Kashmir: Questions on governance

The book is published by Oxford University Press, New Delhi, it is spread over 356 pages, and is a must read for students and research scholars of Kashmir scene in post-47 era.
Kashmir: Questions on governance
Representational pic

The landmark book on governance authored by Aijaz Ashraf Wani has an unusual title, 'What Happened to Governance in Kashmir'? The author seeks to answer the question in a study, hitherto untouched. Kashmir lost in the vortex of conflict and violence remains largely ungovernable. The study is backed by a sound academic pool, encompassing mainly the political science department of Kashmir University, with inputs from other departments as well. Son of Prof. Ashraf Wani—former HOD of Department of History, the author has adequate genetic grooming, plus the required historical feedback to compile the study.

The book has five chapters besides an elaborate introductory note and conclusion. The introductory note amply spells out what the book is all about, and the conclusion is short and crisp. Out of five chapters, the first relates to, 'Contextualizing Governance'. The context is dealt in several subheads: Political Instability, Contestation on Special Status, Financial Crisis, Naya Kashmir programme, Shifting Contexts. Calling instability the defining feature of post 1947 scenario, the author sums up the consequences—deficit of peace, intolerance of opposition, denial of democracy, installation of client governments and the central government's collaboration with the political practices—corrupt or otherwise of their sponsored establishment faction. It is an elaborate summing up, with inter-related consequences, such as enforced law and order and the resultant human rights violations. 

Contestation on special status deals with Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah opting for an autonomous state and Pandit Nehru apparently falling in line, albeit with deception down the line. The contest is between retaining autonomous state and Indian nation state deceptively working to make J&K like any other state in India. Indian state contextualized its approach by playing on religious, regional and sub-regional identities. The political machinations resulted in marked governance deficit and devastating effect on financial scene. It is next on author's radar—financial crisis. With economy the fuel that engines governance, the author traces the marked trade deficit that resulted from breakdown of geographic reach of the state to Central Asia, and more important the virtual shutdown of approach to subcontinent via JV road, Jammu-Sialkot route as well. Kashmir remaining caged is the obvious implication. The factors that led to resource crunch include Indus Water Treaty and bartering away the power projects for crumbs in return. 

The author labels 'Naya Kashmir Programme' as the 'Magna Carta' of Kashmir. Cast in socialist mould, Sheikh Abdullah made it the bedrock of his leadership. Bakshi, Sadiq and Qasim followed the lead. The author painfully concludes that Naya Kashmir was selectively followed; democratic deficit and misuse of power underlined the functioning of all governments in J&K State. 'Shifting contexts' is perhaps the most interesting subtitle in 'Contextualizing Governance'. It relates to what could be called the shifting sands in Kashmir's socio-political and politico-economic panorama. The governance context started shifting post 1970's with the change in rural as well as urban aspirations. As 1970's turned to 80's Kashmir was fast becoming the smothering cauldron. At the fag end of 1980's it exploded.   

The sequence of chapters worked out by the author broadly sticks to how the time phases are imprinted in popular imagination. The time phases relate to different leaders guiding the state in specified periods. The refrain is constant, lurking in the background were the political machinations of central government. We may take up the first phase as noted in chapter two. It is titled: How New Was the New Kashmir (1948-53)?  It relates to SMA's agrarian reforms, executed swiftly and sharply. What the author constructs as a plus for governance was short on unanimity. The regional pull in Jammu weighed against SMA, Ladakh was hardly mollified. Sheikh Abdullah fell to what has already been noted—the tug of war between an autonomous state and amalgamation in the Indian political landscape. The author accords several pros to Bakshi regime (Chapter 3–Patronage government: 1953-63) on governance, however castigates the approach, constructing it as materialistic. The author is right in implying that materialistic approach in governance robbed Kashmir of moral fibre. And, he is right in his scathing conclusions too, by calling Bakshi Machiavelli's 'half man and half horse' combining human means, with the knowhow to imitate beasts. It is an apt conclusion.

Chapter four 'A Difference in Degree (1964-75)' deals with imposing Sadiq as an agent of change to policy of liberalization, entailing freedom of speech, setting free political detainees. However the shift from liberalization to repression and coercive integration was not far off. The author lists merger of NC into Congress, and sixth amendment of J&K constitution to change the nomenclature of Sadr-e-Riyasat to Governor and Prime Minister to Chief Minister as measures of coercive integration. Apart from a change in emphasis, given Sadiq's left leaning ideology, there was no major economic shift.  In his days, the game of planting a rival within party ranks continued. Mir Qasim was the man chosen. Sadiq however died, before he could be set aside. Qasim was the obvious choice to replace him.  Qasim from December 1971 to February 1975 worked to continue Sadiq's policies generally, while helping the central government to wean back Sheikh Abdullah to mainstream. 

In the final chapter  (Kashmir Summer: 1975-89) the author is struck, nay amazed by Sheikh Abdullah retaining his popularity until he died. He traces the reasons—memories of Sheikh's contributions and sacrifices, being seen as a 'Wali' of Sufi realm, and in representing the political sentiment. The author however rightly calls it the, 'Politics of Deception' though it helped NC to generate a wave of sympathy and win 1977 election. In development, existing structure was upgraded. Sheikh's second innings was marked by tension between his political outfit-NC and the Congress, with the local congress leaders playing the spoilsport.  As Sheikh Abdullah left the scene in 1982, Farooq Abdullah succeeded his father. Indira Gandhi blessed dynastic succession. Farooq Abdullah's governance skills were suspect right from day one. With every passing day, the governance deficit was getting wider and wider.  Farooq Abdullah denied tie-up with congress in the election that ensued shortly after he took over. Though he won, Indira Gandhi held the grudge. Political machinations followed, leading to defection of 14 NC MLA's and toppling of Farooq Abdullah. His estranged brother-in-law GM Shah took over as CM with congress support. Farooq regained power after making up with Rajiv Gandhi. 1987 election followed, widely believed to be tainted. This led to radicalization of politics and emergence of JKLF, rest is history.

The book is published by Oxford University Press, New Delhi, it is spread over 356 pages, and is a must read for students and research scholars of Kashmir scene in post-47 era.

  Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]

iqbal.javid46@gmail.com  

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