Kashmir: Illusion And Reality

"We are never deceived; we deceive ourselves." Goethe
If the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) were left to its colonial techniques, Kashmiris may eventually benefit from Gilbert’s discovery and Edison’s invention– the electricity and the shining bulb–in the form of megawatts of "power blockade". According to reports in the media, CERC has pulled the plug on the Kashmir Power Development Department’s request for more electricity for Kashmir– the electricity that is Kashmir’s own.

While water, road and electricity in Kashmir may take years to come, if it will come at all, what is already here is the familiar illusion– a cold attempt at masking the reality of an inconvenient truth about Kashmir. India is back to its old game, and is having difficulty in coming to terms with why people in Kashmir’s recent elections voted.

We now hear the Indian Prime Minster hailing the Kashmir vote as a ballot for "national integration". People are more interested in development and good governance than Azadi, we are told, while hundreds of reports in the Indian and the international media confirmed by India’s own chief election commission– suggest that people voted not for integration with India but for pani, bijli and sadak, without compromising their aspiration for a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir issue.
That people’s participation in the highly controversial election will, at best temporarily, help the Indian propaganda machine, was a foregone conclusion. The cruel joke is that the otherwise prudent prime minister himself unleashed this propaganda. In doing so, he has heaped insult on the intelligence of those who shouted from the rooftops that they did not vote for integration with India but for the realization of their mundane daily needs jobs, water, roads, power, schools, and healthcare.

This scripted prime ministerial cliché is another display of the desperate, timid and puerile political oratory, so symptomatic of India’s Kashmir policy. As we know from our experiences, the Indian prime minister, along with his propaganda entourage, will soon be flying to Srinagar to announce a photo-op "economic package" for Jammu and Kashmir. Needless to say that a part of the package will deservedly go toward the real developmental work in selected districts of Jammu, and the remaining, for the most part, will be used in Kashmir to keep the police states’ security and propaganda machine well- oiled. It’s no wonder these economic packages in the past have neither mitigated the sufferings of the poor and the destitute in the hinterlands of Kashmir, nor have they eliminated the people’s aspiration for self-determination in Kashmir. And no wonder that many people in the rural and some in the urban Kashmir will vote yet again in the next election for water, power and roads- in the hope that the messiah may be on the way to answer their grievances. One only wishes it were quite that simple.

This is not to suggest that the wishes and the desires of a small minority of the blue- eyed loyalists (ministers and their kin) of the incoming ruling elite will not be granted for their loyalty to their parties. Some others who will miss their piece of the pie in this round will wait and switch their for-sale loyalties, and try it the next time. Regrettably, the poor sloganeering voters will continue to remain on the fringes.

Unfortunately, Kashmir is not turning into the Venice of Asia anytime soon, as some would want us to believe. The rural (as well as the urban) Kashmir, will continue to remain underdeveloped and underserved barring some cosmetic changes here and there, and the aspiring public will continue to vainly hope for the arrival of the messiah.

It is a well-known fact that Kashmir is not as developed as, for example Punjab, but it certainly is far more developed than the states of Bihar or Orissa. Now consider this: According to a document prepared by Mohan Guruswamy and J. P. Mohanty for a New Delhi- based think-tank, Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA), Jammu and Kashmir has been a major recipient of the federal aid over the years "almost thrice as much as the national average and nearly six times as much as Bihar."
If CPAS statistics are to be believed, Bihar and Orissa are India’s two poorest states and J & K has the least percentage of people below the poverty line in India. Therefore, there is a far stronger case to be made for speedier development and good governance in Bihar or Orissa. Why are these relatively poorer people not seeking separation from India, as are the relatively ‘well-off’ Kashmiris? Why are Biharis or Orriyans not on the streets hurling slogans like ‘End Indian Occupation’ or ‘Indian Army Go back’? Why are these people not imprisoned in their own homes or kept at bay behind the concertina wires? Another CPA document (by R J Abraham January 2, 2006) provides the answer; "Almost every Kashmiri you meet will go out of his way to be courteous and cordial, but at the same time would candidly tell you that they are Kashmiris and not Indians and would prefer Kashmir to be Azad."

This then is the reality of an inconvenient truth about Kashmir. Any devious oratory by the Indian leaders may transiently alter the contours of this reality, but it can certainly not change its essence.
In a recent post, Pratab Banu Mehta , President of the Center for Policy Research, New Delhi, has aptly questioned the Indian behaviour in Kashmir: "India has in the past sacrificed democracy in Kashmir to its own nationalism. What would it say for the idea of India, if it cannot elicit a voluntary allegiance in Kashmir? Will it live with a permanent rebuke to its democracy that Kashmir represents or will it risk a new paradigm that might achieve what this endless cycle of mutual suspicion has not?"
Any attempts by some of the Indian media’s spin masters to squish, shape or mold this truth is not merely unimaginative, but also ruefully unpatriotic. If the 2008-election in Kashmir has confirmed that man cannot live on ideology alone, Kashmir’s 2008-revolution is a testimony that he cannot live by bread alone either. It is in no ones’ interest, most of all India’s own interest, to ignore one at the cost of the other; India’s aggressive status quo nationalism and the Indian media’s facile patriotism is no substitute for justice for a people who are seeking a peaceful separation from a forced allegiance.
Benjamin Franklin’s words, "Trickery and treachery are the practice of fools that have not the wits enough to be honest", might be instructive.

In the absence of justice in Kashmir, we will continue to be chasing the Holy Grail of peace and prosperity in the subcontinent. A 21- year old Kashmiri unemployed graduate’s words succinctly sum up the truth about Kashmir: "[Kashmiris] do not support violence, but so long as we are denied our freedom, it will continue." (Economist.com, December 31, 08).
This is a prescription for more tragedies — for India and for Kashmir. India will be ignoring this at its own, and our, peril.