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I am not religious, but I don't mind calling myself spiritual. Religion, I believe, has, over the millennia, been used as a prop to perpetrate a lot of human suffering. Faith is what matters. I don't believe in the definition of God as a creator. According to me, my God resides within me. Some call it conscience, some call it the sub-conscious, some call it the soul. I don't mind calling it God. So by definition I am not an atheist or an agnostic, but by essence, I may as well be. My God does not reside in a temple, church, mosque or gurudwara. It is right here, within me.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Precarious Kashmir

This article appeared in the August issue of the online monthly magazine Orange19. You can go to www.orange19.com and check out the August issue. You can also visit their facebook page.

Kashmir is bleeding. The continuation of violence – typically stone-pelting – by the rebellious young Kashmiris has brought Kashmir to its knees. The continued threat of the Islamic right is a grave concern for everyone who has a stake in Kashmir. But what we are seeing is a dilly-dallying on the part of the ruling National Conference-Congress coalition government – not because they do not want to do something about it, but because they have no clue where to start from.
When Mr. Omar Abdullah was crowned as the Chief Minister in January 2009, Congress believed that the apparent youthfulness and sincerity of the son of the person who has done much for Kashmir could bode well for the future of the beleaguered state. But things have turned out differently. When he came to power, he pledged zero tolerance to human rights violations. He also mooted the possibility of a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” to look into the same. At best, this has turned out to be a pipe dream. After the recent spate of remonstrations, Mr. Abdullah “talked about” a cabinet reshuffle at the top, hinting to drop certain tainted ministers. He is also said to “plan” to overhaul the top echelons of J&K police.  One wonders why is there all talk and no action.
In 2000, National Conference pushed for a resolution demanding autonomy for Kashmir but this demand was rejected at New Delhi by the then ruling BJP led NDA alliance. It’s a demanding question why has not Mr. Abdullah put forward any such idea now, when their alliance partner, i.e. Congress, rules at the centre. The centre also has its share of follies. For instance, the workable suggestions put forward by the five working groups established by the Prime Minister himself at the end of the 2nd Round Table Conference in 2006 have been all but cold shouldered.
It is undeniable that the popularity of Mr. Abdullah has plummeted during his 18-month tenure. A queer yardstick for this is the proliferation of hate communities on social networking sites like Facebook. “We Hate Omar Abdullah” is as much fraught with political satire on the CM and his misgovernance as it is with vituperation and venomous hatred spelled out in abusive, but very clear words. “We Hate Barkha Dutt” incriminates her for her apparent prejudiced and one-sided coverage of the clashes and goes one step ahead with suggested ideas of her being “stoned to death”. These middle class youth are remorselessly separatist and do not want anything to do with India. It is prevalence of such thought which strengthens the agenda of the Islamist separatists like Syed Ali Shah Gilani of the Tehreek-i-Hurriyat.
There also seems to be a deep-rooted division in the ruling coalition. In the all-party meeting called by Mr. Abdullah on July 12 to plan a common strategy, Mr. Tara Chand, the deputy CM and the Congress leader in the state, was conspicuous by his absence. When asked, he simply stated that he was not invited. This, when the PM openly invited Ms. Mehbuba Mufti of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), who stands in the opposition. Also, recently a delegation of Congress leaders from the state met Ms. Sonia Gandhi demanding a rotation of the post of CM in the state. These divisions do not augur well for the people of the troubled state. What J&K needs today is coming together of all opinions, ideas and oppositions and chalking out a common strategy for the future of the troubled state. Nothing short of it will do. But alarmingly the truth is far far from this quixotic dream.
The solution to the Kashmir problem is, admittedly, not simple. The central government can start by providing better equipment for the paramilitary forces and the police by arming them with non-lethal crowd control strategies. Also, strengthening the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) should be a screaming priority now. Evidently, CRPF has a crippling shortage at the crucial Assistant Commandant level – the officers responsible for handling forces the size of a company or about 125 men. Many of their best officers are siphoned off by Special Protection Group and the National Security Guard early in their careers. The training of its recruits also seriously lacks the quality that is demanded of its members at crucial moments which is made evident by the fact that it has no high command school dedicated to counter-insurgency tactics.
It is time for the NC president Mr. Farooq Abdullah to relinquish his post as his attention is divided at the centre, him being the Union Minister for Renewable Energy. The alarming situation in the state demands undivided attention of the helmsmen. Also the government should give a fillip to education and investment in the state by providing attractive opportunities for the private organisations to invest.
A more concrete mechanism should be put in place to check inflow of “foreign” aid to fund the insurgency in the valley. Local citizens’ bodies could also be set up to liaise with the state administrators and police to put forward the concerns of the citizens in a quicker and more effective manner.
Finally, the questionable role of the CRPF and the Army in the state will always remain a moot topic. In this regard, the government can address the concerns of the human rights activists by diluting the misused Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), if not outright rejecting it.
It is time for the Indian leaders to own up one’s fault and stop blaming Pakistan for inciting hatred in J&K. Let’s admit it, what we are currently seeing in the state has very little to do with Pakistan. It is the suppressed post-1989 generation -that grew up in the shadow of bullets and bloodshed - that has time and again felt discontented and betrayed by the Indian state. Today 7 out of 10 Kashmiris are below the age of 25 and antipathy towards the ways of governance by the Indian leaders only fuels the separatist ideologies. The post-2008 election euphoria was replaced by a sense of complacency among the honchos at the top and the 18 months that followed could have been used to build on the relative calm to push for concrete conflict resolution processes. Let us all hope for better governance in the future, lest the floodgates open and palpable resentment give way to complete rebellion.

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