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Thursday, 16 December 2010

A ringed rail and road network

The future can only possibly be bright if we are immunised from the conflict of our neighbours. Despite it's heavy toll on our national expenditure and engineering prowess, it would pay dividends in the shape of easy mobility for citizens of the State, re-invigorate the concept of integrity, ease our custom/immigration process and - subject to a treaty with our neighbours and the international community - ward off external military intervention.

A circular rail and road network that juts the periphery and links each and every city of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir. This network would not only identify the contours of what - to date - is described as a disputed territory but it would re-unite the geographic entity that existed till the 22nd of October 1947. Thereby, simplifying the national question of what direction citizens of a disputed territory divided by the physical presence of three neighbouring countries should take; on their path to progress and competition with an ever shrinking world. This would indeed constitute a re-development or a continuation (post-disruption) on what the British either deliberately or inadvertently facilitated between March 1846 and October 1947.

Indeed, the Indian Independence Act of 3rd June 1947 gave full cover for the continuation of a 'mulk' or in post-renaissance European parlance; a nation state, namely Jammu & Kashmir. Urges by Moundbatten, Gandhi and Jinnah to commit to one or the other dominion notwithstanding.

Before we embark on this new phase of existence which should be characterised by economic development and backed by a lucid structure of govenance, we need to understand the background to as well as the events which transpired in that fateful month of October (1947). How, in the space of five days (between the 22nd and the 27th), the adamantly independent-minded Maharaja's State was swamped with Indian and Pakistani soldiers, under the close watch and command of the remnants of the British Raj.

Unravelling what really happened in that month of ill-fortune is an immediate task of seekers of genuine history. It is equally possible that a clean narrative exists. In which case, yours truly needs to pull his socks up.

The question and indeed theory propounded by many a keen researcher, invariably points fingers at a selfish British motive to contain Soviet advancement into the Indian realm. It is questionable whether the cold war really involved such forward-planning at such an elementary stage, that it precipitated the split of what was essentially North India into West and East Pakistan. Simultaneously, the remainder of what was North India was 're-connected' administratively with South India, in continuation or rather an upgradation of how British India's governance functioned, minus the headache of princely states and the bulk of the muslim population of the region.

Others perceive partition to be a cunning diversion away from a possible backlash against the outgoing British and an accomplishment of British policy - post 1857 - to emphasise the seperate identities of Hindus and Muslims in the region. Utilising those fissures to subsequently divide the State of Jammu and Kashmir and give each of the dominions a share of the 'cake': thereby facilitating high budgetary expenses of both countries on defence (at the cost of development) to 'defend' the parts of the State (of Jammu and kashmir) under their control. It can be further argued that both countries -  post-independence - have bought a fair share of their military hardware and facilitated military/economic expansion of the 'West' in this region.

It is important at this juncture to not disclude the rights movement during the Dogra era which erupted at times during the 1880's and is most noted by the events in Srinagar on July the 13th 1931. Despite a majority of 80% Muslims throughout the State, Hindus are alleged to have been given preferences in jobs, business opportunity, education and land holdings. It is further alleged that the life of a Muslim was not equal before the law to that of a Hindu. There is certainly evidence of Muslim government servant's pay being lower than that of an equivalently placed Hindu. To use a proverbial cliche, the final straw that broke the camel's back could be Hari Singh's decision to dis-arm all Muslims once he got wind of an impending tribal attack from Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province in October 1947.

The psyche that accompanied the two-nation theory definitely played it's part in formenting the genocide that took place in this territory (on all sides of the religious divide). Whatever may have been the inspiration or passion that instigated mob rule was consolidated by the military presence of India and Pakistan on either side of the political divide. To this day, depending on which territory (or even religious affiliation) a citizen of this State resides in, opinion is still sharply divided as to whether foreign military presence is a protector or destroyer of civil liberty. One could argue with conviction backed by ample evidence that the net result of military presence here is a stifling of civil space.

It is equally important to cite some positive attributes of Dogra rule - which if allowed to evolve unhindered by outside influence would in all likelihood, have transformed this State from autocratic rule to fully-fledged and functioning democratic rule. Indeed, Hari Singh's decision to construct a Praja Sabha in 1934, the prior formation of the Muslim Conference in the wake of events in 1931 and the Maharajah's pledge to relegate himself to that of a titular head and thus transfer all powers to the assembly in early 1947, were all indications of political evolution under an administrative structure that had all the ingredients of a modern nation-state. Except, that events largely out of the control of the Maharajah or his subjects, were thrust upon the State.

Returning to the title of this opinion piece, in order to allay allegations of 'wishful thinking', it has been important to re-visit aspects of our shared history which have been 'brushed under the carpet' by the sustained exigencies of Indian and Pakistani national identity. The future can only possibly be bright if we are immunised from the conflict of our neighbours. Despite it's heavy toll on our national expenditure and engineering prowess, it would pay dividends in the shape of easy mobility for citizens of the State, re-invigorate the concept of integrity, ease our custom/immigration process and - subject to a treaty with our neighbours and the international community - ward off external military intervention.

Preventing our religious affiliation from falling prey to the supposed honour of our neighbours is a first step to reducing militaristic presence on our soil. It is only then that civil space can be re-vitalised and the scope of economic opportunity widened. Arriving at an integrated opinion on our shared history would only surface in such a scenario. Those, who have pushed for a kashmir solution over the years - irrespective of their political affiliation – have paid scant regard for this imperative.  

Remembering that rule of law, infrastructure planning/implemetation, environmental integrity and meritocracy (in spite of evidence of Hindu-Muslim discrimination) were of a much higher standard than what we've witnessed post 1947; it maybe useful to put in context the high levels of endemic corruption in India, Pakistan and China. Our history since 1947 is replete with examples of how the most venal politicians (legitimised by India and Pakistan) have shrouded themselves with the tricoloured tiranga or the star and crescent, whenever their misdeeds necessitated. This is evidence of how genuine public representation that subscribes to the modern demands of 'good governance' can not emerge in this State, under the prevailing structures on either side of the divide.

The difficulty here is this: political and military organisations in this region have been designed to de-politicise and suppress. Otherwise, with an abundance of water resources, sunshine, clean air and open space; our population's intellectual curiosity  and drive for competing with the world would have been nourished. If the proposition of Hindus and Muslims not being able to co-exist was considered to be a disease, the cure in the shape of India and Pakistan has created much deeper problems. To cure the common cold, we in AJK - at least - have contracted political pneumonia. 
...

The writer is a writer, broadcaster and activist working for civil society development in Pakistani-administered Kashmir and can be mailed at sahaafi@gmail.com

This article was first published in Rising Kashmir (a Srinagar-based English daily) on the 15th of December 2010

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