The current crisis in Jammu & Kashmir illustrates both the extreme care that our nationhood calls for and the extraordinary weaknesses that are actually at work.
While surveying world affairs for a major investment group some 15 years ago, a well-known international figure omitted India. Asked why, he replied he was “not intellectually convinced India is a viable state.” Such echoes of our colonial masters’ prophecies that our unity would not survive their departure sound both perverse and irritating — especially now that the rise of India is seen everywhere as a major global development. But after 60 years of proving the sceptics wrong, are we not doing our worst to justify their doubts?
How we could create the current J&K crisis is just unbelievable; so many commentators have brought out the failure of plain common sense, let alone political wisdom, that the issues need no elaboration. But a deeper sickness, threatening not only J&K but the entire fabric of our nationhood, needs attention.
Has the concept of India lost its cementing force? The passing of power from all-India political parties to regional factions is rationalised as part of our natural, even desirable, transformation from an over-centralised state to the federal structure better suited to our size and diversity. But the new power-wielders — alas, like the older ones — have behaved with such apparent indifference to the interests of the nation as a whole that their parochial obsessions and short horizons create increasing dangers for national unity and security. These dangers are made worse by the frightening decline in the ability — or willingness — of the instruments of state action to do their duties. Perhaps the most pernicious danger to unity as well as progress that our political evolution has created is the virtual collapse of the efficiency and conscientiousness, leave aside the morality, of the politico-administrative complex charged with governance. Challenges arise from caste, regional, or ‘ethnic’ particularisms, and from socio-economic grievances. The increasingly petty purposes of the new — and old — political forces are also as destabilising.
All these decades, serious group-identity outbursts notwithstanding, we could confidently rely on the infinitely wider sense of belonging to a larger whole to nurture our unity. That unity is not in danger as long as we realise that it must be treated not as a settled condition but as a continuous process, needing constant management, adjustment, and fine-tuning. Probably enough sense of oneness works among us to overcome our ‘fissiparous’ tendencies. But unless we do far more than we are doing to nourish that sense of oneness, our whole future is at risk.
The J&K crisis illustrates both the extreme care that our nationhood calls for and the extraordinary weaknesses that are actually at work. The arrangements for the Amarnath Yatra have worked satisfactorily for decades. Doubtless there is room for improvement — most things in India need it even more — but the notion of achieving it by letting the land for more facilities to be managed by the temple trust was not only unnecessary but so fraught with communal explosiveness that anyone with the slightest appreciation of the sensitivities involved would have recognised the dangers. That, in our secular state, a Governor could become the head of a religious body is bad enough; that the temporary land transfer was processed under the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed Government as well as the latest Congress-led one only underlines the level of thinking in all parties, and how shoddy political one-upmanship buries the national interest: each imagined gaining votes among Jammu Hindus, oblivious to the repercussions in the Valley.
Misunderstanding compounds miscalculation — and mischief exploits both. Anyone involved in public affairs should know that. The greatest challenge we have faced in J&K erupted because a temporary management allotment was mistakenly believed, with malicious encouragement, to be a permanent alienation of the land. How little it takes to drive our peoples onto the streets: witness not only the Jammu fallout but the constant eruptions all over — from Orissa today to the recent anti-‘outsider’ riots in Maharashtra. It is Indian against Indian, again and again.
Our political parties appear unconscious of India’s needs, or of the cancer that they have exacerbated if not engendered. J&K may burn, but the Rashtriya Janata Dal leader and Cabinet Minister plays Ministry-making in Jharkhand, the Samajwadi Party’s stalwart is busy wrangling over seat-sharing in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP fishes for its best election issue, the ruling parties are equally concerned to salvage what they can politically. Some leaders show a blithe insouisance that takes one’s breath away.
All political leaders cannot devote all their time to one issue, howsoever vital it may be. But they also cannot leave it all to the handful of hugely overworked Ministers and officials actually coping with it; surely we are entitled to see a more concerted national involvement, committed to our basic national interest — unity. The government has given up seeking the cooperation of the opposition parties, and both sides blame each other of being uncooperative. But what are the various parties contributing towards finding a solution? Where are the elder statesmen who were previously available to dampen fires, acting above party lines? The most talkative people on earth do not know how to talk to each other.Another colonial canard
We seem bent on proving another colonial canard — that we do not know how to govern ourselves. True, we have achieved an extraordinary level of success: our democratisation is unique, in rapidity, extent and in comprehending unparalleled diversities. True, too, that our natural talents are achieving economic leaps. But, inequalities apart, economics is not enough: “India Shining” cannot save us from the growing challenges of democratisation. The world over, any group that is conscious of a distinctive cultural identity — be it based on language, religion, race or region — tends to seek a distinctive political identity. Till now we have accommodated such urges impressively. The rampant rise of exclusion mortally threatens our success.
Let us face the facts. Many peoples of Kashmir were never happy to be a part of India; they long acquiesced for lack of choice, for mistrust of the other claimant to their loyalties, for hopes of an acceptable future with India. Just a few weeks ago we could believe we had restored those hopes. Can we still do so? Seeing anti-Indian slogans easily arouses resentments against all the people: the whole tragic fallout from Partition was the feeling that those who wanted Pakistan could go away there. We have always resisted that. For years all concerned have known the real framework within which Kashmiri aspirations can be accommodated. Even the BJP had espoused solutions based on ‘Kashmiriyat’ and ‘insaniyat.’ Delhi never moved further, under any government, because of the small-minded politics that undermined the political will. Instead of shocking the politicians into a sense of national challenge, events in J&K are provoking politics as worse than usual.
The ideal of India that led to Independence was an inspiring one. It is hard to sustain such a “first fine careless rapture,” but we have virtually dispelled it. Not just in J&K but in too many other parts the sense of India has lost ground to the sense of some lesser identity. That greater attachment can only be revived, as it must, if our political leaders lead the revival. Of course they have to think of winning elections. But there are, say, half a dozen key issues (J&K, the northeast, securing our borders, fighting terrorism, other law and order needs, reforming the administration, quick access to fair justice, more problematically but still possibly, economic reforms, to name the most pressing ones) on which they can form a national consensus. Without such a sense of national purpose our very future — including their beloved elections — is in jeopardy. With it they would be generating respect for our unity, for our capacity to manage our affairs — maybe even for themselves.
(The author is a former Indian Ambassador to Pakistan, China and the United States, and was Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs.)
6 months ago