Sunday, August 17, 2008

REORGANISE J&K ON A LINGUISTIC BASIS


After Sardar Vallabhai Patel had successfully integrated 565 princely states of various sizes into Independent India, the States Reorganisation Commission(SRC) was set up in 1953 to redraw the internal map of India. The SRC decided that the country should be made up of various states created on a linguistic basis. As a result, in 1956, the erstwhile princely states of various sizes dissolved into history and new administrative and political units came into being.

One princely state, however, was not reorganised on the laid down principle. The “somewhat artificial in composition” princely state of Jammu and Kashmir came into existence in 1846 when the British sold most of the area included in the state to Gulab Singh for Rs75 lakhs. In 1947, the then Maharaja of the state, with the support of the ethnic Kashmiri Muslim leader Sheikh Abdullah, decided to join India rather than Pakistan. The price that Abdullah successfully extracted from fellow Kashmiri Pandit Nehru for this decision was the holding of a plebiscite and inclusion of Article 370 in the constitution. These two steps, among many others, converted the state into a virtual Sheikhdom of the Abdullahs and ethnic Kashmiris, and reduced all other communities and regions to a subservient, voiceless status.

What has happened over the last sixty years has been hitting your face on almost a daily basis. The net upshot is that an ethnic community whose population that is less than the population of Chennai has held and is holding more than a billion people to ransom, while cornering more media space and government energy than any other issue has since Independence.

What the rest of India has remained blissfully unaware about is that this ethnic community, found in a small geographical area of about 100 by 30 kilometres, has completely swallowed the voice and rights of all other ethnic communities in that artificial entity called Jammu and Kashmir. That this community has been able to so successfully accomplish all this with consummate ease speaks volumes about the competence and proclivities of our leaders, and the shallow and politically convenient knowledge of our media and Kashmir experts.

That is why the unprecedented eruption of Jammu into flames has caught everyone by surprise. That is why they are all still trying to patch old, failed templates to work again, by playing down the divide and discrimination and playing up the grievances of ethnic Kashmiri Muslims, just as they have always been doing. They still have not understood that Kashmiri Muslim leaders have almost mastered the art of cleverly camouflaging hardcore communalism by dishonestly projecting non-existent “secularism” and the “non-communal” nature of their “freedom” struggle.

The opposition of Kashmiri Muslims to the transfer of a small patch of land for temporary use of the lakhs of Hindu pilgrims who contribute in no small measure to the economy of the Valley, still has many rigidly opinionated ‘secularists’ blaming the previous Governor of the state for creating this problem. Like ostriches, the government and the media want to fool themselves and the nation into believing that the only way to tackle this grave problem is to keep pumping in enormous amount of funds which are blatantly consumed in the Valley itself, keep giving King-size national importance to a few Kashmiri leaders whose individual following does not exceed the population of Rohini colony of Delhi, do absolutely nothing that exposes harsh communal facts that are the sole basis of the problem, and pretend as if people living in other parts of the state simply do not exist.

Thanks to this approach that has consistently failed to yield any dividends at all, the whole world thinks that the whole of the vast state is up in arms against India and wants it out. That is what Pakistan, which is the force behind the AK47-isation of the Valley, and which wants to amalgamate the whole state into it, also wants everyone to believe. The people of Jammu and Ladakh have unwittingly contributed to the perpetuation of this belief by their silence born out of trust of the country rather than the state. But, the country has failed them till now.

The current divide between Jammu and Kashmir may have a religious background. But what is not easily apparent is that the divide is along almost all dimensions. In fact, ethnic Kashmiris have almost nothing in common with people living in other parts of the only remaining unnatural state of India. Before the Kashmir ‘issue’ is addressed, this issue needs to addressed first.

It is time for India to do what it failed to do in 1956. India needs to realistically reorganise the artificially created princely state of Jammu and Kashmir on a linguistic basis just like other states of India were in 1956.

Based on this principle, the Valley of Kashmir, where almost all Kashmiri speaking people live, becomes one natural unit or state. Yes, there are Gurjars living in the hills surrounding the Valley to but their numbers are comparatively very small. As per the 1981 census, there were just over two lakhs Gurjars in the Kashmir division, and they do not live in a separately demarcated area. The Valley is geographically the smallest part of the present state.

In the Jammu division, the linguistic breakdown is a little more diverse but is fairly homogeneous, comprising of the following main languages :

• Dogri. Spoken by Dogras, the largest ethnic community living in the region

• Rajasthani. This is the language of the Bakarwal, Banihara and Muqam
Gurjars who constitute the second largest ethnic group. The language has
been variously described as ‘Hindki’, ‘Pahari’ and ‘Parimu’ but was most
accurately classified as Rajasthani in the census of 1941. It bears a very
close resemblance to ‘Mewati’, the dialect spoken in the Alwar region of
Rajasthan, from where these Gurjars are believed to have migrated.

• Punjabi. Spoken by Punjabis and Sikhs living mostly along the border with
the Punjab of Pakistan

All the above languages are closely related to Hindi. Jammu division, thus, is the second state that automatically emerges.

In Ladakh, the population density is very thin, with just over 2.3 lakh people inhabiting a huge area of about 59,000 sq kms, the largest in the state. The predominant races living here are Tibetans, Mons and Dards, the largest being Tibetans. Due its sparse yet distinct-from-the-rest-of-the-state population, Ladakh is ideally suited to be made a Union Territory rather than a full fledged state.

This long overdue reorganisation of an artificial entity into two viable states based not on religion but language will meet the aspirations of all regions and communities equitably and will lead to rapid development and prosperity. Politically, it will enable India to deal with demands and aspirations of Kashmiri speaking Muslims in a more focussed and practical manner, and with a balanced overall perspective.

On the eve of Pakistan’s Independence Day, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf repeated once again what Pakistan has been saying for sixty years. Kashmir resides in the heart of every Pakistani; Kashmir runs in the blood of every Pakistani. Simply put, it means that Pakistan believes that Muslim Kashmir is an integral part of that nation and that it will not rest until it wrests it from India.

So all this talk of ‘freedom’ that Kashmiri Muslim leaders have been throwing into the gut of a gutless India that has been giving them lollypop after lollypop, only to get the stick back, is nothing but a clever ploy to exploit India’s sensitivities about Pakistan’s unambiguous position. They don’t want to be swallowed by Pakistan. They want to swallow the rest of the state. They want India out but Indians in. And they want to force a guilty secular ‘Hindu’ India help them achieve their objectives. And India has so far more than obliged them till now.

India and Indians have spent a lot of money and made many sacrifices in and over the Valley of Kashmir. That has not helped and will not help in future. Yet, we continue to pretend to be deaf when Kashmiri leaders say to our face that whatever we may do, like building a rail link at great cost, for example, to economically benefit Kashmiris and make them even richer, it will not give India even a bit of the political dividend that it is looking for.

Realistic reorganisation of J&K is the first and possibly the most important step that India needs to take to deal effectively with Kashmiri Muslim separatism. Non-Kashmiri ethnic communities, irrespective of religion, have to be insulated and de-linked from Kashmiris, so that they can truly begin to enjoy the fruits of economic and political empowerment as the Indians they are or can be. Yes, every talk of such reorganisation is shot down quickly on the ground that such separation of Muslim majority Kashmir Valley would mean that secularism has been defeated. Surprisingly, no one even wants to even talk about the fact that a logical reorganisation on the linguistic model that India successfully adopted to dissolve all other princely states can easily be implemented in this princely state too.

After the reorganisation, India and Kashmiri Muslims can better devote their energies to settle the Valley specific problems that have needlessly haunted India for so long. If Kashmiri Muslims can then live in India as Indians with the extra privileges that are a legacy of history, fine. Otherwise, India should not commit its time, energy and resources to keep the Valley artificially ‘independent’ and away from the clutches of Pakistan. That benefit just should not be extended to those who have effectively been conning both India and Pakistan for 60 years.

Let us not forget that it is not just India that Kashmir has enervated. Pakistan has suffered much more in its efforts to get the Valley by force. If the people of Kashmir have suffered, it is because many of them have always wanted to cleverly chart a course which is almost equidistant from India and Pakistan. Well, if that is really what they want, India should get clean out of the Valley and leave the ‘Independent’ state to see if it can survive a night before Pakistan gulps it down with hot ‘Kahwa’.

And if Kashmir wants to willingly merge with Pakistan minus Act 370, so be it. India may find it difficult to swallow this very bitter pill but it will have four million less problems to handle. No matter what, India must expeditiously get out of the dexterously carved Kashmiri trap in which it is being disdainfully treated as a hated outsider and a guarantor of its Azadi at the same time. That mistake should not be repeated in any future discussions and decisions on the fate of the Valley of Kashmir.

Casting pearls not asked for has got India nothing and is not going to get India anywhere and anything in future too.