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Restore autonomy in Kashmir

Nyla Ali Khan
All of us, as a people, are responsible for the turmoil haunting Kashmir for the past 23 years and the degeneration of its politics and society. While it is important to condemn, question, and seek redress for human rights violations in Kashmir, it is also important to construct a politics that would enable rebuilding of our pluralistic polity and society. The more we allow the depoliticisation of our society, the more subservient we become to forces that do not pay heed to Kashmir’s best interests — including organisations that protect and promote only vested interests. What is needed is a viable political structure, one in which “a popular politics of mass mobilisation is merged with institutional politics of governance promoting demilitarisation and democracy”.Those advocating pluralism in J&K had emphasized abolishing exploitative landlordism without compensation, enfranchising tillers by granting them lands they worked on, and establishing cooperatives. Such voices had also sought to address issues of gender and institute educational and social schemes for marginalised segments. Purportedly autonomous status of J&K in the early 1950shad provoked the ire of ultra right-wing nationalist parties, which sought an unequivocal integration of the state into the Indian union. The unitary concept of nationalism espoused by these parties was in violation of the basic principle on which the Indian nation was founded: democracy. Ultra right-wing nationalists seek nullification of past and present histories by subjecting religious minorities to a centralised and authoritarian state.In1949, the Constituent Assembly of India had reinforced the stipulation that New Delhi’s jurisdiction in J&K would be limited to defence, foreign affairs, and communications — as underlined in the Instrument of Accession. Subsequent to India acquiring the status of a republic in 1950, this provision enabled the incorporation of Article 370 into the Indian constitution — thereby ratifying the autonomous status of J&K within the Indian Union. The autonomy of J&K within the Indian Union had been proclaimed in 1950 by a constitutional order formally issued in the name of the president of India. But in 1954, the order was rescinded by the proclamation of another dictum that legalised the right of the central government to legislate in J&K. First off, the state was financially and fiscally integrated into the Indian Union; the Indian Supreme Court was given authority to be the undisputed arbiter in J&K; fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian constitution were to apply to the populace of J&K as well, but with a stipulation: those civil liberties were discretionary and could be revoked in the interest of national security. In effect, the authorities had carte blanche for the operation of unaccountable police brutality in the state. Given Kashmir’s treacherous political climate and the rampant political factionalism, the appeal of an ambiguous ‘autonomy’ remains intact for some groups, but for others it is the wrong narrative to establish in the case of J&K.The Kashmir of the 2000s requires a much greater and autonomous ‘healing touch’. The innocence of the current generation was cruelly ripped by the forces of armed insurgency and counter insurgency; the romanticised image of Kashmir fails to hold a lasting appeal for these children of an internally destructive war; the sense of peace and security historically provided by a democratically elected government has eluded these inhabitants of a paranoid state; it has been bereft of a nationalist and political discourse within which it could blossom; this generation’s scarred psyche is yet to be healed. Ideally, politics should be governed by conviction and by the ability to sway public opinion in one’s favour through moral, legal, and constitutional authority. But in this day and age, politics is the art of pragmatism. Looking at the ruthless and tyrannical dictatorships that people have lived through for eons, democracy has become a necessity. It cannot, however, be said that democracy is universal in its appeal and acceptance as quite a few variants of it have been devised by certain groups to suit their calling.

There are several instances in the Indian Subcontinent in which adult franchise was thrown to the winds, and at times, the public verdict was contemptuously thrown into the trash can.

Electoral democracy is about discussion, not autocratic decision making. Democracy may not be a panacea for ills, but it promises rule of law and political accommodation. Insisting on one’s stance rigidly prevents political accommodation and encourages political paralysis, helping nation-states of India and Pakistan to maintain the status quo. Some civil and military officials — Indian, Pakistani, and Kashmiri — as well as militants have been beneficiaries of militarisation of Kashmir. For these beneficiaries, self-determination and autonomy work well only as hollow slogans stripped of any substantive content.

Civil society activism also has its limitations in the Indian Subcontinent. The translation of a political and social vision into reality requires an efficacious administrative set-up and vibrant educational institutions, which produce dynamic citizens while remaining aware of the exigencies of the present. Historically, stalwart politicians who were unable to understand that the changing nature of a struggle and changing geopolitical realities require a new vision and pioneering spirit have ended up becoming marginalised. A political movement that pays insufficient attention to the welfare of the populace, good governance, and rebuilding democratic institutions ends up leaving irreparable destruction in its wake. A mainstream movement or a militant nationalist movement that lacks such a vision is bound to falter. Religious and political rhetoric remains useless without a stable and representative government on its back. The electoral process and establishment of a government are not ultimate goals or ends in themselves but are means to nation-building and societal reconstruction.

The political logic of autonomy in J&K was necessitated by the need to bring about socioeconomic transformations, and so needs to be retained in its original form. Until then, opening up of trade across the Line of Control (LoC) — which still has a lot of loopholes — and enabling limited travel would remain cosmetic confidence building measures.

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