Until My Freedom Has Come

  • Saleem Beg
  • Publish Date: Jul 25 2017 9:31PM
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  • Updated Date: Jul 25 2017 9:31PM
Until My Freedom Has Come

                                                 Illustration by Suhail Naqshbandi/KI

We are caught up in the vicious cycle of violence, disruption of civic and economic sectors and non participative instruments of governance


The complexity of J&K, in practical terms Kashmir, is most often being looked at in terms of  the unsettling political conditions and public order. The politics, turmoil and the  resistance movement has relegated economic and development agenda to the back seat. In the last about 25 years this  has become more pronounced than before. That is not to say that in the preceding years the situation was markedly different but there were longer patches of growth and opportunity in those years.

Post 1947, National Conference led by Sheikh Abdullah took up reins of power in very unusual circumstances. The State had faced an invasion and revolt  in the outer flanks of Kashmir by the Muslim population. The new dispensation under Sheikh Sahab  implemented an economic agenda which aimed at empowering the majority community,  comprised mostly of Muslims. Under Big Landed Abolition Act 80,000 hectares of land were transferred to 2.34 lac tillers whose tenancy rights were converted into propriety holdings.  The Government also implemented  moratorium on debt recovery from the peasants. These debts  were raised from informal financial borrowings that attracted unbearable rate of interest.  While there was a surface calm in the state, there were underpinnings of unrest across the valley. If we go back to the events leading to  overthrow of Sheikh Abdullah’s government in 1953, Sheikh Sahab, three months before he was arrested on 9 August 1953,  spoke at length explaining  the rationale behind his demand for final settlement of Kashmir issue.   While advocating ascertaining the will of people, in other words demanding plebiscite , he stated that the uncertain political conditions have and will always come in the way of economic development of the state. His understanding of the uncertain political conditions was that the disputed status of Kashmir is coming in the way of development of the State

It is not that his overthrow was just a political conspiracy hatched by the powers that be in Delhi.  His removal was followed by an economic agenda that had all the ingredients of a similar setting as in Muslim constituents of Soviet Union.  In those states,  Soviet Rule ushered in unprecedented economic growth. However it also meant heavy curbs on individual rights, freedom of religious practices and denial of right to property.  Based on the Soviet experiment, which at that point in time looked to be highly successful, an indigenous model was devised  for Kashmir, a blend of Soviet  style with Nehruvian idea of freedom of religion. This experiment also seemed to be leading to some success. Post 1953, there was a long phase of peace and a degree of prosperity.  Without delving further  into this long story, the macro policy parameters were laid out on the plank of good governance and a development agenda.  However a dichotomy arose as this agenda also gave rise to corruption, nepotism  and lack of transparency. Poor management of economies, misuse of State machinery against the political opponents became the hall mark of this system.

Notwithstanding the above, the social and economic sectors saw a phenomenal growth during this period.  Social  and education infrastructure expanded.  However this expansion did not factor in equitable access to all sections  which resulted in disaffection amongst the youth. In early seventies there was a paradigm shift in Delhis’ approach. An experiment to show accommodation to the regional and political aspirations was undertaken giving space to the popular political leadership. This culminated into an agreement termed as Sheikh-Indira accord. In the initial years this accord worked reasonably  well at both economic and political levels. Kashmir witnessed massive expansion of economic and social infrastructure with a good degree of inclusiveness.

Unfortunately, some years after the death of Sheikh Sahab, this policy was again subverted  by resorting to machinations and manipulations leading to creating an atmosphere of uncertainty. The human investments were allowed to be degenerated and overridden by narrow party considerations. This uncertainty and disaffection was waiting to explode and in 1990 the combination of  local and international factors including breakup of Soviet Union leading to independence of Central Asian communities, failure of political class to address the sub-national and regional aspirations, tampering of election process culminated into a massive uprising. This uprising  was suppressed with a huge  and unprecedented use of force and State violence. This also gave rise to armed militancy supported generously by the neighboring country. One ramification of this upheaval was the natural corollary of total breakdown of governance and disruption of economy.

This state of affairs is continuing and has now become the new normal for Kashmir.  The only way out is change in the  fundamental approach towards the political aspects of Kashmir situation along with its cross border dimensions.  Unfortunately there are no signs of this policy change  at least for some time. We  are caught up in the vicious cycle of violence, disruption of civic and economic sectors and non participative instruments of governance.