The curious case of governance in engagement with Kashmir conflict

By Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal. Dated: 3/23/2019 12:03:20 PM

The complexity and intractability of Kashmir conflict has the strange potential of impacting every sphere of life including routine daily hum drum of ordinary lives in a myriad ways; and correspondingly everything under the sun has the inane ability of getting intrinsically politicised. The common joke in Kashmir is that even a needle laying on a table would qualify for a political engagement. In this conflict zone of chaotic proportions, the influence of structures of governance and political-administrative set-ups on the conflict are a given. The over-arching authority and control of the two states, directly or indirectly, through the seven decades has been a major factor in the way Kashmir's conflict has shaped on both sides of the Line of Control. While the conflict itself is rooted in the inability of offering the people the choice of deciding their political future, many other factors act as catalysts in augmenting the conflict.
But it is perhaps for the first time that a vast body of existing scholarship on Kashmir has been enriched with a new work, methodically and exhaustively researched, revealing an important dimension of how governance has interacted with the conflict in the last seven decades. The nature of the state, its politics and actions is under scrutiny. Has it helped ameliorate the conflict? Or deepened it? In his book 'What Happened to Governance in Kashmir?', Aijaz Ashraf Wani traces the historical journey of politics, political figures and political developments in Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir, the Centre-state relations and the manipulative methods wielded over political rulers of the state by New Delhi from time to time.
The book focuses solely on the developments in the Indian administered part of the state and while doing so offers massive insights into New Delhi's attempts to monopolise the politics of Kashmir right after 1947 as part of its integration project and its shoddy attempt to democratise the state through employment of the most ruthless and un-democratic means, brazenly or clandestinely. Whether it was erosion of Article 370 by tunneling out its content bit by bit or clamping down of 'azadi' sentiment, the argument that New Delhi's actions were less guided by democratic ideals and political propriety and more by the mistrust of Kashmir's politicians is built up by the author through laborious research, events and the complex narratives; also a comparative study of the personalities of the lineage of rulers in the state.
The book gyrates around politics and governance and views the impactive change on the ground. It studies in detail the successive rulers, their seasonal proximity to central government, their own blunders and weaknesses and their final exit after the very nascent signs of resistance. Delhi patronised politicians, put up with the dichotomies of the successive rulers or used them to suit a larger agenda including building up a campaign against their one-time favourite rulers. Delhi thus assumes the role of the grand puppeteer and turns the regional political players into puppets with interchangeable roles - for instance Sheikh Mohd. Abdullah's transformation from the patronized monarch to an arch-enemy.
Wani relies on existing research, picks up on it to see how various political events related to governance have had a far-reaching impact on the public and shaped their perceptions and psyche. Much of what the author dishes out is already available in the public domain and in the rich body of literature related to Kashmir conflict. However, his real contribution is in stitching it together like a flowing inter-connecting fabric along with the mesh of internal and external complexities to put things in a clear perspective and makes a valid argument.
He sees the manipulations by New Delhi and Kashmir's political elites as the prime catalyst in the alienation of the masses and the consequent eruption of armed insurgency challenging the Indian State in Kashmir. Governance, he argues, was not limited to the imposition of 'client governments' and loyal rulers; it encompassed an over-arching ambit of the landscape of Jammu and Kashmir by turning Kashmir into a 'state of exception' with a heavy dose of excessive militarisation, security related legislations, regimes of impunity, denial of fundamental rights and civil liberties to Kashmir's population, subversion of democratic institutions and processes, erosion of its special status and the over-significant role given to the Indian intelligence agencies in perpetuating its networking of surveillance and aiding the process of manipulation.
The book starts with an impressive context detailing the conditions of economic isolation, geographical limitations, financial crisis and political instability in which Kashmir was placed after the upheavals of 1947 followed by laying down of the edifices of the governance model; also, how this had an interplay with the complex dynamics of region, religion and economic conditions. It offers a critique of Sheikh's Naya Kashmir programme, the limitations of its implementation and the nuanced impact it had on the social and economic fabric of the state. It talks about the Sheikh's repressive measures and financial crisis militating against the spirit of the vision. The author sets the tone for rest of the pages with his remarks, "……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………. Yet, the personality and priorities of individual rulers and specific conditions in which each of them also influenced the tone and tenor of governance."
Rest of the chapters are dedicated to rulers and their governance from 1947 to 1989, within this scheme of arrangement. The author finds in the land reforms the seeds of mistrust between New Delhi and Sheikh Abdullah and in Sheikh's ruthless and corrupt governance, the widening of chasms between different regional and religious identities, paving the ground for the horizontal and vertical penetration of intelligence agencies, which had a role to play in Sheikh's deposition, and consequently leading to New Delhi's greater control over the political scene in Kashmir. While Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed recovered the lost ground with respect to development and administration, his undemocratic practices were a source of embarrassment for New Delhi. His attempt to bring back the plebiscite from the bag proved to be the last straw. The deepening levels of corruption during his regime finally provided New Delhi with the excuse of dumping him in favour of G.M. Sadiq. The heart of the matter is summed up in the words of the latter:
"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 book traces the onward march from one ruler to another, as mis-governance and the 'more loyal than King' proximity to New Delhi started giving birth to radical ideas from 1960s onwards, excessive corruption and rigged elections that finally acted as major catalysts for insurgency. The author writes, "Although the democratic expression of dissent against mis-governance 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."
The author also cites Hindutva politics of the RSS as a mover and shaker in conditioning New Delhi's handling of Kashmir and the weakness of successive Congress regimes that succumbed to the power of the right-wing forces in apologetically patronizing the counter narratives to Kashmir from Jammu and Ladakh. The complex diversity of the state and its contentious political narratives that are linked to both regional and religious identities, in the light of such a history, beg the answer to the conundrum of whether these contesting and polarizing aspirations are a culmination of local flavours or also a result of Machiavellian politics employed to enhance, if not manufacture, divisiveness. This has not been dealt with at length. The author falls short of an elaboration of how such divisive politics interacts with social, political and economic inter-linkages and how they impact the overall politics of the state and the psyche of the people. But that perhaps is not the scope of this scholarship. How the state was governed and how politics evolved in the state, further shaping the course of the conflict, post-1989 is also missing. He merely leaves the developments of 1988-89 with conclusion that flawed policies turned a limited insurgency into a full-blown mass movement while averring that both the Indian and Kashmiri intelligence agencies showed culpable negligence till militancy took deep root in the valley. The political events since then and the multiple governance failures ever since are a potential mine-field of another academic engagement, perhaps a sequel to this book.
The main crux of this work is to examine the potential of politicised and manipulated governance in the augmenting the conflict and sowing the seeds of insurgency in the state. The strong-armed tactics to integrate the state obsessively resulted in pushing the people of Kashmir to the other side and finding in the gun the power to fight back. The author writes: "Civilisations die by suicide, not by murder. This is the lesson of history. And this is what happened to the Indian state in Kashmir. The youth were forced to take up the gun when the ballot was denied to them."
This analysis mirrors the warning of noted political analyst, Eqbal Ahmad had written, "The reality is that New Delhi's moral isolation from the Kashmiri people is total and irreversible. It might be reversible if India were to envisage a qualitatively different relation with Kashmir, one which meaningfully satisfies Kashmiri aspirations of self-government, but so far New Delhi has evinced no inclination in this direction."
A valuable resource, the book is a significant contribution and brings to light the relation between governance and conflict in Kashmir; and offers a perspective and argument that has never been backed heavily with research and detail. It is a must read for those interested in engaging with Kashmir and understanding the nature of the conflict. The crux of the matter is: The manipulation of the state to create desired results broke the very edifices of democratic structures and institutions, making Kashmir a 'state of exception'.
The cover design by Mir Suhail captures the essence of the book. The title of the book which ends with a question-mark itself is cryptically telling. It is not only about tracing the governance patterns and its continuing trajectory of failures, machinations and political manipulations. It also raises the valid questions of the 'invisibalisation' and 'queerness' of governance. Was it inspired by the democratic ideals enshrined in the Indian constitution and its commitment to liberal values or conditioned by insecurities and anxieties of losing Kashmir? The question mark is symbolic of the inability of the governance in meeting public aspirations - political, economic, social and developmental, relegating it to a mechanism of simply managing the conflict.



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