A recently published book titled What Happened to Governance in Kashmir offers an objective analysis of the major failures of governance in Indian-held Jammu and Kashmir which immensely contributed in the decades-long conflict. The author, Ajijaz Ashraf Wani, who teaches Political Science at the University of Kashmir, has explored how the political space and democracy became the first victims of state policies that eventually landed Kashmir in an abyss of hopelessness.
Based on a variety of contemporary resources and historical data, this book examines the tactics and strategies followed by the Indian state and the ‘client governments’ in Srinagar to manage the restive State of Jammu and Kashmir.
The most stimulating part of the book is the methodology used to discuss the political problems of Jammu and Kashmir. The author has relied on empirical data and a dialectic skill to unpack the relations between politics and economy in Jammu and Kashmir.
This infusion of scientific and philosophical research has created an invigorating blend that takes the reader down the memory lane but eventually brings him back to the most pressing issues of our times.
While discussing the economic impact of the forcible division of Jammu and Kashmir in 1947, the author argues that this unfortunate incident crippled the economy of the State and is a major reason of Kashmir’s dependence on India.
The ancient trade routes of Jammu and Kashmir; especially the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road, was blocked after 1947. This devastated the export industry of Kashmir and the alternate Jammu-Pathankot route was never able to fill in the void.
Examining the nature of sentiment that dominates the freedom movement in Kashmir, he argues that as the issue of self-determination and the policy framework to deal with the issue has remained constant, therefore a clash was inevitable between the society and the omnipresent state. He has carefully examined the trajectory of this clash and has explained in detail how between 1947 to 1989, this ‘possible’ clash became ‘inevitable’.
Referring to the initial years of public awakening against tyrant Dogra rulers, Ajiaz has impeccably explored that the dictum of political expression in Kashmir was never communal. He has cited many such examples where the leaders of both Muslim Conference and National Conference always used the ‘oppressed-oppressor’ and the ‘ruling class-working class’ binary to explain the nature of problems in Kashmir.
He argues that it was the intertwining of the ruling elite and the communal government that thrust a religious undertone on every political issue in Jammu and Kashmir. For instance, the conflict between Kashmir Valley and Jammu/ Kashmiri Muslims and Pundits has a religious and regional undertone attached to it. The ruling class from the times of Dogras recruited Hindus and Kashmir Pundits in the service of governance and distributed vast land tracts to them.
This policy, when reversed by the popular leader Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah through his impressive land reforms scheme, was given a religious connotation. Essentially, it was a progressive economic reform that emancipated peasantry from the clutches of landlords and their intermediaries but was interpreted through a communal lense.
In the contemporary discourse on Kashmir, many concerned Indian and foreign intellectuals refer to wrongdoings of the Indian state in Kashmir as ‘mistakes’ or ‘ill-informed’ policies.
The author has a different view on this. He has explained in detail that manufacturing consent, buying the loyalties of people and curbing the space for non-violent movement in Kashmir was a default policy response of New Delhi and it was never a ‘mistake’.
He argues that the Centre was always bent upon ‘balancing’ the cry for self-determination with the development schemes and orchestrated a plethora of ‘palace coup’ against the popular leaders in Kashmir.
From the arrest of Sheikh Abdullah to the removal of Ghulam Muhammad Bakhshi in 1964, from the Indira-Abdullah accord to the outset of Farooq Abdullah in 1984; Delhi opened the floodgates of money and military muscle to impose its designs.
More revealing is the fact that New Delhi was not just against the movement for self-determination but against Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and internal autonomy as well. Ajiaz has explained how Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (31 October 1875 – 15 December 1950), orchestrated and supported the Jan Sangh agitation against Sheikh Abdullah after the Delhi accord. This agitation backed by a powerful lobby in New Delhi called for the erosion of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and vouched for the complete integration of Jammu and Kashmir with India.
This book has come at an interesting time as that lobby is finally in power in India and efforts are being made to act upon the decades’ old agenda of eroding the Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.
What Happened to Governance in Kashmir?
Author: Aijaz Ashraf Wani
Publisher: Oxford University Press India, 2018