Debating autonomy in calm times
So will principles of classic federalism settle down Kashmir?
ARJIMAND HUSSAIN TALIB
The last sixty years of Kashmir’s history has an unfailing lesson: the only predictability about its political mood is unpredictability. So who can hazard a guess about Kashmir’s political mood today?
There are some other important questions too: how would we define and frame the current political and psychological state of mind in Kashmir? Is it time to talk its political autonomy? Would the idea of classic federalism meet Kashmir’s political aspirations?
Kashmir is in the middle of a splendid summer today. Weather has just been fantastic since spring. Streets are lively. Tourists’ colorful hustle and bustle makes Kashmir look like we are the sub-continent’s ultimate oasis again. After years of hiatus, new investment and business plans are becoming a reality. From academics to politicians, from corporate leaders to general travel enthusiasts, all roads from mainland India seem leading to Kashmir.
Amidst all this, Kashmir’s vocal voices of dissent seem somewhat silent. Perhaps ‘silenced’ is a better word. But does this apparent political apathy signify a change of mood?
A very interesting workshop organized by the Political Science Department of Kashmir University and Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation (CDR) last week answered many of these questions. It was an occasion of debating at least three key visions of political autonomy for the state – that of the NC, PDP and People’s Conference led by Sajjad Lone. What followed was knowledge.
National Conference leader Abdul Rahim Rather’s presentation on pre-1953 position was a classic case of the party’s theoretical vision of the state’s autonomy. It would have been more interesting if Rather sahib stayed back for the question-answer session. It was Wajahat Habibullah who had to take the barrage of angry questions and some bit of hostility from the students. Sajjad Lone’s case for his Achievable Nationhood seemed somewhat strong – making a clear case of political devolution between New Delhi and Srinagar on one hand and Srinagar and the state’s sub-regions on the other. His was a rare presentation greeted with applause. What was missed, however, was People’s Democratic Party (PDP’s) case of self-rule.
Summing up the participants’ questions and the counter-points from the guest participants from outside the state, two conclusions are unmistakable. One: there is an overwhelming opinion in Kashmir even today that it is of little use to discuss the contours of political relationship between Srinagar and New Delhi when a lot of visions are already in public domain. The most pressing need for now seems the elusive confidence building measures (CBMs) that are seen critical in addressing the trust deficit between Srinagar and New Delhi. And those CBMs– it was strongly emphasized - must come in the areas of human rights, civil liberties, separation of the security establishment from political decision making, financial independence for the state and a brake to the systematic disempowerment of Kashmiri Muslims.
Two: what was also clear was that Kashmiris generally are not comfortable with the selective interpretations of the notion of majoritarianism. When people like Wajahat Habibullah seek to question the utility of the core concepts of western model of democracy, many participants were quick to bring the whole idea of democracy into question.
The fact is that given the shaky global economic situation and its perils of destabilization, federalism and the political contours of special regions like Jammu & Kashmir must generate a free and frank debate today. The current political and economic framework of selective federalism is not going to work in the days to come. What Greece did to Europe is a wake-up call. So let us have some perspective.
India’s economy is in dire straits today. If Eurozone is really diluted, Indian Rupee will plunge even below 60 against the US dollar. Consequently, the country’s energy cost and balance of payment will end up in a serious situation. Regional political parties in the country are bound to grow stronger and pan-India parties’ ability to hammer economic policies designed for the union is likely to be impeded. Political populism will increasingly make economic reforms quite harder to push. Special arrangements for supporting economically weaker federal units will come into serious question. Economically better performing states are likely to raise the pitch against the current system of tax devolution.
This situation makes the debate on federalism very relevant. But it would be a folly to assume that in a summer of economic boom the basic political aspirations of Kashmir have changed. A fervent call has been made – don’t expect the fruitless debate on political autonomy to shift the focus from pressing CBMs in Kashmir.
The columnist is presently a consultant in international development covering Asia-Pacific and Africa regions
Lastupdate on : Sat, 23 Jun 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 23 Jun 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 24 Jun 2012 00:00:00 IST
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