How long can we deny democracy to people in Kashmir

Brij Bhardwaj is a veteran journalist and commentator

For many years a slogan often heard and mentioned in seminars was that Indian democracy stops at Banihal tunnel, the dividing point between Jammu region and Kashmir Valley in Jammu and Kashmir. Elections were held in the state at same time while they were free and fair in Jammu, Ladakh, in the Valley they were often rigged. This trend was changed with the defeat of Congress party and Janata Dal coming to power in seventies. The poll in mid seventies became a land mark being a free and fair poll.

One witnessed a decade of peace and progress in Jammu and Kashmir. The trend was however reversed in late eighties and followed insurgency rising on a large scale which touched a peak in nineties leading to mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley. It took a lot of time and effort by all before normalcy could be restored by holding elections again. The installation of popular Government even with a limited mandate as voting percentage was poor in Kashmir Valley due to boycott by pro-Pak elements.

The state however continued to move ahead because of leadership of Congress leaders as well Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Both Mr Vajpayee and Mr Narsimha Rao sought solution of Kashmir problem through dialogue within the limits of Indian Constitution and coined famous slogan “Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat” During this period trade and travel between two parts of Kashmir under control of India and Pakistan started. Line of Control became virtual dividing line, terrorism came under control .At same time back door talks started between India and Pakistan to resolve Kashmir issue.

With fall of Gen Musharaff in Pakistan and BJP coming to power situation again changed. Pakistan went back on its commitments while BJP felt uncomfortable in partnership with PDP as both had sought votes on the basis of their respective agenda. The BJP wanted abolition of article 370 giving special status to Jammu and Kashmir while PDP wanted greater autonomy for state or self rule. The result is present situation in which most of the state remained under curfew for weeks. The restrictions have been eased in Jammu and Ladakh but remain in force in Kashmir after one month.

Telecommunications are down, no internet or mobile phones are working. Media functioning particularly of local newspapers and journalists is almost impossible. Markets closed and normal life disrupted. A large scale presence of security force has prevented any mass protest . All leaders of mainstream parties and secessionists are under arrest. Schools are open but with very few students. This situation has not changed after one month and no one can give even a guess when the situation will return to normal.

Agreed that India has won the battle of perception on Kashmir in international forums for a simple reason that Pakistan which has been identified as a breeding center of terrorism in the world lacks credibility and has not been able to get support of any international power except China. India, however, has not been able to make a start in its endeavour to win hearts and minds of people of Kashmir. There is a little doubt that a beginning in this respect can be made by making Jammu and Kashmir into a state instead of being union territories and by holding elections.

Till a beginning is made in this direction Kashmir will remain a subject of debate in international forums not as a territorial dispute but issue of human rights. If the present situation continues for months, tourists will not visit Kashmir, fruits main export of Valley not reaching markets, markets closed, schools deserted, talk of normalcy has little meaning.

India’s claim on Jammu and Kashmir rested more on the fact that people chose secular India and notPakistan, a decision endorsed by free elections and Constituent Assembly As such it has to create conditions in which Indian democracy does not stop at Banihal tunnel but covers Kashmir Valley. We need development along with democracy. Kashmir has not done badly so far on human scale of development. It certainly needs more industry and employment opportunities not in para military forces alone.

We do not have to control our part of Kashmir as has been the case in Pakistan by direct rule and denying rights to local people but by self rule and by giving them democracy and democratic rights. Time of holding territory by force without support of people is over. And there are many examples of it.

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