People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
December 31, 2006
Kashmir Situation: The Inter-Regional Aspects
M Y Tarigami
Historically, some culturally diverse regions of north India, speaking different languages, professing different faiths and practicing different customs, were brought together by the British, into what came to be known as the state of Jammu and Kashmir. This no doubt suited the colonial administrative interests of the British and their local hangers-on. In this part of the world, British imperialism added a shameful chapter in world history by selling the destinies of the living men and women of Kashmir in lieu of 75 lakh rupees cash, through the sale deed of Amritsar. The infamous deed paved the way for a century-long dynastic and autocratic rule over the toiling people of the state, who were crushed under an unjust social and economic order. Though the people watched these developments helplessly, a silent revolt kept brewing up in their hearts.
GENESIS OF THE REGIONAL PROBLEM
Though the dominant power brought together the diverse regions in order to keep the people divided and thus ensure utmost obedience from them, the process of interaction among the ordinary people of these regions, through its own logic, bestowed a composite identity upon the state that existed as one unit since 1846. Thus the state came to occupy a distinct historic personality, independent of the motivations of the conquerors. The oppressed masses and the working people of all the regions raised a banner of revolt against the immoral, illegal sale deed of Amritsar and the exploitative autocratic rule that oppressed the people of all the regions. This created a bond of solidarity between the people living in these regions. Though the people belonged to diverse cultures, the nature of oppression and the source of exploitation were the same, which demanded a common struggle to get rid of the inhuman, unbearable conditions of life in all the regions. This, indeed, created common bonds between the regions and generated a unity of purpose and action to bring about improvements in their economic and social conditions. That is why, in all the regions of the state in 1947, the overthrow of the dynastic rule and promulgation of radical agrarian reforms evoked waves of enthusiasm among the downtrodden and hostile reaction from those expropriated.
To get rid of the autocratic rule was the common goal till the abolition of the dynastic rule that oppressed the people of all the regions equally. But the goal post changed with the dawn of independence. Not only the regions but also the sub-regions, minority and linguistic groups and other sections became more and more conscious of their cultural, economic and social rights, and this was only to be expected in a democratic set-up. In this context, it needs to be remembered that the requirements of distinct cultural, ethnic, religious and language groups cannot be uniform. Each region has its own peculiar needs. If, unfortunately, neither the state constitution nor the existing system of governance recognises this reality, decisions are imposed from above, without taking into account the special requirements of each particular region. This often gives rise to grievances, real or imagined, against the state or against one or another region, which ends in an uncalled-for regional confrontation. Such a situation often assumes communal proportions, on which the sectarian forces thrive, leading to the weakening of democratic movement. The slogans of bifurcation and trifurcation of the state of Jammu & Kashmir are its dangerous manifestations. In such a situation, even if some solution of Kashmir emerges, it would be of no avail and peace would elude the state till the inter-regional aspects of the issue are tackled to the satisfaction of all the regions. Whatever the solution, it cannot work in a situation where regional peace and harmony is not ensured.
Separation of regions is no solution at all. Those who talk of separation are, in fact, avoiding the real issue, which is: equitable treatment of and equal opportunities for all regions to grow according to their own geniuses. The supposedly magic wand of separation of regions cannot make the real issue disappear. In this context, the question that arises is: Separation from whom? From the people? Have we run short of creative thinking about the accommodation of all? Is there no way left for living together? The process of divisions and subdivisions can only lead to infinite divisions and then to nowhere. Differences are bound to arise even in what may be termed as homogenous societies. Have we then to divide the mohullas and streets too? We always have pockets of minority religious or linguistic groups, and neglected areas, which require special treatment. Where will all these go if we seek uniformity by applying the mantra of separation? At the time of India’s partition, the argument adduced in its favour was that as the Hindus and Muslims cannot live together in one country, the only way to put an end to communalism was to carve out a separate nation. Having done this, what do we see today? Communalism became permanent; the hatred and hostilities increased. Even after separation, the two nations never remained at peace with each other. Bitter wars were fought and a race for armaments, including the nuclear ones, ensued between the two separated countries at the cost of welfare of millions.
Undoubtedly, no country, state or region can remain unaffected in this world of (imperialist dominated) globalisation. But we need to forge a parallel movement of increasing co-existence and cooperation, based on humane considerations and the principle of “live and let others live,” so that diversities do not work as disabilities but strengthen the social fabric. The alarming situation in the entire south Asian region today poses an immense challenge to its democratic masses. In such circumstances, Kashmir has to become a bridge of understanding and friendship between India and Pakistan instead of a source of confrontation as at present. This can prove to be a significant factor in assuring an era of peace and harmony in the region. For that, the unity of the state is the condition precedent.
UNITY IN DIVERSITY
An irreversible movement for a genuine sharing of power and self-governance is the only means to keep together the state of Jammu and Kashmir, considered to be a variant of sub-continental diversities, with its multi-religious, multi-lingual and multi-cultural polity. This requires a new mindset and a new culture of governance. The state, as a political entity, owes its growth to various historical and political factors. Undoubtedly, its historical unity, integrity or cohesion cannot be negotiated or compromised, except at the cost of its social and political stability. At the same time the existence of diverse ethnicities in different regions of the state, which constitutes its strength rather than weakness, need to be recognised. It means carving out a political structure that recognises the need to preserve the unity of the state, while fulfilling the aspirations of its diverse regions.
The twin commitment to the state’s unity and to its diverse aspirations is not a mere pious wish or a fashionable cliché but a social, political and historical necessity, carrying with it a long unifying process that has gone into the welding together of the distinct and diverse regions and the ultimate formation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, along with the bitter experiences of its people in the aftermath of the dynastic rule, extending over a period of six decades now. In this scenario, any break in the state’s unity will have disastrous consequences for the whole south Asian region, apart from causing a permanent disruption in the social fabric of the state. At the same time the state’s unity will remain a pipe dream in absence of a recognition and fulfilment of the aspirations of its diverse regions.
Such a commitment must necessarily lead to the evolving of a composite and harmonious personality of the state. This means a federal structure, not only at the state level but in each region. The objective must be the preservation of the state’s unity and integrity, while recognising the fact that such a unity can thrive only when each region is allowed to grow according to its own peculiarities. Thus the preservation of state’s unity and fulfilment of the diverse urges of its regions are complimentary to each other. Such a course implies more involvement and participation of people of different regions for balanced political, economic, educational, social and cultural development and evolving of instrumentalities like local organs of power at all levels --- from the state to the region, district, block and panchayat level --- on a democratic basis. Admittedly, none of these objectives are realisable under the present unitary nature of the state’s constitution, or by the centralisation of power and administration.
LINE OF CONTROL
But the matter does not end here. More novel forms and procedures have to be devised for the special case of Kashmir, as it is itself divided between two nation states and is, on both sides of the divide, far from being homogenous. The main guiding point here must be that we try to develop flexible ideas of sovereignty to meet the state’s requirements.
A virtual iron curtain exists between the people in the two parts of Kashmir, who lived together and shared a common social life only a few decades ago. This has been generating among the ordinary people a painful sense of deprivation of a part of their homeland. The artificial dividing line has proved an impediment to the people-to-people interaction, without which there could be no forward movement towards reconciliation. It must be noted that deep-rooted sentiments of reunification of the two Kashmirs get intensified when unnecessary restrictions are placed upon the people to travel across the line of control (LoC). As an appropriate response to it, there is an urgent need to create a soft border/LoC and recognise the importance of a pan-kashmiri regional identity, irrespective of Indian or Pakistani administrations. This line (LOC) has to be as soft as to remove the impression among the people, on both sides, that an unnecessary barrier stands in the way of their movement, trade, and commerce, cultural and other exchanges. This needs to be so done that Indian and Pakistani concerns over Kashmir are reconciled. This envisages virtually open borders (as is the case in a number of countries), allowing free movement of people, goods and services between the two parts of Kashmir. This step may ultimately render the LoC irrelevant, thus removing a mental barrier to the movement towards reconciliation. What the two countries can today do is to open as many travel and contact points as possible on the dividing line till the people from both sides forget that there ever was some barrier to their mutual interaction, and that may open a window for the meeting of the hearts and minds of a divided nationality, leading to a mental revival of the old, historic Kashmir. This, of course, raises serious questions of control and security, which need to be worked out properly.
STATE-REGION DIVISION OF POWERS
An arrangement needs to be devised between the state and the regions, so that the latter could exercise powers over subjects of exclusive concern to their people. In concrete terms, it means setting up legislatures and elected regional governments for each region. The regional government may be elected in the same way a state government is elected. The legislative, executive and taxation powers of the regions shall be limited to the subjects allocated to them. This would necessitate the incorporation of two lists, known as the State List (or the List I) and the Regional List (or the List II) in the state’s constitution. The subjects enumerated in the two lists shall be based on the respective functions of the state and the regions, as laid down under a mutually agreed formula between them, as per well-defined criteria. The basic criterion is that all subjects that need a uniform policy for the whole state can be handled more efficiently at the state level, involving expenditure beyond the financial capacity of the regions, and the benefits would transcend the regional boundaries. Likewise, the regional list may include subjects of inter-district importance and those within the financial reach of the regions. The list may also include such subjects as are delegated to autonomous regions in certain countries.
The state legislative assembly, the judicial system, the state cadre of services must remain intact. They must continue to deal with all the subjects except those transferred to the regions. An elected head of the state must replace the present system of arbitrary appointment of a governor, which has often impeded the unifying process in the state. The state cabinet will continue to function as before, except that it will have at its head a Wazir-i-Azam, instead of the chief minister. The change in nomenclature may help in the recognition of Kashmiri sensitivities. At this stage, only a regional list may be drawn, with residuary powers remaining with the state. To provide for some flexibility, a provision may be incorporated in the state constitution, which permits, with the consent of the regional legislatures, transfer of subjects from one list to the other. Further, for the interim period, state constitution may incorporate a provision empowering the state government to recommend that the head of the state take over a regional government’s functions if they cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the state constitution, after providing enough safeguards against misuse of power.
Just as empowerment of the regions is necessary for the state’s unity, the districts, as the primary units of development, must be made autonomous so as to strengthen the unity of the regions; in the similar manner power needs to be devolved to the block and village level. In this context, it may be necessary to provide for direct elections to most of the panchayati raj institutions, while as of now not a single member of the district board is directly elected in J&K. Even the chairman of the board is nominated by the government. This is clearly the negation of democratic principles and deprives the districts of the status and power that are necessary to make them an effective link in the chain of empowerment of the regions. The least that can be done immediately is to take appropriate constitutional measures to rectify this position. In this context, the Leh and Kargil pattern of district autonomy provides an example worth emulating for all the districts in the state. This pattern has aroused similar urges and expectations in other districts of the state also. It will also be in the interest of the state’s uniformity, though this pattern does not enhance the powers and functions of the district level authority.
CHANGES NEEDED IN CONSTITUTION
In the J&K legislative council, Kashmir and Jammu regions have at present equal representation while two seats from Kashmir are reserved for Ladakh, which is manifestly unfair to Kashmir. It would be in the interests of justice if the regional legislatures of Kashmir and Jammu elect an equal number of seats to the council, and Ladakh is given an appropriate number of seats. Besides, there is a strong case for granting the divisional status to Ladakh
In order to effect the changes suggested above, it may be necessary to bring about appropriate changes in the existing constitution of J&K. Since the changes suggested are not of an ordinary amendatory nature but may have far-reaching consequences, a fresh constituent assembly for J&K may be constituted. The same may be applied in case of the other part of the state, in an agreement with the government of Pakistan.
Evidently, in such a political framework, the state will be viewed as the focal point where various regional and sub-regional identities converge, rather than as a source from where power is imposed upon them. Such a devolutionary measure needs to be worked out in a spirit of partnership between the state, the regions and the sub-regions, so that all the units remain part of the state, willingly and with the sense of genuine belonging. The clear division of powers, laid out on well-defined, mutually agreed and equitable principles of harmonising the state-region relations will result in a more inclusive federal structure of the state rather than the one that excludes, divides or destabilises its constituent elements. The conception has to be of decentralisation and democracy so as to promote greater equity, sense of partnership and the goal of social justice.