatal error by ignoring the basic urge for empowerment and tried to implement an agenda of development which alone has never worked in a state like J&K. Even a Chief Minister from the Jammu region for the first time in the last six decades failed to satisfy the aspirations of the region.

Balraj Puri is Director, Institute of Jammu and Kashmir Affairs, Jammu.