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Has India Lost Interest In Kashmir?


Has India Lost Interest In ?

Kashmir needs a government that isn't too scared to develop a rapport with the people or is too scary for the people to develop a rapport.

Sushant Sareen

Sushant Sareen

The Kashmiri gentleman who had come to meet me dispensed with the introductory niceties pretty quickly. He cut to the chase by asking if India is interested in Kashmir because if it isn't, then it should just let go and not prolong the torture its clueless administration and feckless governance is unleashing in Kashmir. His question left me stunned because the man was someone who had, long years ago, cast his lot with India, albeit after a brief sojourn with one of the Kashmiri separatist parties. I figured where he was coming from, but all I could say to him was that while India would never abandon Kashmir, it seemed to be running out of ideas and imagination on how to manage and control things. This riled up my guest even more. He said you don't need to be a genius to figure out how to start putting things right. His advice was to take care of the basics of governance and administration, and get the small things right. Other stuff will get taken care of itself. He added, nay insisted, that while Pakistan is a big problem in Kashmir — a problem that isn't going away no matter what India does, it can be greatly mitigated — but only if India is able to get the fundamentals of administration and governance right.

The words of my interlocutor, who is a man with an ear to the ground, came flooding back as I read the news story of how the grandson of the unabashedly anti-Indian, Islamist, and separatist Syed Ali Geelani had been given a plush job by the & Kashmir government, flouting all rules and regulations governing recruitment in government . Aside from the rank hypocrisy of the separatists who instigate the children of less privileged parents to become cannon fodder in their grisly even as they protect their own kids and send them to elite schools, foreign universities and get them fancy jobs using their influence in the very country which they abuse day in and day out, the Geelani grandson episode speaks volumes for the unending propensity of the Indian political class and policy makers to keep repeating the same mistake over and over again.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, the Indian establishment (both political and permanent) delude themselves that they will be able to win over the anti-India element in Kashmir by doling out favours to them. The Geelani episode is not the first time such a thing has happened. In his book on Kashmir, Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years, the former Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) chief AS Dulat revealed how the head of the Pakistan-based United Jihad Council, Syed Salahuddin, had wrangled a medical college seat in Srinagar for his son – jihad is for others kids, your own deserve better.

There are innumerable examples of the Indian state extending favours to separatists in the hope of winning them over, but without anything at all to show for its magnanimity. According to my interlocutor, the entire state administration has been infiltrated by people who have either been separatists and militants, or have close links with separatists and militants. Virtually every government office – district administration, police, state government offices, colleges and schools, hospitals, judiciary (both district and High Court), personal staff of MLAs and even MPs – has people who bat for militants and separatists. Many of these were people who were ‘rehabilitated' by giving them jobs in government because they had renounced militancy and separatism. Only they hadn't, and they have continued working like the over-ground workers of the underground, gnawing at the vitals of the administration to undermine the Indian state from the inside, something they couldn't do from the outside with guns. No surprise then that much of the unrest is fuelled by agent provocateurs who are government employees. These are the people who mobilise people for demonstrations, recruit youth for terrorist organisations, organise the funding, provide the intelligence, fiddle with autopsy reports and court documents, prevent security forces from filing first information reports (FIRs) that will leave little wriggle room for the accused, allow fake FIRs to be filed against security force personnel, etc.

One fundamental principle of any administration is to have people who are disciplined and loyal to the state. This principle has been grossly violated in J&K and today everyone is paying the price for this folly, which is still being committed, as is clear from Geelani's grandson's case. Over the years, the Indian establishment followed a sort of laissez-faire approach in Kashmir. Under this approach, the attitude of the state was that as long as there was no manifest expression or activity against the Indian state, all other acts of these employees and their ideological and political leanings were ignored. As a result, there are DCs and SPs, college lecturers, school principals, court clerks, UDCs and LDCs, horticulture and wild life department employees, bank officers and what have you, who are jamaatiyas (or people with Jamaat-e-Islami connections). By neglecting the task of vetting people before giving them jobs – and more importantly, monitoring them after giving them a job – the field was left open for the anti-India element in J&K to create an entire ecosystem that now makes it so much more difficult to retrieve lost ground.

Worse, in this ecosystem, people who threw their lot in with India, who believed in the idea of India, who desired and developed a stake in India were ignored and neglected. On the other hand, those who spoke against India, who plotted against India with her enemies, those who waged war against India, were treated with kid gloves, were given jobs, were plied with money and allowed to build huge fortunes, enjoyed enormous influence with the state and district administration, could pull strings to flout rules and regulations, grab lands and encroach on government property with impunity. There have been cases where even when an anti-state element has been identified and complained against, political pressure has been brought to bear to let him go scot free and keep his job. Certificates vouching for a patently anti-India government employee have been issued by top police officers.

The message this sent down the line is clear: if you are with India, you are expendable; if you are against India, you will be a person of significance. This brings to mind something that a former ISI chief often used to say: “you lick the Indians, they kick you; you kick the Indians, they lick you.” Kashmir today is emblematic of this deeply offensive but unfortunately pithy description of the Indian state. People who have been India's friends have been left in the lurch but people who have worked against India have had the red carpet rolled out for them and never had to pay any price for damaging India. Is it any surprise then that even those politicians whose entire careers have depended on India, have now started to hedge their bets and are according legitimacy and respectability to separatist demands. And the media in rest of India defends their anti-India rants on grounds of freedom of speech!

Speaking of the media, in J&K the government doles out crores of rupees to the local press, but with absolutely nothing to show for it in terms of getting a sympathetic press that neither peddles the separatist narrative nor leans in favour of the separatist sentiment.

According to another young Kashmiri activist, India has allowed the situation to reach a point where Pakistan has managed to put the unrest in Kashmir virtually on auto-pilot: money is being generated within Kashmir, guns and explosives are being procured within Kashmir, and the separatist narrative is being endorsed and spread by the leftists in campuses and media in rest of India. What has been touted as one of the most significant confidence building measures – cross-LoC trade – is today allegedly one of the biggest sources of finance and weapons for fuelling the militancy and separatism in Kashmir. Apart from smuggling drugs and other contraband, including guns and explosives, allegedly with the complicity of officials charged with monitoring the trade, terms of barter trade are set in a way that there are windfall profits, a chunk of which is then funnelled to the militants. In such a milieu, how can things ever improve in the troubled Indian state?

Unless India has lost the will to keep Kashmir, the drift in the state of affairs in that state needs to be arrested yesterday, not tomorrow. The first thing that needs to be done is to cleanse the administration of malcontents. Without this essential first step, all efforts being made by the government will fail to put things back on track. The second thing that needs to be done is to clamp down on the funding of the separatists. If this means stopping the cross-LoC trade as one of the measures, then so be it. But many other things will also need to be done to strangulate the finances of the militants. The third thing which needs to be done is improve the level of governance. Instead of posting officers who are either too scared to develop a rapport with the people or are too scary for the people to develop a rapport with them, the government needs to post good solid officers who deliver on ground and build confidence in the administration. Like my Kashmiri interlocutor said, its not rocket science, just simple common sense that can retrieve the situation. It won't be easy – simple things often aren't simple to implement – but it will have to be done to protect the country from forces that seek to destroy it.

The author can be contacted on Twitter @sushantsareen

The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.


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