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Fifth column

June 15, 2019

Governance in Kashmir


June 15, 2019

The central Indian government has just announced an extension of the president’s rule in restive Jammu and Kashmir. The rule is managed by the governor directly appointed by the central government in New Delhi, and as powerful as the vice-regents of yore.

The incumbent, Satya Pal Malik, a career politician who has represented Uttar Pradesh in both provincial and federal assemblies through various political parties has been ruling the province for over a year. During his year-long tenure as the head of administration, state-assisted violence has continued unabated and he has followed New Delhi’s traditional approach of securitising Kashmiris. However, Malik has won quite some admiration for his often blunt public pronouncements, particularly about rampant corruption.

As part of his efforts, he has recently fired the Jammu and Kashmir Bank’s chairman as well as raided several unionist politicians and bureaucrats or public figures for misuse of authority, amassing wealth not commensurate with their known sources of income as well as other financial misdemeanours.

A few days back, in his first ever press conference, Malik was candid about the negative role played by Indian television channels while reporting on Kashmir. Although he did not go in much detail and related the development with dwindling tourism, it was a definite admission about the toxic role that the Indian media based in New Delhi has been playing in pandering to anti-Kashmiri extremists. He maintained the official Indian position of blaming outsiders (read: Pakistan) for the political unrest but admitted, albeit reluctantly, that the current mess in Jammu and Kashmir was the creation of successive Indian governments.

The unresolved nature of Jammu and Kashmir has fanned a protracted dispute that has not only mortally threatened Kashmiris for the last seven decades but also provoked wars and fanned unending hostility on multiple levels – between Kashmiris and the rest of India as well as India and Pakistan. The cyclical mass rebellions point to the fact that despite dangling inducements and violence in equal measure, the government of India has failed to quash the public aspirations for a plebiscite. One of the reasons that have fuelled people’s continued dissatisfaction with the status quo is the lopsided governance of and within the state of Jammu and Kashmir. This has been a well-known driver for discontent at the vernacular level but never inquired in depth and detail.

Aijaz Ashraf Wani’s book, ‘What happened to governance in Kashmir?’, invests a lot of scholarly rigour in unveiling the methods and forms of governance in Jammu and Kashmir and how that has informed the debates of discontent and catalysed the public perception on their state of affairs remote controlled by New Delhi or shamelessly manipulated in full public view and knowledge to obtain desired results and outcomes. Wani, who teaches political science at the University of Kashmir, Srinagar, studies the interplay of politics and governance in the post-1947 setting and its impact on the ground. He analyses various Kashmiri rulers and their ‘actions’ that are largely scripted by New Delhi leaving little doubt about their autonomy.

Contextualising governance, Wani boldly concludes: “It is important to remember that in the context of J&K [Jammu and Kashmir], governance has been and is being largely scripted by New Delhi within the broader framework of the policy of coercion and consent to meet the challenges emanating from the state’s disputed nature. It is also common knowledge that the local government has no control over the most critical wings of the state – the army and the paramilitary forces whose role in managing the conflict in Kashmir is crucial. Even the local police are also practically under the Ministry of Home Affairs. Yet, the personality and priorities of individual rulers and the specific conditions in which each of them worked also influenced the tone and tenor of governance.”

The latest campaign against corruption by the current Governor Malik finds resonance in Wani’s book. He believes that in the post-1947 governments, corruption – political and bureaucratic – has been rampant with the so-called ‘best practices’ of governance existing only on paper. “But what is peculiar about Kashmir is that corruption has been used as an instrument of managing the state …. [as well as] … to create a support structure … [which has] received unwritten legitimacy by the state.”

The writer lays bare how Nehru under the guise of a secular democracy patronized and employed Hindutva politics and facilitated anti-Muslim rhetoric – from Jammu and Ladakh – to forge counter-narratives to the irredentist accounts of Kashmiris. The Hindutva groups or anti-Muslim bands or individuals were forged in a symbiotic relationship with New Delhi to weaken or dilute Kashmiri demands or the overwhelming Muslim character of the state. According to the author, all such foul play was motivated by Nehru’s desire and “hunger to swallow up Kashmir”.

This has created an internal dynamic that is volatile and, since the last BJP government in New Delhi, has provoked anti-Muslim violence in Jammu and massive anti-Kashmiri resentment in parts of Ladakh where Buddhists are in majority. “The divide between the political sentiments of Muslims on the one hand, and those of the Hindus of Jammu and Buddhists of Ladakh on the other has made it extremely difficult to strike a balance’ among the different sections of the population.”

Aijaz Ashraf Wani deserves appreciation for his meticulous research and bold and unvarnished conclusions, a trait he borrows from his father, Prof Muhammad Ashraf Wani, a well-known scholar of Kashmir’s history. Prof Wani’s book, ‘Islam in Kashmir’, is a seminal work that challenged several biased notions about the history and trajectory of Islam in Jammu and Kashmir.

‘What happened to governance in Kashmir?’ is a valuable contribution to modern Kashmir studies literature. It is a recommended read for the Pakistani political class and policymakers to afford a gainful sight on how state-assisted interference and micro-management conditioned by the fear of a discontented population can metamorphose into much bigger challenges that can often get out of hand and fuel widespread rancour and provoke violence.

Twitter: @murtaza_shibli

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