Introduction to KashmirForum.org 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.
www.kashmirforum.org

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Leadership Crisis

Ashraf has a lot of expectations from emerging resistence leaders; but can internet savy part-time rabble rousers retain long-term focus on mundane politics?

(Mr. Mohammad Ashraf, 67, was born and raised in Srinagar. He attended the S.P. High School and the S.P College before joining the Regional Engineering College at Naseem Bagh in Civil Engineering. However, he changed his career to adventure sports like mountaineering and skiing, completing his training at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling and Gulmarg. He also completed a diploma in French language from the Alliance Fran├žaise in New Delhi. He joined the J&K Tourism Department in 1973, rose to become its Director-General in 1996, and retired in 2003 after 30 years of service. He has been associated with the Adventure Sports at the national level and was recently re-elected as the Vice-President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, the apex body of adventure sports in India, for two years. To commend his efforts in introducing rescue measures in Kashmir Mountains, he was awarded “Merite-Alpin” by Swiss in a special function in Les Diablerets in 1993. He continues to be a member of the Governing Council of IMF and is also the President of Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering & Hiking Club.)

Kashmir’s Leadership Crisis!

Kashmir stands at the cross roads in the real sense of the word. For more than five months everything had been virtually at standstill. There had been a mass uprising led by what have been alleged to be the stone pelting boys! Both the government of India and the state government failed to stem the tide in spite of the use of maximum force including the last resort of the Army.

However, at the end of it one is not sure of the future plan of action! Kashmiris have now been struggling for their basic rights for almost a century. Even though technically the start of the movement for attaining these rights is given the historic date of July 13th,1931 yet it is a fact that people were trying to get their rights in various other ways such as making representations to imperial authorities and so on much earlier. In fact, Kashmir is supposed to have started a trade union movement earlier than it started anywhere in the world.

There have been two damaging characteristics of the movement. The first is the personality cult. Having been ruled by Kings and Queens for centuries we always look for a King or a Queen as our leader. This rule by Kings and Queens has been continuing in Kashmir from the earliest times. Kashmir has passed through different religious periods- Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. These have been the state religions one after the other for almost 4,000 years of its history. All through these periods Kashmir used to have a King or a Queen. Some of the Kings like Laltaditya Muktapid and Budshah (Zain-ul-Abidin) were very popular. There were always good kings and bad kings. This feeling of being ruled by Kings or Queens is ingrained in the psyche of a Kashmiri. The idea of a collective leadership based on some sound ideology and convictions does not appeal to us.

We have had the worst form of dynastic and undemocratic leadership most of the time. In the beginning of the movement we had a charismatic leader whom we raised to the height of a colossus. It is alleged that the leader ultimately abandoned Kashmiris along with their struggle. His role in 1947 in supporting India is held as the main cause of Kashmir’s misfortune. However, it is debatable as the circumstances of that period were very much shrouded in mystery. People are now questioning the very signing of the accession document by the erstwhile Maharaja. Sheikh Abdullah appears to have been used by outsiders for their ulterior motives! In any case, had the people been following certain convictions and ideology, they would have abandoned the leader once he had deviated from the main path. On the contrary such a strong personality cult was created around the leader that the people gave the slogan that whatever the leader does, it is acceptable to us.

It was known as the Gourd and Brinjal slogan! In spite of all his failings, the people still followed him because of his revolutionary measures in abolishing landlordism in Kashmir. Land to the tiller without compensation, and cancellation of all debits of farmers are the agrarian reforms not seen anywhere in the sub-continent. The most unforgivable mistake was his joining the government in 1975. Rest could be forgiven! The result of this wavering is that the people are still struggling for the same rights which they had been seeking in 1931 itself and are, in fact, in the worst possible situation without any light at the end of the tunnel! This creation of personality cult coupled with dynastic succession has been encouraged by Delhi to keep the leadership under its thumb. In fact, the traditional leadership spearheading the movement for “Azadi” has also been encouraged to follow the same dynastic and undemocratic pattern. These leaders are being given protection by paramilitary and security personnel. They are provided facilities for travel, and sometimes medical assistance on a selective basis. They are quite often “imprisoned” in the luxury of their own homes!

Only those ones whom the authorities feel deviating from the path supported by them, are put in real jail. When one imagines leaders of a freedom movement, one gets the picture of a person roaming in the wilderness like Che Guevara or Mao Tse Tung or among the non-violent ones, Nelson Mandela but not in Kashmir. Here, we have majority of “part-time” freedom fighters. They carry on many other things apart from fighting for “freedom”! When someone was asked how the Israelis routed Arabs in 1967 war? The answer was that the Arab officers’ command to their soldiers was “forward”, while as the Israeli officers’ command was, “follow me”! Same is the situation in Kashmir. Apart from being dynastic in nature in quite a few cases, the leadership is totally undemocratic. This is true for all types of leadership, mainstream or the ones leading the movement for “Azadi”. This malaise exists throughout South Asia- Pakistan, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Philippines, Bangladesh, and so on. The story is same- sons, daughters, husbands, wives or so on following the leader in quest for power.

The problem with the popular leadership leading movement for “Azadi” is its fragmentation. There are dozens of parties led by various people claiming to be struggling for the basic rights of Kashmiris. Some of these are even one man parties! The leaders claim Kashmir to be a colony. It is supposed to be occupied by Indian Forces against the will of the people. As such they are supposed to be leading a struggle for independence regardless of the fact whether it is a violent or non-violent one. However, one fails to understand if the goal of all these parties is same then why they are so heavily fragmented? The other parties called the mainstream parties are not so numerous and so fragmented! The parties struggling for “Azadi” appear more like “Contractors” than freedom fighters. If the goal is one then why so many people are offering to achieve it through so many “Companies”? Even for that they do not have a clear well defined path and methodology. Their maximum effort is to give calls for indefinite shutdowns and issue press statements. Quite a few leaders are happy by seeing their statements with the photographs in local newspapers! In fact, they ensure that their statements appear frequently and people always take these with a pinch of salt. It is simply a personality cult. Each person seems to project himself as the only “leader” who is capable of achieving “Azadi”. The way they are working seems as if they have already achieved “Azadi” and are now offering their services to run the government of “Free” Kashmir!

However, there is now a new generation which does not want to be led but is forcing the “traditional” leaders to follow them. They have also given an indication that they will abandon the leaders if they deviate from the right path. Well, that is not enough. That may be one of the main factors keeping the unrest going on as there are no known leaders whose elimination could scuttle it. There is urgent need for the new leadership to emerge openly for the people to follow it. They have to create a new leadership cadre which should be honest, ideological with strong convictions, and above all else, incorruptible! The present attitude of the authorities both in Srinagar and Delhi is not allowing this to happen. The problem is with Delhi which has always preferred “Conflict Management” to “Conflict Resolution”. They probably feel that it is more profitable to manage the conflict as its final resolution may be disadvantageous to them in the long run. The ideal remedy would be to hold open debates on Kashmir’s future everywhere in all sections of the society. Usually, the “Think Tanks” are in the universities where such debates are held and new leadership has a chance to emerge. However, in Kashmir everything political is taboo in the universities! Preventing the leadership from emerging in open debates will, as per the past experience, make it go underground. They will be ultimately forced to feel that the violence is the only way forward. That would be a tragedy after the paradigm shift of the movement from a violent to non-violent one.

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