Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Reviewing Election Results from Regional Perspectives

Balraj Puri analyzes the election outcome

(Mr. Balraj Puri, 80, was born in Jammu city and attended the Ranbir High School and the Prince of Wales College in Jammu. He is a journalist, human rights activist and a writer who has been an eye witness to the turbulent history of the State. He has written 5 books, including the historical "5000 years of Kashmir" in 1997. He is the Convenor of the J&K State branch of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), and the Director of the Institute of Jammu and Kashmir Affairs, based in Jammu.)

Edifying Elections

Omar Abdullah received a massive reception when he arrived in Jammu, a day before taking oath on January 5 as eleventh Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir.
In July-August Omar's effigies were burnt in Jammu for a word in his much acclaimed speech in Parliament on confidence motion.

His remark that "we will sacrifice our life if an inch of our land was taken by an outsider" (the reference was to outside members of the Amarnath Shrine Board). The word "we" was misinterpreted as meaning Muslims of Kashmir. A young man provoked by this word, committed suicide with a statement that "we can also sacrifice our life." His suicide revived the tempo of the agitation which had subsided after the resignation of the chief minister on July 7, 2008.

In July-August Jammu was full of anger against all Kashmiri leaders. Sangarash Samiti leaders would not talk to the Governor or to the all party committee sent by the Prime Minister till Kashmiri leaders left Jammu. The enthusiastic reception to Omar Abdullah does not mean that Jammu has reconciled to its present status.

Many were surprised over the change in the mood of Jammu. There were more surprises in changing mood of the people in Kashmir valley. The year 2008 was, in fact, full of surprises. For first few months, the separatist movement was at its lowest ebb. The hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani, was a persona non-grata, during Musharraf's regime in Pakistan and isolated even in the separatist camp in Kashmir. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the leader of the moderate factions did not stop praising Musharraf even after he was over thrown by a democratic revolution in Pakistan. The new government instead invited mainstream leaders like Mirwaiz and Omar Abdullah and gave them recognition and warm hospitality.

Many read this situation as an end of secessionist movement. But it was a misleading impression. For the underlying causes of alienation of Kashmiris had not ended. It became soon obvious from the reaction over a rather exaggerated impression that land transferred to the Shrine Board would be used to settle outsiders and thus threaten demography and identity of Kashmir.

Big protest demonstrations were held through out valley against the government order for transfer of land. The Hurriyat leaders found a god sent opportunity to revive their relevance. They sought to turn the agitation to a movement for self-determination and Azadi. But they misread the popular mood as the agitation subsided when the government revoked the order of transfer of land to the Shrine Board.

The separatist leaders again got an opportunity to lead a popular movement when the people got agitated over the reports of blockade of Srinagar-Jammu highway. The fruit growers association gave a call for Muzaffarabad chalo. As an alternative to Srinagar- Jammu highway, they called for a route across the LoC to market their fruit which was perishing. The separatist leaders provided leadership to the agitation which was basically motivated by an anti-Jammu sentiment and diverted it to a movement for self-determination and Azadi. In this agitation many people lost their lives in clashes with security forces.

In this surcharged atmosphere, the Governor's rule announced the election in the chilly days of winter. Nobody expected that the people would come out to vote. But surprise of surprises was when 61.5 per cent voters polled their votes, a record during the last two decades.

There were no serious allegations of coercion on voters; nor any serious threat by the militants to impose the boycott call. The Election Commissioner acknowledged that higher voter turn out was due to absence of fear factor. Only three political killings took place this time whereas 101 political workers and leaders were killed during large scale attacks on election rallies and polling booths in 2002 election. Farooq Abdullah thanked Pakistan and militants for not interfering in elections.
It would again be misleading to interpret, high polling as a vote for status quo or end of Kashmir problem. When asked people standing in long queues invariably told reporters that they wanted Azadi as well as good governance. They would not postpone their needs for development, employment, hospitals and schools till they get Azadi. At some places, same people after attending rally for Azadi would rush to the polling booths. Though none could explain what was their concept of Azadi.

The mainstream parties had made enough allowance in their manifestoes and election campaign for popular sentiments. They conceded that the election was no substitute for a settlement of Kashmir issue and that they would facilitate the process for that.

Everybody has to learn lessons from the series of surprises that we witnessed during 2008, culminating in the election. The separatist camp, too must be wiser after the election. Syed Ali Shah Geelani admitted that such a high voter turn out was something he had never thought would happen. He said, "Our people have shown a weak resolve and this voting has pushed us far back in our struggle for freedom." He expected the new government to fulfil the promises made during the electioneering.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq went a step further calling for a need to "introspect and rethink". He conceded that the separatist lacked rapport with the ground. He acknowledged that people have genuine problems like bijli, pani and sadak which "Hurriyat is in no position to address". He would appreciate if Omar's government played a positive role in arriving at the resolution of the crisis and offered his cooperation.

Another separatist leader and chairman of the People's Conference said, "the ongoing movement had received a set back not due to heavy polling but improper strategy by the Hurriyat leadership." In his view, "if people are annoyed with the Hurriyat and took part in election to seek redresses of their day to day problems, they should not be blamed."

In Jammu region, the disillusionment with the election is no less obvious. The Sangarash Samiti, which led the movement over land row, drew popular support from the wide spread feeling of discrimination against the region over the last 61 years. It did not offer any positive solution to this feeling. Among its constituents were parties which wanted separate Jammu state as a solution to the Jammu problem. But most of their candidates lost their security deposits.

BJP, the main constituent of the Samiti, did win 11 seats against just one in 2002. But in the previous election the Congress swept the poll in the region by projecting GN Azad, a leader from Jammu, as the chief minister. In Lok Sabha election of 2004, the BJP had won majority in 15 assembly segments. The main weakness of he party lies in the fact that it can neither come to power nor share it with any Kashmir based party.
It was the Congress which played a very passive role during the Jammu agitation and election. But despite its depleted leadership could choose its partner and share power with it. Nevertheless, unlike last time, it had to concede chief ministership to the National Conference for the full term of this assembly. Quantitatively, and qualitatively as well, leaders from Jammu are somewhat inferior to those from the Kashmir region.

Thus Shrine Board agitation has not helped its leaders in either of the region to take their respective agenda forward. But two main problems that the election has projected viz Azadi—a nebulous and vague idea which has to be defined and concretized—and regional tension—the solution of which has to be sought through constitutional and institutional changes—cannot be dismissed. Both sentiments feed each other. Agitation in both regions demonstrated that populist slogan do not represent the interest and aspirations of the people.

The absence of an all state party either in the government or the opposition is major weakness of the post election state. The PDP, with an image of a soft separatist party espousing the cause of Kashmiris and Muslims and the BJP with its traditional Hindutva and ultra-nationalist agenda would be pulling the government in divergent directions.

Young Omar Abdullah, who with all his qualities and high ambition has raised high expectations, must take cognizance of the realities, some of which are less than helpful.

No comments: