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What Happened to Governance in Kashmir? By Aijaz Ashraf Wani

What Happened to Governance in Kashmir? By Aijaz Ashraf Wani
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Analyzing the various socio-economic and political strategies, besides military and cultural schemes that were brought into use to manage the state of affairs in the region, Aijaz Ashraf Wani's book is the first work on the theme to bring together the different dimensions of state, politics and governance in one frame. Writes Musaib Rasool.

Musaib Rasool

The book under review moves beyond the topics that have been the focus of most available literature on Kashmir over the past several decades. It studies the state of Jammu and Kashmir from the standpoint of an ‘exceptional state’ rather than a ‘normal state’ and contains the mass of information on the question of what and how the ruling clique’s did to manage the conflict torn state from 1947 to 1989. The primary focus of the book is to examine the governance models in the framework of the challenge and response continuum since 1947 and to highlight the fact that irrespective of the changes in the governments and ideologies that have ruled at the Centre, there has been a consistency in the political rhetoric of the Indian leadership that development will bring normalcy in Kashmir. Analyzing the various socio-economic and political strategies, besides military and cultural schemes that were brought into use to manage the state of affairs in the region, the book is the first work on the theme to bring together the different dimensions of state, politics and governance in one frame. The book deconstructs the various existing narratives on the happenings in Jammu and Kashmir after 1947 and elucidates to the reader the strategies of the Indian government and its “client regimes” brought into use in the state to integrate it into the Union of India.

In the context of J&K, 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

The book is a must read for all those interested in adequate understanding of the politics and governance in Kashmir, because it not only takes into account the inter-state regional divisions but also the diversity and complexity of society and politics cum governance within Jammu and Kashmir.
India after 1947 adopted a ‘state-centric approach’ to governance under the domineering influence of Nehru. The author writes that “Kashmir being a mini-India with regard to its subnational diversity, the state centric approach to governance became a compulsion here too”. However, the late 1970’s when Indian state saw the radical transformation in the role of government and calls for rolling back the state were at its peak, in Kashmir the state has assumed even more power, to the extent of forming part of the backdrop of everyday life. Aijaz Ashraf Wani argues that ‘in the context of J&K, 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’.

The author explicitly discusses the contextual factors in Kashmir that have in one way or the other shaped the nature and character of governance in Kashmir. Political instability, contestation on the special status, financial crisis and other factors related to the initial rule of Sheikh Abdullah produced obnoxious consequences which took a heavy toll on the normal functioning of the state. While the Muslims of Kashmir and some areas of Jammu favored the special status for J&K under Article 370 of Indian constitution, the Jammu dogras’ and Ladakhi Buddhists demanded the abolition of the same article and the complete merger of J&K with India, or at least the merger of Jammu and Ladakh with the Indian Union. The problem was further complicated by the prevalence of rampant corruption as the post- 1947 governments took over. Adding to these factors, Aijaz Ashraf Wani makes an interesting observation that ‘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 second chapter of the book gives us a detailed explanation of the policies of Sheikh Abdullah from 1948-53 vis-à-vis Naya Kashmir Manifesto, an ambitious program for J&K’s future under a democratic regime that was set in 1944. The manifesto inter alia called for the abolition of parasitic landlordism without compensation, transfer of land to tillers and the establishment of the cooperative associations of peasants. Despite being a progressive measure, the reforms were dubbed as anti-Hindu and pro-Muslim. Deriving evidences from a wide variety of sources [both primary and secondary], the author argues that the government was in such a weak position that it could not fulfill even the modest promises it had made; it widened the tax base, imposed taxes even on education, and charged exorbitant prices to earn money at the cost of the poor masses [ khush kharidi ]. Sheikh Abdullah’s image as the leader of masses was tarnished by the rampant corruption, malpractices, suppression of dissent and ruthless cooperatives. Quoting Balraj Puri, the author says that “it was only in 1953 that by his active confrontation with Delhi, Sheikh undoubtedly recovered whatever personal support he had lost during his years in power”.

Pervasive corruption and the use of mafia-style authoritarianism were the two salient attributes of his government, both of which became his lasting legacy to Kashmir politics.

The third section of the book looks into the policies and programs of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad who was installed as the next Prime Minister of J&K with the active support of New Delhi after the arrest of Sheikh Abdullah on 9th August, 1953. Bakshi’s rule is distinguished in the sense that he used two contrary methods to restore peace in trouble-torn Kashmir: “manufacturing consent” of the masses and the “use of the coercive apparatus” of the state. (p. 140). With the full backing of the central government, Bakshi left no stone unturned to financially integrate Kashmir with India. The governance policies focused much on infrastructural development, agricultural development, flood control, cooperatives, education, health, tourism, power and the host of other developmental works. With the large number of funds poured into the state, the Bakshi government was able to pacify both, the Jammu dogras and the Ladakhi Buddhists. Bakshi created a “culture of fear” among the masses with the full use of police force and other notorious gangs like ‘kuntra-pandah’, Special Staff, and Peace Brigade. “Pervasive corruption and the use of mafia-style authoritarianism were the two salient attributes of his government, both of which became his lasting legacy to Kashmir politics”, the author writes. (p. 186).

Whenever New Delhi feels a leader in Kashmir is getting too big for his shoes, it employs Machiavellian methods to cut him to size

The fourth chapter of the book digs deep into the period [1964-75] when the rival group of the NC headed by G.M. Sadiq was bestowed the throne in 1964, after Bakshi had lived up to his age to serve the interests of the Centre. With regard to the dethronement of Sheikh and Bakshi, the author brings in Syed Mir Qasim to explain the rise and fall of the political leaders in the state. Quoting from the autobiography of Qasim, the author tells the bitter reality about the Indian policy on Kashmir that: “whenever New Delhi feels a leader in Kashmir is getting too big for his shoes, it employs Machiavellian methods to cut him to size”. Whatsoever, this period was one of great stresses and strains owing to factors like the ‘Moe-E-Muqaddas’ agitation, suppression of dissenting voices, corruption, discontentment of Jammu and Ladakhi people, unemployment, radicalization of youth, etc. “Sadiq’s willing cooperation in bringing about the ‘forced integration’ of Kashmir into the Indian Union added fuel to the fire”, writes Aijaz Ashraf Wani.

In the words of Justice Saraf, G.M. Sadiq’s government is considered the first ‘liberal government’ since accession of the state to the Union of India. As regarded as more liberal in tolerating dissent, Sheikh was released on 8 April, 1964, starting a new era in the political history of Kashmir. But as the author shows the period of peace was short lived as the hawks at New Delhi reverted to the earlier policy of Nehru’s “hunger to swallow up Kashmir”. Soon it got realized that this new government is a puppet in the hands of the Central government. First by replacing the NC with Pradesh Congress Committee in 1965 without realizing that the NC was a symbol of Kashmiri Muslims’ political and cultural achievements, then by amending the state constitution and least but not last the arrest of Sheikh Abdullah and Afzal Beg was done to appease the lords at New Delhi and the collective Indian public opinion. Adding to all these factors the unrest among the youth and the students, the manipulation of the elections and the Operation Gibraltar proved to be the last nail in the coffin of good governance in Kashmir. Despite all this Sadiq provided a space to the Plebiscite Front in the politics of Kashmir and looked for ways of mainstreaming the secessionist voices. The author praises Sadiq government for his policy of transparent government and pro-poor policies but at the same time cautions that it ‘did not constitute more than an attempt to manage the orderly disorder’. (p. 266)

The final chapter of the book states the return of Sheikh Abdullah as the Chief Minister of the state with the signing of the Indira-Abdullah Accord of 1975, its aftermath and the changing circumstances through which Kashmir was going. Sheikh’s ‘search of power with dignity’, with altogether ignoring the ground reality and the cause for which he had fought for all these years, alienated the people and reinforced the secessionist ranks. The author points out that despite manipulating the popular political sentiment of Kashmiri’s and failing to creatively respond to the Kashmir problem, Sheikh’s continuous mass appeal was due to his memories of contributions and sacrifices and a well-crafted strategy to maintain his appeal among the people was also devised. However, the author makes an interesting remark about Sheikh Abdullah when he says that ‘he [Sheikh] never ceased to nurse the dream of an independent Kashmir till his last breathe’.

This gave birth to and swelled the ranks of Muslim United Front which fought the elections of 1987, which again sounded the death knell to the fragile peace in Kashmir and resulted in the beginning of a new phase of armed insurgency.

Farooq Abdullah’s dabbling with the politics, dismissal of the elected governments after the death of Sheikh Abdullah, and the trampling of the democracy underfoot convinced people that at least for Kashmir democracy was a façade. This gave birth to and swelled the ranks of Muslim United Front which fought the elections of 1987, which again sounded the death knell to the fragile peace in Kashmir and resulted in the beginning of a new phase of armed insurgency. Wani sees this as a paradigm shift in Kashmir politics, since a mass based armed struggle demanding azadi (freedom) from India, erupted.

The author shows that due to the perception of mass contentment and innocence that mis-governance did not become a burning issue during the first phase of governance in Kashmir. However, with the increase in the educated and politically conscious youth on the one hand and the mass discontentment with the policies, tactics and strategies of both central and local governments, governance became a subject of major concern in Kashmir. This book highlights the promises that had generated the mass euphoria of the early years of governance, worn off after people realized that their leaders care much more about their masters at New Delhi than their own people. The democratic expression of dissent against misgovernance was suppressed by the misuse of power, it resurfaced violently in 1989 by providing a mass base for armed revolt against Indian rule in Kashmir. Governments were imposed by New Delhi, and through these client governments Kashmir’s special position was eroded. Thus, we can argue that Aijaz Ashraf Wani’s book “what Happened to Governance in Kashmir?” is a painstaking analysis of the documentation of the history of policy and governance in Kashmir from 1947-89.

The author holds a post graduation in Political Science from Kashmir University and can be mailed at musaibmirkmr@gmail.com

Disclaimer: Views expressed are exclusively personal and do not reflect the stand or policy of Oracle Opinions.

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