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Obsession For Greater Autonomy In Kashmir

by A.N. Chaku

In some quarters in India as well as with Kashmiri leaders, it is gaining not only currency but, indeed, belief that some greater autonomy given to Kashmir within the framework of Indian Constitution would fulfil the urges and aspirations of the Kashmiris and thus would bring the emotional integration of this state with the rest of India. Totally oblivious of what ground situation is there in Kashmir, the people who matter have begun lavish promises of granting 'greater' or 'maximum' autonomy to them. It seems that the benality of terrorism and violence, though marginally curbed in the valley, has clouded the imagination of those people who seem to be obsessed with granting greater autonomy to the people of Kashmir.

A question arises as to who are the people in Kashmir who aspire for more autonomy. To answer this question, we need to explain the topography of the state and the composition of its population. It is not my purpose to go into every detail of the composition of the population of every region of it, except in so far as be necessary to illustrate the futility of granting any extra-autonomy other than what has already been made available to the state of Jammu and Kashmir in the Indian Constitution.

Three Distinct Regions

The state of Jammu and Kashmir comprises three distinct regions. The northern region of Himalaya is Lama Buddhist Ladakh and this region wants not only complete merger with India but are asking for Union territory status for them. The question of granting more autonomy without asking, to them is futile. The second is Jammu region. They demand not only complete merger with India but have agitated for Ek Vidan, Ek Pradhan and Ek Nishan, meaning there should be one Constitution, one President and one Flag for whole of India, including Kashmir. Therefore giving them greater autonomy will mean agitation in this region. The people of this region will fight tooth and nail against granting any further autonomy to the state. The third region is of the valley stretched from Banihal to Kupwara Tangdar. This region is predominently musalman habitated. Apart from the fact that there is some percentage of Hindus living side by side with Muslims, among them there is Kashmiri Pandit community, who are the original inhabitants of Kashmir. Though being in microscopic minority no one can afford to dismiss them as unimportant segment of Kashmiri society. They have distinguished themselves as harbingers of enlightened age. They have a rich history. Their contribution to art, literature and science is no less. They are endowed with commendable intelligence and have played great role in shaping the modern Kashmir. It was they who launched a movement known as 'Kashmir for Kashmiris'. Subsequently this became the 'State Subject Law' in Kashmir which forbids non-Kashmiris to own property and get employment in Kashmir. This was first step towards autonomy to Kashmir. They too have no use for more autonomy in Kashmir.

Shias and Gujjars

Another bulk section of population of Kashmir is of Shias and Gujjars. Shia is a terrorised communily. Once they came out openly for Indian National Congress but with the spread of gun culture they do not open their mouth. But they feel safe within indian Constitution. Gujjar is a nomadic community. They have recently agitated for granting Scheduled Tribe status within the framework of Indian Constitution. They have never asked for extra autonomy.

There remains a bulk population of Sunni muslims. It is a debatable matter, whether all of them want greater autonomy. In order to elucidate it, it is necessary to examine the Kashmiri ethos which has characteristics of composite culture influenced by the teaching of saints like Sheikh Nooruddin and Lal Ded. These saints were endowed with the spirit of vedanta Sufism, which in modern sense means secularism. Another trait Kashmiris have developed is that by and large they are neither intolerant nor religious zealots. Otherwise how one can explain that in 1933 in a special session of Muslim Conference, which had initiated the freedom movement in Kashmir against the autocratic Dogra rule, was attended by Muslim intelligentia in strength and in voice vote converted the Muslim Conference to the National Conference and allied with secular organisation of the Indian National Congress in preference to joining with the Islamic Muslim League of India.

Another historical event worth mentioning here is that it was not through any magic that this muslim community under the towering leadership of Sheikh Mohd. Abdullah opposed joining the new Muslim Dominion of Pakistan but offered to join secular India. In tact it was that composite culture under which people had lived, had influenced this historical decision. It may, however be argued that much water has flown, since then down the Jchlem river which runs through the heart of Srinagar. But is is hard to accept that people who have livcd under the shade of composite culture for centuries could be erased overnight.

Special Status

All these and other considerations had influenced the Indian leaders who accepted though reluctantly Kashmir's accession with India. It was not an easy task tor Indian leaders to provide a special status in the Constilution when it was bcing tramed for whole of India including all thc states that had acceded with this dominion. But in order to convince Kashmiris that their interests were safe in sccular India, the Indian Constitution makers provided reasonable autonomy for them so that their sentiments, urges and aspirations and also their Kashmiriat was assured. A peep into the relevent Articles of Indian Constitution will show how best attempt was made to protect their rights.

India is a multi-religious and multi-lingual country. Its Founding Fathers framed a magnificient secular Constitution. In the Preamble of this Constitution, it has been resolved to secure to all citizens justice, liberty, equality and fraternity without consideration of caste, creed and religion. Similarly, Article 15(1) provides that there will be no discrimination against citizens on grounds of religion, race, caste and sex. Article 16(1) ensures equal opportunity for all citizens in matter of employment opportunity. Muslims in India, who are more in number than in Pakistan, feel satisfied with the secular Constitution of India. Yet the framers of the statute provided Article 370 in the Constitution so as to convince Kashmiris that they could shape their destiny according to their cultural ethos. This Article 370 has limited the powers of the Indian Parliament to make laws for Kashmir. What 'maximum' or 'greater' autonomy other than what the Indian Constitution has already granted can be given to Kashmir seem incomprehensible.

Economic Distress

The basic cause underlying all the unrest anywhere and more so in Kashmir has been the economic distress and unemployment among the youth. Viewing the Kashmir problem in this perspective, it is not the Central Government that has failed to lessen the economic distress of Kashmiris, but it is, indeed, the ruling party in Kashmir which has failed to do so. Inspite of pumping in millions of rupees in the form of aid and financial assistance for development, there has been no development worth the name. There is still huge economic disparity and unemployment among Kashmiris. It is alleged that huge financial assistance from the Centre has gone in the coffers of a very few number of people who were kins of the ruling elite. Therefore, it will not be in the interest of Kashmiris to have greater autonomy as the saying goes that 'power corrupts a man and absolute power corrupts him absolutely'. The common man in the valley has no need for any extra autonomy.

However, the present malaise can be explained from the fact that there was a huge number of unemployed educated Muslim youth who had become restive. Also there was a sufficient number of Madrasa-trained young Muslim fundamentalists. The ISI of Pakistan lured them to cross the border and provided them training in sophisticated arms and sent them back to destabilise India. No amount of autonomy can help unless these insurgents are not stopped. The moment the valley is cleared from these insurgents, there will be peace and harmony in the state.

 

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