In an interview with Dr. Aijaz Ashraf Wani
By narrating the policies of the state leaders and their disjuncture with the perceived political outcomes, this book argues that the policy of coercion and manufacturing consent only created a ‘cool peace’ in Kashmir and that too at the alter of heavy men and material costs as well as the image of the contending parties. As the conflict owes its origin to the politics of deceit and deception of the Indian and Kashmiri leadership with the people of the Kashmir, the policy of development, corruption, coercion and denial of democracy deployed to create order in ‘disorder’ functioned inversely making Kashmir a smoldering volcano which erupted in 1989-90.
Dr. Aijaz Ashraf Wani (Sr. Assistant Professor Political Science University of Kashmir) and author of the recent book ‘What Happened to Governance in Kashmir’ published by Oxford University Press 2019 in an exclusive interview with Dr. Javid Ahmad Ahanger (Ph.D Political Science AMU) about his journey from small village Nowdal in Tral to University of Kashmir as Assistant Professor. Dr. Aijaz had worked on contested political history of Kashmir mostly covered areas of electoral politics, democracy, regional divide and Governance. Here is the detailed interview of Dr. Aijaz for oracle opinion.
Let me begin with something about your life journey. Was your decision to choose social sciences, in an era when going for medical Science was a craze, a decision based of choice or mere chance?
I was born in 1982, and my birthplace is Nowdal Tral that falls in District Pulwama. My father retired as Professor of History (Mohammad Ashraf Wani) at University of Kashmir and my mother is a housewife. I had my schooling from Greenland Educational Institute, which was a modest school in the neighbourhood of Kashmir University(we used to reside on campus, since my father had got job just before my birth). Then I went to S.P Higher Secondary School from where I completed my 11th and 12th and later did my graduation from Amar Singh College.
In 2003 I joined Department of Political Science, KU for my Masters. Although there used to be three forms attached to the Prospects that University used to issue during those days, I took out only one form and applied for Political Science. So for me; choice was very clear. In 2005, I completed my Masters and during same year qualified State Level Eligibility Test. In 2006; I got registered for my M.Phil programme and year later in 2007 I got appointed as Assistant Professor at the same department. And it was couple of years after my appointment that I started my Ph.D programme and completed Ph.D degree in April 2014.
Come to second part: I had opted for Social Science stream immediately after my 10th class, which was quite unusual during those times when everyone was crazy about medical and non-medical and wanted to be only a doctor or an engineer. Social Sciences were sort of looked down upon. Every time I would reveal to anyone that I am studying Social Sciences they would immediately ask for my percentage in the 10th class and would get surprised to learn that even after getting IST division; I had made this choice. Opting for social sciences was by choice, honestly. Yes it took some time for me to decide and convince myself, but ultimately it was with full conviction.
Right from my student days I always used to hear that although Kashmir is fundamentally a political problem but the manner in which it has been governed or the nature of governance has proverbially added fuel to the fire.
In your opinion, how significant is it to study social sciences in a conflict torn zone like Jammu and Kashmir. What problems does a student face while researching on politically sensitive topic like that of yours?
I think in any case any where in the world social sciences are very important. It doesn’t mean other subjects are not important, they are equally important but what I mean to say is that it is not just the conflict situation that makes social sciences important. Studying and knowing your history, your system of governance, your economy etc. is very important. I think social sciences keep you rooted in your past (to lessons from it), know your present and prepare better to shape your future. In conflict situation; it is social sciences that help us understand the nature, root causes, and trajectory of the conflict. Unless you know these things you wouldn’t be able to make a correct assessment of the situation. And unless the diagnosis is correct you won’t be able to cure the disease.
Yes is it bit difficult to work on some issues, which at other places are normal topics of research, but here they are taken as sensitive, controversial or provocative. Often you don’t get access to relevant official data. People are not comfortable talking to you about many issues. There is a lot of suspicion. Also in places like ours archives are not maintained properly, and whatever is available access to that is very difficult.
What prompted you to work on governance in Jammu and Kashmir? How is your work different from the already existing accounts?
Right from my student days I always used to hear that although Kashmir is fundamentally a political problem but the manner in which it has been governed or the nature of governance has proverbially added fuel to the fire. So this was something that was always lurking in my mind. By the time I joined my M.Phil programme, Governance had become a fashionable subject, at least, in our part of the world in imitation of what was happening globally. My supervisor suggested me to work on this theme, and after some discussions I gladly accepted it because of its newness as well as its importance in understanding the present of Kashmir, and its potential to shape a better future. Governance is a subject which imparts a far-reachingly useful knowledge about large number of most recent concepts, instruments, strategies and frameworks conceived and worked out to bring about efficiency in the functioning as well as evaluation of governments in order to ensure peace and stability.
True there is a plethora of literature available on Kashmir but that is largely about the political conflict, India Pakistan relations, militancy, Pakistan factor etc. Internal dynamics has largely remained confined to some writings on electoral politics, democracy etc. But there was no systematic study as far as governance in Kashmir and its impact is concerned. What Happened to Governance in Kashmir?is a telling tale on the state of governance in Kashmir; the policies and strategies adopted by Indian state and the successive patronage governments to grapple with the multifarious problems of the state.The first of its kind, this book delineates the strategies and tactics employed by the Indian state through its clientele governments and patronage democracies to manage the conflicted state of Jammu and Kashmir. In the process the book unfolds the nature and functioning of the state, politics and governance in Kashmir from 1947 to 1989.
If you go into details and analyse the governance post each of these events you will find governance process (priorities, what is to be done and what not, what could be allowed and what not, how much space is to be allowed etc) being designed as per the requirements within the larger framework of ‘creating order in disorder’.
Your book talks at length about the issue of (mis) governance in J&K, given its retrospective nature, how do you strike a relationship between mis governance and armed uprising?
There is certainly a close relation between the two. True it is not the root cause but the nature of governance did play a significant role. Infact there is a complementary relationship between political instability and (mis) governance in Kashmir. Political crisis enabled rulers to rule in whatever manner they wanted and the mis-governance further complicated/fuelled the political crisis. That is what I also have tried examine in the book. The work examines the policies, strategies and tactics followed by the Indian state to manage the conflicted state of Jammu and Kashmir. By narrating the policies of the state leaders and their disjuncture with the perceived political outcomes, this book argues that the policy of coercion and manufacturing consent only created a ‘cool peace’ in Kashmir and that too at the alter of heavy men and material costs as well as the image of the contending parties.As the conflict owes its origin to the politics of deceit and deception of the Indian and Kashmiri leadership with the people of the Kashmir, the policy of development, corruption, coercion and denial of democracy deployed to create order in ‘disorder’ functioned inversely making Kashmir a smoldering volcano which erupted in 1989-90.
What would constitute a watershed development with regards to handling of governance in Kashmir?
I think there are many significant markers, events, or points in this history of post 1947 J&K which became deciding factors for nature of governance or as you say handling the governance—accession, arrest of Sheikh Abdullah, 1975 accord, armed uprising of 1989-90, 1996 elections and the recent 9th August 2019 decision are some significant watershed points. If you go into details and analyse the governance post each of these events you will find governance process (priorities, what is to be done and what not, what could be allowed and what not, how much space is to be allowed etc) being designed as per the requirements within the larger framework of ‘creating order in disorder’.
During Bakshi’s period you write ‘in terms of democracy, corruption, and tyranny, the post-colonial period was more disappointing than what obtained before October 1947’ (p. 133). Does that mean the initial phase of governance in Kashmir achieved a relative stability or that it just didn’t receive due attention?
No, the basis for nature of governance was laid during the brief tenure of Sheikh Abdullah itself. Be it denial of democracy, crushing opposition, corruption etc. the process started with the beginning of National Conference rule under Sheikh Abdullah. National Conference and administration (party and state administration) became one. But it became evident, deeper and more brutal during the Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad’s time. Also the fact that people associated with Sheikh Abdullah’s personality, the massive land reforms that were carried during his tenure and ideal of sort greater autonomy/self-reliance that he propagated, sort overshadow the problems of governance. During Bakshi’s time they became more evident. Although one witnesses massive development during this period but corruption, nepotism, authoritarianism also strengthened. One can add the erosion of autonomy to this as well.
If you rely too much on militarized governance or authoritarian system it further alienates the population as it closed those safety valves through which people can express themselves from time to time.
How far the choices/policies, over time, made by the governing elite (both in New Delhi and in the state) affect the processes and outcomes of social order? Also how did the tampering with the evolutionary political process vis-a-vis catering and accommodating the political aspirations of the people of J&K affect/inform the political stability of the south Asia?
Well as I said already the fundamental aim or the state has always been to create order in ‘disorder’, however the tactics used functioned inversely complicating the problem. As I show in my work since the crucial political decisions about the future of Kashmir were taken by the Indian and local leadership to the exclusion of the will of the people and opted to control the people by sheer deception, coercion, corruption and development, Kashmir became a smouldering volcano which finally exploded in 1989-90 with no end till date. Now since the issue has an external dimension also and it involves two nuclear powers with more than seven decades of hostile relations and having territorial claims and counterclaims, it has made scholars, and rightly so, to describe Kashmir as a potential nuclear flashpoint, with implications for whole of South Asian and beyond.
State of exception, borrowed from philosopher Georgio Agamben, which your book sheds light on and which you use to lend credence to your argument of militarized governance, don’t you think universalising western canon and superimposing it on regional experiences and processes, is an appreciable yet a mediocre exercise that again reproduces the trope of dominant objectivity paradigm which hampers critical scholarship?
Well I think it all depends on how and why you use it. I mean if you borrow some theory or concept without being able to justify it with facts and situation on the ground and you actually ‘create facts’ just to defend or impose your ideas/work then of course it is mediocre. We always learn from the exiting knowledge. It is not at all to bad thing to borrow or learn or test the theories or existing knowledge to your own situations. The only question you need to ask yourself is whether that is appropriate to your situation and by using this knowledge what new things/facts you are going to uncover.
Do you think that if there is de-centralisation of Political power and development of rational-democratic institutions, there would be end to this longest surviving insurgency?
That will be an implausible conclusion. As I said earlier and I have clearly stated this in the beginning of my book, the root cause of what we have been witnessing in Kashmir for decades now is political in nature. You have to understand there are two nuclear powers involved; wars have been fought besides this decades old insurgency. It will be completely off the mark assumption that all this has been for changing the nature of governance or replacing one form or government by another. However, one can assume that had there been a better governance, de-centralization of political power, development of rational-democratic institutions, accommodation and space for expression and dialogue perhaps we might not have seen a move, if I may borrow terminology from Juan Linz, from ‘semi-loyal’ to completely ‘dis-loyal’ opposition. Lot depends on the timing/era as well. What could have worked three-four decades ago may not work now. However, in any situation governance being associated with basic needs of people and fundamental of a society has to be people oriented. It always helps. On the contrary, if you rely too much on militarized governance or authoritarian system it further alienates the population as it closed those safety valves through which people can express themselves from time to time.
Last question. What are your future plans? Are you presently working on some other area of Jammu and Kashmir? Would you like to share some details with us?
Well my major project is the manuscript on post-1990 period. As you know the present book has covered the 1947-1989 era, so I am working on a sort of sequel to it, though it is not going at a pace one would like. Simulations for last few years I am also working on a text (co-authored). Besides there are few other works in the form of research papers, book chapters etc that I am doing. My co-authored chapter entitled “Religion Matters: Religion and Politics in Kashmir” has just been published in an edited book published by Routledge. I am also doing a project on local governance that is sponsored by ICSSR, New Delhi.
Thank you very much Aijaz Sahib for your time and for comprehensive talk.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are exclusively personal and do not reflect the stand or policy of Oracle Opinions.