Sound And Fury, Signifying Little

Updated: Sep 15 2002, 05:30am hrs
It is an election to a state legislature, yet it is not like any other election. Since Jammu & Kashmir is a special case, the elections to the J&K Assembly assume a special significance. India is concerned about the elections. So is Pakistan. So is the rest of the world, particularly the US. A huge investment is being made in the elections in terms of money, time, emotion and human lives. The irony is that despite the large investment, the elections offer no real choice to the voters, and J&K will remain exactly where it was before the elections. The elections, I am afraid, would have proved nothing and disproved nothing.

Since 1947, the accession of J&K to India has been a matter of dispute between India and Pakistan. The problem itself has three parts, each part representing one of the three regions of the state. The Ladakh region looks upon itself as distinct from both the Kashmir valley and the Jammu region. The Jammu region identifies itself more closely with India, but even here there are one or two districts which are suspected to lean in the other direction. The hub of the problem is the Kashmir valley, and the hopes and aspirations of the people of the valley.

The Kashmir valley is not a piece of real estate. It is people. It is the proud history of Islam and Hinduism co-existing for centuries. It is a highly refined culture. It is the agony of five decades that has ravaged the lives of three generations of Kashmiris. It is an experiment in governance that has miserably failed. It is the story of one family the Abdullahs that is venerated at one time and hated at another.

I cannot speak for Pakistan. That country was founded on the principle of the two-nation theory. However perverse it may seem to secular human beings, the two-nation theory is alive and kicking (or killing) in diverse places such as Northern Ireland, Palestine, Serbia and Bosnia. Pakistans approach to the Kashmir issue is based on a very simple formulation: since the majority of the people in the Kashmir valley are Muslims, the valley should rightfully be part of Pakistan. According to Pakistan, that view is shared by the people of the valley. Hence Pakistans challenge to India to hold a referendum. At one point of time, this challenge gained legitimacy and acceptance in the only world body, the United Nations. We may think that Pakistan is greedy and stupid, but it cannot be denied that Pakistans argument is simple and linear.

Indias case is more complex. India is a secular state, hence we reject the two-nation theory. Elections have been held in J&K from time to time, hence we reject the call for a referendum. Pakistan forcibly grabbed one-third of the territory and the Line of Control (LoC) is a by-product of three wars, hence we reject the idea of converting the LoC into an International Border. Indias case rests on sound civilisational principles, but there is no gainsaying that it is a more difficult argument to put across to the rest of the world.

Besides, India has not been consistent in its approach to the Kashmir issue. It was India which took the matter first to the United Nations. Subsequently, there have been other interventions, the most notable being the Tashkent agreement hammered into shape by the prime minister of the USSR, Kosygin. Yet, today, the word international in the context of the Kashmir issue is anathema to India. India has been a peace-broker and a peace-keeper in many conflicts. Most recently, India has welcomed Norways initiative in resolving the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. Nothing would be more desirable than a bilateral resolution of the Kashmir issue, but if it cannot be so resolved, are we going to allow the wound to fester for another 50 years and pay an intolerable price in thousands of human lives

There is also the question of Indias attitude to the Abdullah family. Before Mayawati and Rabri Devi came on the scene, J&K had the distinction of being the worst-governed state. Dr Farooq Abdullah has neither the time nor the inclination nor the ability to provide a good, clean and efficient administration. Many years ago he discovered the secret of staying in powerremain on the right side of the party in power in Delhi. As long as Dr Abdullah denounced Pakistan and its territorial ambitions, every government in Delhi was obliged to praise his valour and patriotism. Despite their increasing marginalisation in J&K, both the Congress and the BJP have found no other ally in the state. Until yesterday, Dr Abdullahs son, Omar, held an important portfolio in the NDA government; today, the National Conference is bitterly criticising the BJP and has vowed to defeat the BJP candidates; tomorrow, are we sure that Dr Abdullah will not find a place in the NDA government

For all his faults, Dr Abdullahs heart is in the right place. He truly loves his people and shares their pain and agony. He was the first person to come up with a sensible and practical solution to the Kashmir issue that the LoC should be recognised by both countries as the International Border. De facto, J&K has remained divided for 55 years and there seems to be no yearning for an immediate re-union. If there is indeed an yearning, it is an yearning for peace. It appears to me that since the Congress and the BJP have diminished stakes in J&K, they are too scared to contemplate the alternatives to the Abdullahs and the National Conference. There are other political groups in Kashmir and some of them may perhaps have greater legitimacy. They need time to join the political processes that we take for granted in India. We must pay heed to their voices and we must give them time.

In that view, the current elections in Jammu & Kashmir seem pointless and futile. As I noted earlier, nothing will be changed by these elections. Nothing will be proved and nothing will be disproved.

(The author is former Union finance minister)