Monday, January 05, 2009

Omar Abdullah brings forth a new arena in Kashmir ?

The Jammu and Kashmir issue remains complicated. The state was signed into the Indian Union in difficult circumstances, at a time when Pakistani invaders wanted to conquer the state for eventual integration into Pakistan. At the time, the Maharajah of the state finally changed his stance from trying to be independent and signed the instrument of Accession and the state officially became a part of the Indian Union. The State however had a status that was separate from almost any other state in the Union (some states have special status that prevent outsiders from being able to buy land and so on, but no other state has the level of autonomy that this state has), and which is something that continues to irritate many Indians. The basic question remains as to why the state has been granted the special level of autonomy ? It is proclaimed that it is so because it has a special character, but the basic doubt remains as to whether this is because it is the only Muslim majority state in the Indian Union. However, this is an endless debate, and just like many other issues, it is very doubtful as to whether these provisions will ever be repealed.
The last 1 year has seen many strange things happening in the Valley. The Congress was in command, with Ghulam Nabi Azad being the Chief Minister (as part of the agreement with the PDP of the Mufti where the Chief Minister's post revolves between the PDP and the Congress 50:50). However, like similar arrangements in many other parts of the country, this one also had its strains, with the PDP not particularly satisfied once it had to hand over the Chief Ministership to the Congress (and the PDP never liked Ghulam Nabi Azad). And then the Amarnath issue blew up.
At some time in the past, the High Court had ordered the Government to improve the facilities for devotees visiting the Amarnath shrine in Kashmir, and eventually the J & K Government under him made a cabinet decision in that regard by transferring some amount of land to the Amarnath committee for preparing temporary structures; however, this decision caused a major upheaval in the valley. Separatist sentiment got invoked, and even the PDP essentially backed away and Azad also resigned. However, once the transfer of land was put on hold, residents of the Jammu area launched a major agitation. For a long time, the residents of Jammu have felt like second class citizens. With the Kashmir valley being a political concern due to its Muslim majority, Jammu has always felt that it has been treated as an unequal partner. It was the cancellation of the transfer of land that somehow made these sentiments burst out (there must have been a lot of incitement, but there was a genuine display of anger by people as well), and an agitation that showed no way out for the Congress Government forced it to bend towards the Jammu agitators and transfer the land to the Committee.
In this environment, it was felt that elections would not be a good idea, what with separatist sentiment having been very vocal in the previous months, but the elections surprised everyone. Inspite of calls by the Hurriyat Conference and the separatists, people turned out to vote in large numbers. It is speculated that this voting should not be seen as an under-cutting of the sentiment towards freedom, but more about local governance issues. I believe that we should see this as a right step, since elections are meant to show that the will of the people is paramount in electing politicians who can govern, and the election of the National Conference young leader (and a former Central External Affairs Minster of State) Omar Abdullah is a step in the right direction. Even though the NC is tainted with having helped cause the rise in azaadi sentiment by having rigged the elections in 1987, it is a party that has always seen the future of Kashmir with India. If Omar Abdullah delivers good governance, it will go a long way in destroying the separatist sentiment.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 9:51 AM