January 23, 2001


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Arvind Lavakare

J&K: Need for a changed perspective

Hey Ram, the damn process has begun yet again. India has formally conveyed to Pakistan its desire for early resumption of a "composite dialogue." Noises have of course been made about some points such as the need for Pakistan to prevent the violation of the LoC and to rein in militant outfits. All these help to make the Indian desire for talks look like a conditional offer. To the realist the message is clear: refusing to learn from the history of 53 years, another Indian government is determined to repeat it.

Ever since Pakistan invaded Jammu & Kashmir in October 1947 and retained nearly one-third of the territory after a war with India, that country has made monkeys of us at all fora of talks. It seemed after Kargil '99 that India had finally learnt its lesson as the Vajpayee government refused to even think of talking with Pakistan. Now, we have put the Hindu pigtail between our legs and decided to wag it before an unrepentant aggressor.

Yet, there are those Indians who have dubbed the offer of talks as one that "takes the peace process in the subcontinent an important step forward."

The major flaw here is the wrong premise that we on our own have no role in improving the state of affairs in J&K, that peace and prosperity in J&K lies only through negotiations with Pakistan. The fact is that while prosperity has never existed in J&K, there was general peace in the state after the 1947 war until 1989 or so.

The prime cause of what has increasingly happened in J&K since the last decade has been the bad governance of successive state governments and the latter's cussed obsession with seeking insulation from the dynamic developments in the rest of the country. Delhi has been an accessory to the guilt by turning a blind eye to this separatism.

The covert licence given from 1989 to the ethnic cleansing of the Hindus of the Kashmir Valley, the increasing graft in an already bankrupt state economy, the growing frustration of the unemployed youth, the absence of visible economic development, the step-motherly treatment to the people of Jammu and Ladakh regions -- all this combined to create turmoil and terrorism. The field was ready for Pakistan to sow its poison. And Pakistan has done just that in its obsession to seize possession of the entire Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley, if not the whole state of J&K.

This diagnosis suggests the remedy. India must change its perspective. Instead of looking to Pakistan, we must look inside -- at J&K itself.

The Indian nation must reconcile itself to the bitter fact that no amount of negotiation is going to make Pakistan return to us that ill-annexed territory of J&K which it has retained despite UN Security Council resolutions. We must reconcile ourselves to the fact that we can get back PoK only with a nuclear war to the finish, or when Pakistan withers away as a state as is the prognosis of some analysts, or when world opinion compels it do so under a diplomatic offensive that relentlessly presents India's legal, moral and factual claim to PoK in a manner never done before for inexplicable reasons.

The first of the above alternatives is self-destructive and therefore impractical. The second and third alternatives will take time to come about, if at all.

Meanwhile, therefore, India will willy-nilly have to keep PoK only at the back of its mind while tackling the internal situation of J&K on our part with intensity not yet tried out.

In essence, the new strategy will have to be aimed at:

a. Reduction of local and cross- border terrorism through modern policing, and

b. Introduction of such measures as will deliver perceptible economic development in a reasonably quick time and will offer equitable treatment to all the regions of the state.

India must scale up its drive against the terrorist menace in J&K to a war footing. This can be done only through --

1. The speedy completion of the electric fencing of the 800-kilometres long LoC and the 100-kilometres Jammu-Pathankot stretch to check infiltration.

2. Employment of hi-tech gadgets such as unmanned aerial vehicles and remote sensing detectors to detect any intrusion across the border into our soil.

3. Putting K P S Gill in control of combating militancy the way he did in Punjab and, make no mistake, he is fully conversant with the J&K scenario.

To alleviate the economic situation, a special, five-year J&K package should be undertaken to include the following:

1. A specific quota of jobs in Union/state governments for the youth of J&K.

2. Construction of a large number of widely dispersed primary schools by the Government of India on land acquired by the J&K state government. Schools on the basis of panchayat locations would be ideal.

3. Free training with stipends for BEd courses to the qualified, selected by the Union Public Service Commission. This training to preferably be conducted in reputed institutions in cosmopolitan metros that can provide hostel accommodation.

4. Free computer courses for the youth in reputed institutions across the country as a prelude to setting up few such institutions in J&K itself, with funding by Delhi and management by NIIT or NITIE.

5. Extensive highly subsidised rural housing financed by HUDCO/HDFC and constructed under the aegis of Tata/Godrej housing companies on land provided by the J&K government. The allotment of such houses to be done by the panchayats in coordination with a respected NGO.

6. Very soft loans to be made available to all small and handicraft entrepreneurs as well as for repair/renovation of boat houses. But they must be loans, not grants.

7. Establishment of a big technology park by the Confederation of Indian Industry on land to be provided by the J&K government. Plots in this park would have to be leased out for 99 years to IT companies which would have to be given liberal tax concessions.

8. Private sector companies to be given incentives for providing J&K youth with scholarships, apprenticeships and jobs in their establishments outside J&K.

9. A full-fledged medical college to be started under the aegis of the Government of India in Jammu, Ladakh and Srinagar on land provided by the state government.

10. All existing Government of India schemes/projects in J&K to be monitored by an exclusive planning commission cell in coordination with suitable representation from the J&K government and all members of Parliament from J&K.

Any scheme for the substantial and speedy economic improvement of J&K will have to provide for the rehabilitation of some half a million Kashmiri Pandits, and the alleviation of prevalent regional disparities that have led to the demand for the trifurcation of the state. The people of Jammu have restarted their 50-year agitation for a state of their own, independent from the control of Srinagar in the Kashmir Valley. The people of Ladakh want their region to be converted into a Union territory.

The common complaint of the two sets of people is that though the Valley-based Kashmiris occupy only six per cent of the total land of the state, they have, over the years, come to live off the resources of Jammu and Ladakh. The two regions even assert that the overused concept of Kashmiriyat is not applicable to their culture.

The plaint of Jammu and Ladakh may well be exaggerated. However, it does point to another urgent need viz the establishment of a J&K Grievances and Redress Cell with a tenure of five years. Such a cell should comprise seven members from the Rajya Sabha -- a member each from the five leading parties securing the highest polling percentage in the last Lok Sabha election, and two Independents -- all to be appointed by the President of India in consultation with the vice-president (who is ex-officio Chairman of the Rajya Sabha) and the prime minister.

While the manner of functioning of this Grievances and Redress Cell must be left to its own wisdom, its overall responsibility must be clearly stipulated to ensure:

a. A network of well-dispersed centres for receiving and recording people's grievances.

b. Frequent interaction and follow-up with panchayat, municipal, police, district and state-level authorities to redress the grievances. Further, this cell's unanimous recommendation should be essential before any Union Government grant outside the finance commission norms is given to the state government.

The above objective will be facilitated if a full-fledged Doordarshan channel devotes ample coverage every day to the public airing of grievances and discussion of ways in which they can be redressed. Akashwani must also be asked to do the same. It would be excellent if the private media lend their considerable weight to this exercise.

Indeed, the Indian media as a whole have a crucial role to play in J&K. They must not only entertain the public but also keep them constantly informed about the happenings in their own state, in the rest of India and in the world beyond, including the poverty and Talebanisation of the whole of Pakistan.

Equally importantly, these various media will have to create an awareness among the people of J&K that their prosperity simply does not lie in a predominantly agricultural economy (that is backward moreover) and on the tourism industry. They must be made aware that even Switzerland is a rich country not because of mere tourism, but because it has several world-class industries: watch making, cheese, confectionery, pharmaceuticals and engineering. What must be driven home to the people of J&K is that their state must necessarily have a modern agriculture and a modern economy including hi-tech units.

It is when the last message sinks in that the people of J&K will realise the need to let the Ambanis, the Tatas, the Birlas, the Infosys and Wipros to acquire at least limited property in the state. That right to acquire immovable property in J&K has been till now prohibited by state legislation enacted in consonance with some exclusive rights reserved for the entity known as the state's "Permanent Residents" in the J&K Constitution (Article 9 read with Articles 6, 7 and 8). If given the right to own at least a limited quantum of property, India's leading industrial houses can be expected to take active interest in setting up business ventures in J&K.

Once the demonstration effect of permitting select industries or businesses to set up shop in J&K percolates downwards in Jammu, Ladakh and Srinagar, the people of J&K could well gradually realise thereafter that the so-called special status given to the state of J&K under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution has been a mirage. The road to its abrogation will be cleared of the acrimony presently engulfing it. Full social, economic and emotional integration of J&K with the rest of India will become a natural next step with the abolition of that piece of anomaly in our Constitution.

This demonstration effect will also definitely be felt in PoK. It is probable that people there will realise what they have been deprived by being chained to Pakistan. A movement there to cede away from Pakistan would be the corollary. Years down the line, you could get a united J&K without those sterile talks with Pakistan.

Any takers for this change in perspective?

Arvind Lavakare

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