This is the very first public lecture that I am giving since my appointment as the chief interlocutor for the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Let me emphasize that the word public is important because we have had several sessions in camera. And I am doing so because I owe it partly to my city of birth and partly to the fact that I went to school and college in this city. No matter where I lived I would always return to Pune so I am very delighted to be here.
I would like to give you an idea of the kind of approach that we adopted when the Prime Minister invited me and two of my colleagues to become the interlocutors. The very first thing that we were aware of was the enormity of the task that was given to us. As soon as the appointment came through on October 13, 2010, the thought that struck me as it did strike my colleagues, was that we were shouldering the responsibility which had been shouldered for six decades by some of the brightest and most sensitive minds in our country.
If you go through the history of India’s engagement in Jammu and Kashmir you find that people of the level of Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel were in the forefront of addressing this issue. They were aptly supported by a slew of brilliant civil servants. And today if you do a Google search you will find that the number of scholarly books and articles on Jammu and Kashmir runs into thousands. And therefore it is with great humility that one began addressing this issue. At the same time we had to make sure that we had to do a certain number of things which hadn’t been tried out earlier and as the saying goes ‘see whether you could think out of the box’. This was of course not my first brush with Jammu and Kashmir. I had been writing about the state in the Times of India for many years. And then about eight years ago I was a member of a Kashmir committee set up by Mr. Ram Jethmalani, and in that context got to know some of the major stakeholders in Jammu and Kashmir especially among the separatists. So these were people who had been familiar to us.
Therefore when we set out on our mission we took a couple of decisions. The first one was that we would not go to meet the usual suspects. There were people who were appointed as interlocutors before us. They were absolutely great people, men of great intelligence and experience, but we went through the records and found out that by and large they confined themselves to Srinagar and Jammu. And more often than not they were people who came to call on them in the state guest house. We said that we would definitely meet the usual suspects in Srinagar and Jammu, but we would also travel extensively across the state to find out directly from people what were their concerns and interests, their aspirations in economic, social, cultural and above all in political terms. So far in the seven months and few days that we were there we have covered roughly 17 out of the 22 districts in the state. We have met more than 530 delegations. Each delegation comprised of an average of 7 to 10 persons. A quick calculation suggests that we have met with a little more than 4000 people in all parts of Jammu and Kashmir. They belonged to all communities and all kinds of ideological and political persuasions.
And this is where it began to torment us that for 63 years there is a certain mindset that had been created which needed to be revisited. First, the entire issue of Jammu and Kashmir has been posited in ideological terms, largely as a Hindu Muslim problem. Second, it was posited also in terms of Indian and Pakistani nationalism. And third, it was posited in terms of Kashmir nationalism. The heaviest concentration of Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir has been and is in the valley of Kashmir.
Regarding the Hindu-Muslim divide, Kashmiri-speaking Muslims, especially Sunni Muslims, were against Dogra rule of Maharaja Hari Singh but were also solidly behind their leader Sheikh Abdullah, whose own political instincts were much more in tune with the secular traditions of the Indian National Congress. On the other hand the Muslims of Jammu came under the umbrella of an organization called the Muslim Conference. The Muslim Conference was in Jammu and the National Conference was in the valley. The Muslim Conference was much closer ideologically to the Muslim league. So there was an ideological divide even before 1947 within the Muslim community.
Regarding national ideology,it has always been that without Kashmir, Pakistan is incomplete. Kashmir is what they call the jugular vein of Pakistan. In fact the K in the word ‘Pakistan’ stands for Kashmir. Probe that a little bit and you find that the Pakistani case was always weak. Because Mr. Jinnah insisted that any princely state had to choose between India and Pakistan based solely on what the maharaja or the nawab of that particular state wanted. In the case of Jammu and Kashmir Maharaja Hari Singh chose India but there was legitimacy to his choosing because the most popular leader of Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah was also in favour of his accession. Secondly, after the breakup of Pakistan in 1971 the whole case of the two nation theory on which they claimed Kashmir, could not work. And for India the fact that a Muslim majority state was with the Indian Union was the absolute litmus test of India’s secularism. In the case of India to say that secularism is really a test for Jammu and Kashmir is correct. But at the same time one has to understand that it is the people of Kashmir who have really been caught within these two dimensions of nationalism because if you accept one you automatically negate the other. So if you accept the fact that Jammu and Kashmir should be part of India it is not just because it is a Muslim dominated state it is also because the homeland for Indian Muslims that was created in 1947 left behind more Muslims in India than there were in Pakistan, including the people in East Pakistan.
And thirdly, regarding Kashmiri nationalism, it is couched in a single word called Kashmiriyat. What you do find however, when you probe a little deeper, is that Kashmiriyat refers almost exclusively to the Kashmir Valley. The people of Ladakh for example do not share it, and nor do the people of Jammu. Kashmiriyat is rooted in the Sufi tradition of Islam which is certainly very prominent in Kashmir. They have also been rooted in a long historical memory. Kashmir is the only part of India which has a recorded history of 4000 years. The emphasis is on the word recorded. We are not into myths, we are into historical records. This is a part of the subcontinent which has been a crucible for three very distinctive civilizations to come together and form a kind of a fusion which you find nowhere else in the world namely that of Hinduism, Indian Sufi Islam and in between was Buddhism. And it is from the experiences of Kashmir that Buddhism in fact spread to Central Asia, Tibet and China. So that is the basis of Kashmiriyat, conviviality, of living between people belonging to different cultures and different faiths. But that was in the past. Today Kashmiriyat represents once again the strong ideologically motivated nationalist force of sections of opinion in the Kashmir valley. We also soon discovered that we have been living with three myths that have gone unchallenged for the past 63 years.
The first is to try and look at the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir primarily if not exclusively from the prism of the valley. This is to ignore Jammu which is a far more interesting part of the state because of its diversity and also because there is a strong Hindu element in Jammu. The tendency is to take the people of Jammu for granted. Likewise, the people of Ladakh constitute a very small number in terms of population but in terms of territory it is larger than Kashmir and Jammu put together. So there is again a feeling that because you look to the entire problem primarily in the prism of the valley you ignore the interests and aspirations of the people in Jammu and in Ladakh. Simply put, those aspirations are for closer integration to the Indian union. In fact, there has been a strong demand for giving Ladakh the status of a union territory just as in Jammu there has been a significant section of opinion wanting a separate state for Jammu. In a sense one can understand why the focus has been primarily on Kashmir -- with one exception all the Chief Ministers had come from the valley except for Ghulam Nabi Azad. Also, all the secessionists, armed or unarmed outfits have been from the valley. Almost the entire violence in the state particularly in the past 20 years has affected the people of Kashmir more than it has affected the populations of the other areas. So media and scholarly attention has therefore focused on the valley. This has happened to the neglect of the other two regions of the state.
Secondly, the myth being perpetrated that this is primarily a matter of a Muslim majority state pitched against Hindu majority India. If you examine facts on the ground you get a very different picture. For example, the Shia Muslims, the Sunni Muslims along the LOC, people like the Bakarvals, the Gujjars and the Paharis do not share the political aspirations of the people of the valley. They have their own set of aspirations. So for any one region or any one community to claim that they represent the people of Jammu and Kashmir is incorrect. I don’t even mention people like the Rajputs, the Dogras, the Kashmiri Pandits, namely those migrants who had come to Jammu in successive waves in 1947, 1965, 1971 and who today are in many respects worse off than Kashmiri Pandits. Then you go to the regions and find interesting things like the Kargilis are caught between the valley population and the Buddhist population of late. They feel that they have been under pressure from both sides. Similarly all these populations living along the LOC say ‘Well we have very little in common excepting our faith with the Kashmiri population. In many other ways we have parallels with the Jammuiites.’ When I speak about the complexity there is a plurality of concerns, interests and aspirations in all the three regions and then within these regions because of the presence of these communities which needs to be taken care of.
The third myth is that you come across a similar pluralism also in Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir. This is a fact that is still not understood. In fact, year after year Pakistan had been using every opportunity at the international level to cite India’s so called human rights violations in Kashmir. Hardly any attention has been given to these violations in massive level in Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir. In fact, the Pakistanis detached a portion of the erstwhile princely state which they called the Northern Areas and Gilgit in Pakistan. These are not even administered by the government of Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir. Attempts have been made with a degree of success to change the demographic constitution in Gilgit and Baluchistan and also to bring in sectarian conflicts there because a large number of populations are Shia. Until less than 25 years ago there was not even adult franchise in Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir. I want you to do a Google search just to find out how many articles you have on Kashmir and how many articles you have on Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir and in particular on Gilgit and Baluchistan. So we have got to contend with these three factors: looking at the whole issue primarily from the prism of the valley; not countering Western propaganda ably aided by Pakistan, that this is a question of a Muslim majority state pitted against a Hindu majority country; and not looking sufficiently at what has been happening since 1947-48 on the other side of the LOC.
So how do you therefore look for a political settlement in this situation?
First and foremost it will be necessary to inform public opinion in India and abroad of this complexity which I just mentioned. You can no longer think in terms of facile labels. Facile labels do not work. Changing mindsets is a huge task before us. We said to ourselves that it would be completely foolhardy to come up with some solutions because nobler and better equipped minds have not succeeded in the past and to expect us to do so is out of the question. But what we can attempt to do and that is the reason that I am here today, is if we are able to gradually change the narrative on Jammu and Kashmir to look at it in terms of the interests of the people of Jammu and Kashmir rather than looking at it through these spectacles of ideologies. From then on I think it’s possible to take another look at actually what are these aspirations. And it is the pluralism and the diversity of the aspirations that have to be recognized and understood.
Secondly, it is equally imperative that we do not look at a solution primarily from the prism of security. I think the armed forces have been doing a splendid job in Jammu and Kashmir but they have to be under public scrutiny because there have been allegations of cases of human rights violations. I have spoken to army generals and I think they are as aware as anyone else that force cannot be an answer to the issues in Jammu and Kashmir. The only way out is through a political process leading to a political solution. That means that you have got to get public opinion on your side. First and foremost that the forces are doing a good job in extremely difficult conditions but also to acknowledge perceptions, particularly in the valley, of the army being an occupational force. Different political parties are not going to like what I am saying today because one set will be critical of some things the other set will be critical etc. but those of us who are not aspirants of high political office and are very happy being journalists like me can come up in the front and say that this is the picture. It is a messy picture and a confused and a complicated picture.
Add to that the fact that great emotions are involved in Jammu and Kashmir. We in the rest of India have a very different democratic practice. We have to deal with emotions from time to time as well, for example these so called Khap courts sentencing these young people is very emotional so there are people who use tradition for the pursuit of political power. They use ideology, religion, caste for these purposes. But the level of emotions is so high in Jammu and Kashmir that unless you choose words carefully unless you learn to listen to people more carefully and unless, finally, you accept that there will be errors made by people in New Delhi as well.
If you take a quick look at the history from 1952 onwards, it is a history of failed promises. Chief Ministers have been elected and dismissed. Elections have been rigged. And in the past 20 years the due process of law which is applied all over the country is not being applied with as much care as required in Jammu and Kashmir. People have been languishing in jail for years without trial. Last summer youngsters pelted stones and 117 youngsters were killed and the reasons for the incident have not been properly gone into. Action has however been taken because we made a series of recommendations to the government saying the manner in which you deal with the agitating youth needs to be handled with much greater. Yet you go back to last summer’s agitation and find that there has been provocation which has come from sources that we know pretty well. If you can get continuous television coverage on the Arushi murder case how come the death of a 117 did not merit a fraction of that media time? How did the deaths not find a single mention in the Parliament, despite delegations from all the parties having gone there? How do you expect people in the Kashmir valley to look at the Indian state if there is no concern shown by the elected representatives? So you have got to deal with very hardened perceptions about India in the valley which is a part of our job.
For 22 years a whole generation has grown up not knowing anything but violence. The sense of alienation is there and to believe that this is again a concoction of this or the other group is wrong. There is an alienation which needs to be addressed at the highest levels. There are other issues like the youngsters being picked up and put in jail under the Public Security Act. We have made suggestions like these kids should be released by taking bonds from their parents or community leaders. Instead, they were let off on bail. This means that they have to make court appearances from time to time and that there is a permanent stamp now on these kids when they apply for jobs and so forth. There have been other instances of denying democratic rights to the people of Kashmir in terms of things which you and I take for granted like passports. They have to wait for years to get the passport because some distant members of the family were engaged in some kind of militant activities. A passport is the right of every Indian citizen. When it comes particularly to passports needed to go to perform the Haj then it acquires even a greater salience. The Indian constitution allows everyone to preach and practice one’s faith. Performing the Haj is a part and parcel of the faith of Islam. You have been denying that to people. The Chief Minister now said if anyone applies for a passport will get a passport and I am glad that this too flows with recommendations that we have been making.
The other major development that has taken place in Jammu and Kashmir are the elections to the panchayats. The kind of voter turnout despite calls for boycotts, despite a couple of killings has been absolutely impressive. It has been more than 75% and it has reached 92% in certain areas. We need to acknowledge first and foremost that this represents the faith that the people of Jammu and Kashmir have shown in the democratic system. But to believe that this itself could take care of the political problem would be a mistake. They are two very different things. You have to acknowledge that faith is being shown in the democratic system for governance at the grassroots level and this is a very impressive thing. But you cannot say that this shows you once and for all that they are with India etc. No, they are not with India. The political problem has to be addressed and the challenge is one of determining what kind of political future they envisage for themselves.
So we come back to where we began, which is to acknowledge the pluralism of the interests, concerns and aspirations of politics, economy, society, culture. Acknowledging it should not lead to, what some people started proposing and which I believe is dangerous, which is namely splitting up the state. The trifurcation of the state into three independent regions was stated. It is dangerous because once again on the ground the situation is such that even when you get important majorities of one community into a district there are equally a number of important minorities are there. And I don’t think that anyone in India is ever going to accept any kind of solution which smacks of a communal division. We have gone through that once in 1947. So the challenge is to address the political aspirations in all their plurality but without in any way damaging the unity and integrity in Jammu and Kashmir. We have got to keep it in one piece and ensure that the differing aspirations need to be addressed differently. And therefore I believe that we have got to go back to the history of Kashmir if we have to look at the future of Kashmir. The sophistication of Kashmiri culture and mind, the great historical sense that the Kashmiris have that throughout their history there can be still light at the end of the tunnel.
They themselves have ruled each other for about 250 years and therefore the sense that they have to be masters of their own future is extremely strong and acute in the Kashmir valley. But addressing the Kashmiri aspirations again must not ignore the aspirations on the other issues. Jammu in particular believes that it has been at the receiving end of the valley politicians. They give you statistics to tell you what the representation of Jammuites is in the state civil services and in terms of disbursement of loans and projects. They will also tell you that in Jammu to become an MP you need a certain number of voters but to elect an MP in the valley you need a smaller number of voters. This is equally true of electing an MLA. This question of the delimitation of constituencies is something that we hear again and again when we go to any part of Jammu including the Muslim areas along the LOC.
So what you in fact face are comparative senses of victimhood throughout the state. Many of them are real and many of them are perceived. But a group like ours has to first and foremost listen and understand each sense of victimhood before even thinking of a possible political settlement. I will conclude by telling you that until about a month or so ago every time I was asked a question like ‘do you see light at the end of the tunnel?’ my answer was ‘I have yet to discover the tunnel.” Today I can say with a certain degree of authority that yes we think we know what the tunnel is like and in fact it’s a labyrinth and for a number of reasons which are both internal and external we believe that we see a small ray of light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t want to sound like a mystic because there are many spoilers in the game as well. There are a huge number of interests who are perfectly happy with the status quo. The only ones who are not happy with the status quo are the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
So the only kind of political settlement that can work is one that places the people at the centre of things and not the nations, ideologies and faiths and any other interests. So we believe that we will come up with something which will not be a prescription because we believe that the solution should emanate from the people of Jammu and Kashmir themselves. All we can do is to tell them that we understand the complexities, we acknowledge, admit the terrible errors that have been made. That we accept that there is an external dimension to this issue which is Pakistan. And then we will see how to reconcile these various aspirations of the regions, sub regions and communities within the framework of a united agenda. Wherever you go, you get particularly young people speaking about the need for respecting democratic rights.
The hurt that we find in the valley particularly runs so deep that it cannot be easily solved by giving more money, more packages. I don’t think that free and fair elections alone can resolve the issue either. It requires a a political answer, which has to come from within the state itself. And that’s why where we have gone we have urged the two mainstream parties in the valley to producea document each, making a series of proposals. We have also asked the two major separatist outfits that all of them should come together with a kind of consensus. That is not enough. They ought to seek some similar consensus with other parties as well in Jammu and in Ladakh and evolve a thing which is acceptable to all the regions, sub regions and all the communities. And that is going to be our endeavor. We are going to list the issues, suggest alternatives, but it is for the people of J and K to say which alternative, either the ones that we have suggested or they might have their own, which of them would be acceptable to all the people of Jammu and Kashmir. It is a long difficult journey. But the alternative to hang on to the status quo is not going to be easy to follow. Because the kind of anger witnessed in the valley is soon going to be witnessed in Jammu. Here people say that we want closer integration with India. India is taking us for granted. India has not addressed our issues of being discriminated against. True or false, but those are the perceptions cleverly exploited by certain political parties. All of that needs to be taken into account.
We have now to think of the future and to think particularly of the young men and women whom we are meeting by the hundreds. They need to be given hope. The hurriyats represent a significant sentiment in the valley. You cannot come out with any political settlement without engaging with the hurriyat leaders. Unfortunately the leaders are divided and they are not on speaking terms. It is true that the hurriyats have refused to speak to us we are not political heavy weights. We want to speak to them and they should spell out what they want. The one word which you hear throughout is ‘azadi’. Instead of sitting and finding out what they mean by azadi, they rubbish them because they used that word. Young Kashmiris are angry with India. We need to sit down with them and ask them what they mean by ‘azadi’.
On an autobiographical note, Pune is one of those cities which have been at the forefront of social reforms, political activism, entrepreneurship, culture and so I see in many ways some kind of a silken bond that ties Punekars with Kashmir. And I would want you to strengthen those silken bonds. One can begin first and foremost by extending absolutely every kind of welcome to Kashmiris both Muslim and Pundits who have chosen Pune for studies and work and settlement. I will come back again once the report that we present to the Prime Minister on the political settlement comes in the public domain because we want to submit that report to critical scrutiny. But we also hope that we will be able to change the narrative as far as Indian public opinion is concerned. The Indian public opinion simply does not understand the complexity of the place. But more than complexities we have to understand that this is a deeply emotional issue. And the more we speak from the heart, it is the best way to try and understand them.