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MEDIA-INDIA: Columnists Support Kashmir's Secession

Analysis by Rita Manchanda

NEW DELHI, Sep 3 2008 (IPS) - "Anti-national" is the charge hurled in India at the usual radical suspects who argue for the right to self-determination of the Kashmiri people.

Yasin Malik, freedom leader, addressing a mass rally in Srinagar.  Credit: Athar Parvaiz Bhat/IPS

Yasin Malik, freedom leader, addressing a mass rally in Srinagar. Credit: Athar Parvaiz Bhat/IPS

But the recent outcrop of media columnists asking Indians to, "think the unthinkable", "let Kashmir go" and "we’d be better off", are respected mainstream editors of leading national dailies and top columnists. They include Vir Sanghvi of the mass-circulation the Hindustan Times, Jug Suraiya of the Times of India, popular columnist Swaminathan A. Aiyar and activist-writer Arundhati Roy.

Moreover, according to a recent public opinion survey, these writers are reflecting growing popular sentiment. A Times of India survey of young professionals conducted across nine cities revealed a sizeable 30 percent polled feeling that if the economic and human costs were so high, India should not hold on to the Kashmir, though 59 percent felt they should hold on at any cost.

Some two-thirds of those polled said ‘No’ to the question whether the state of Jammu and Kashmir [or part of it] should be allowed to secede. Poll analysts explained that contradiction as indicating that, while thinking on Kashmir remains unclear, Kashmir’s possible secession has, for the first time in years, ‘’become a matter of common debate."

What has produced this unsettling in the public perception of restored normalcy in the insurgency-wracked Himalayan valley? Kashmiris are back on streets in tumultuous numbers, defiantly chanting "We want freedom" and with equal intensity, "Long live Pakistan".

The crisis which began two months ago over the proposed transfer of 100 acres forest land in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley to a Hindu religious Board based in Jammu has shattered the myth of Kashmiris being reconciled to integrating with India. A new twist is the communalisation of the intra-state Jammu- Kashmir divide posited as Hindu nationalists v/s Islamist separatists. It has buried faith in ‘Kashmiriyat’ (or Kashmiriness), the cultural syncretism of the Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists of Kashmir.

Indian administered Kashmir consists of three distinct regions: Hindu dominated Jammu, the Muslim majority Kashmir valley and Ladakh, which is largely Buddhist. Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas are administered by Pakistan.

Muslim Pakistan and largely-Hindu but constitutionally secular India have, ever since they were created by the 1947 partition of the subcontinent on religious grounds, been in dispute over the possession of Kashmir. Three wars fought over the issue have not succeeded in altering the fact that two-thirds of the territory is administered by India and one third by Pakistan.

‘Kashmir fatigue’ appears to be driving the new sentiment behind the emerging public debate. "It is not being driven by the recognition of the legitimacy of the Kashmiri people’s right to decide, but by a sense of exasperation at pampered and mollycoddled Kashmiris remaining anti-Indian,’’ says leading Kashmir human rights campaigner Tapan Bose. "Shining India does not want to have the blot of coercively holding onto resentful and alienated Kashmiris,’’ he added.

Sanghvi’s article on Aug. 16 succinctly strikes these several chords – "What does the Centre get in return for the special favours and billions of dollars spent?" ‘’Far from gratitude, there is active hatred of India. Pakistan, a small, second-rate country that has been left far behind by India, suddenly acts as though it is on par with us, lecturing India in human rights". "We have the world to conquer, and the means to do it. Kashmir is a 20th century problem. We cannot let it drag us down and bleed us as we assume our rightful place in the world."

Swaminathan Aiyar and Jug Suraiya have a more liberal perspective. Aiyar acknowledges that "democracy (in Kashmir) has been a farce for almost six decades". There are uncomfortable parallels with colonial rule over British India and the quasi colonialism of India’s rule "over those who resent it" in Kashmir. Suraiya tweaks the argument of Kashmir’s secession fatally wounding the idea of India as a pluralist polity and democratic society. "India can survive without Kashmir, if it has to; it can’t survive without the idea of India, central to which is the idea of democratic dissent and the free association of people". This is being eroded in holding Kashmiris against their will.

Arundhati Roy, writing in the ‘Guardian’ on Aug. 22, gives it a radical twist: "India needs azadi (freedom) from Kashmir as much as Kashmir needs azadi from India". Roy asserts, that "the non-violent people’s protest is nourished by people’s memory of years of repression". Drawing a wider frame, she warns that "Indian military occupation makes monsters of us and allows Hindu chauvinists to target and victimise Muslims in India by holding them hostage to the freedom struggle being waged in Kashmir’’.

Expressing surprise at such articles by people who (except Roy) have never campaigned for azadi, Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal, executive editor of the respected ‘Kashmir Times’ newspaper said: "We have always campaigned for 'azadi'. This is just the wrong time. Nobody thinks about the repercussions of the disintegration of the state on communal lines (especially, Doda, Rajouri and Poonch). Whose azadi are they talking about? The need is to douse the fires and begin dialogue at different levels."

Among the flurry of reactive articles, representative of the national security line is strategic analyst K. Subrahmanyam writing in the Times of India on Aug. 22 is adamant against any redrawing of borders. Subrahmanyam, a known nationalist, warns that if Kashmiris are allowed to secede, ‘’there would be consequences that have to be anticipated’’.

‘’During the partition of the subcontinent in 1947-48, such consequences were not foreseen and the result was a bloodbath resulting the death of a million people and ethnic cleansing involving 15 million,’’ Subrahmanyam argues.

Appealing for greater responsibility and efforts to retrieve ‘Kashmiriyat’, eminent journalist Kuldip Nayar warned in the ‘Deccan Herald’ on Aug. 29 that the independence of Kashmir would mean a takeover of the territory by the Taliban or terrorists. Political editor of ‘The Hindu,’ Harish Khare, has on Aug. 28 cautioned against "over reacting to provocative slogans in Lal Chowk’’ and said there is ‘’no need to be apologetic about our democratic values and practices". Kashmir society could still be "weaned away from violence, distrust and suspicion."

Sultan Shaheen, editor of the website ‘New Age Islam’, has decried the ‘irresponsibility’ of public intellectuals arguing for letting Kashmir go. "What about the nationalist Muslims of Kashmir? It was the vision of secularism and pluralism that had brought them to India in the first place. Kashmir is important for common Indians because Kashmiriyat is a prototype for Hindustaniyat – a unique blend of unity in ideological diversity."

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