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October-December 08 Issue
Highlights of this Issue
Past tense, present perfect and future shock
J&K crisis : Ladakh's perspective
Karmapa trapped in snowy Himalayan heights
Assam terror attacks : An unfolding abyss
Across the LOC : Two big events
War on terror in Afghanistan and Pakistani tribal areas
Separatism in Kashmir
July-September 08 Issue
Highlights of this Issue
Editorial : Jammu and Kashmir - a leaderless state
Jammu agitation: a public movement
How good Jammu is as a strategic location
Why should we match China move by move?
Vindication of Leh agitation for UT
Thank you, Swarna Hans
WHY BORDER AFFAIRS
Tears of anger welled up in the eyes of the daughter of Mr P. Namgyal, a highly-respected leader of the trans-Himalayan Ladakh region, as she narrated how she had been discriminated against in a prestigious restaurant in south Delhi. She had gone to the restaurant along with a friend, also from Ladakh. for a drink. Both were, however, turned away on the plea that they had Mongoloid features, and. hence, would not be served , for the restaurant management had had a bitter experience of the people of their physical appearances.
The tale of Mr Namgyal's daughter was heard with a sense of disbelief by us in the newspaper office where I used to work. We wondered if this was the treatment meted out to the daughter of a former union minister on the threshold of the next millennium. what would be the fate of the less fortunate from the remote corners of the country who thronged the national Capital for better educational and work opportunities. We helped Mr Namgyal's daughter vent her anguish and frustration through an article Which evoked sharp reactions from conscious readers.
The sad experience of Mr Namgyal's daughter only underlines the bitter reality that there is a distinct lack of understanding in the heartland of the country about the lifestyle, language and even attire of the inhabitants of border areas, leave alone their social, political and economic aspirations.
Worse, little is being done to appreciate their distinct identities . This, in turn, has created a widespread feeling among the inhabitants of the border regions that while the common man in the mainland is ignorant, opinion-makers in New Delhi care a fig for them. What has flowed from this perception is there for all to see: the periphery is in a constant state of turmoil.
This is particularly true of Jammu and Kashmir and the North-East while Punjab appears to be finally recovering from the veritable hell it has gone through.
Some times, the movements in these states for the preservation of their separate identities are projected by the people in New Delhi as acts intended to weaken the Indian Republic. Vociferous demands for autonomy are sought to be publicised in a manner as jf the country is fraying at its edges. But, what is not understood is that by closing our ears to such demands, one only widens the scope for calls of outright secession. Of course, this does not mean that there are no vested interests in these regions which take advantage of New Delhi's lack of appreciation of t he ground reality and manage to fish in troubled waters. On one hand. They benefit from New Delhi's ignorance; on the other hand. they thrive on the local population's innocence.
This is an unfortunate fall-out of the wrong or exaggerated presentation of the prevailing scenario. In the past, it has invariably led to either premature or heavy use of brute force by New Delhi to crush local sentiments which has proved counter-productive, widening the gulf between it and the sensitive border areas.
My experience of closely reporting on militancy in the Kashmir Valley, during its peak between 1991 and 1996, has convinced me that a military approach alone is not enough in dealing with such a situation. There is a crying need to supplement the military efforts and that can be done only by well-meaning citizens whose integrity and sincerity is beyond question, so that they carry conviction with the aggrieved sections of society. For a nation to survive, it is not necessary that its boundaries alone remain intact; it is equally important that people living within these boundaries have a healthy interest in peace and their own welfare. Nations mayor may not be formed on the basis of the will of the people but they cannot survive without their goodwill and their unqualified support.
History has grim lessons for all of us. We know how the delay in properly and quickly addressing the people's legitimate aspirations can be fatal. JawarharJal Nehru, undoubtedly a great democrat, faltered in his understanding of the Kashmir situation. Much to the shock of the political leaders who had no less stake in strengthening democratic' roots in the Valley. Nehru described them as lithe enemies of the country" just because they opposed his protege, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, in the first-ever electoral contest in the Valley in 1962 .
In the present atmosphere, when the level of public discourse has touched its nadir, Nehru's outburst may appear only a mild reaction to the challenge to a puppet regime foisted by him in Jammu and Kashmir against the will of the people. However, in retrospect. his lack of appreciation of the ground reality has done incalculable harm to the cause of honouring the political aspirations in the State. Nehru himself seemed to realise the folly of his action; he "Kamrajed" Bakshi and sent him into political oblivion but it was a belated action and was too little and too late to make up for the valuable time that 'had been lost.
It also needs to be said that the cult of violence does not serve anybody's purpose in such situations as they prevail in Jammu and Kashmir and the North-East. lf practised by militants, it limits the options of the State as an institution which has to per force deal with it with a firm hand to ensure the safety and security of the ordinary citizens it will be justified in assuming a ruthless role if violence is perpetrated by the forces inimical to the country. On the other hand, if applied indiscriminately by the State itself, violence fans the sense of alienation of the aggrieved people and results in the suppression of democratic institutions which can only be self destructive.
Mercifully, the main forces in the Valley now understand the need to abjure violence. Local militant organisations appear to have realised that they have only damaged their own cause by resorting to armed rebellion. The formation of the multi-party Hurriyat Conference is the result of the thinking that political ideology needs to be articulated in a peaceful manner. Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front, although a part of Hurriyat Conference, has been adhering to unilateral ceasefire, after having triggered a large number of violent incidents, while the often-jailed Shabir Shah. in a solo performance, has been championing the cause of non-violence. However, their postures at times appear to be ambivalent as evident from their glorification of foreign mercenaries at the time of Kargil crisis.
On the other hand, the National Conference, the premier political party of the State, is ~till reviving slowly. The party has lost a large number of workers and leaders in the militancy-related violence; a sacrifice they have made for adhering to their ideology. It s gradual re-emergence, nevertheless, has ensured the marginalisation of the likes of Kuka Parray, militant-turned-legislator, who were apparently encouraged by the security forces and were set upon the militant bod ies, particularly the Jamaat-e-Islami, in a t it-for-tat tactic.
It is too early to say that these are signs of the restoration of a healthy political debate in J&K. But, nevertheless, these are positive trends and need to be further encouraged. In them lies the hope for the restoration of secular polity in the Valley where a society once known for its secular ethos and cultural richness is in the grip of suspicion; people look beyond their shoulders even before answering simple queries.
Similarly, in the North-East, the channels of communication between the Nagasand the official agencies, although opened on foreign soil, indicate that all is not yet lost. That militant outfits in Nagaland run parallel administration in their territory is only too well known. The formation of seven tiny states has not satisfied the political urge of all tribal groups in the North-East which is evident from the increasing demands for more states.
Extortion rackets are reportedly flourishing on the highways and people from other parts of the country are still being seen as plunderers of natural wealth and cultural riches and not as sympathisers to the development of the region. The mighty Brahmaputra plays havoc every year but apparently little is being done to limitthe damage caused by it. Scandals burst in the region only to be forgotten. Not very long ago, there was a scam involving massive grain drain from the Food Corporation of India godowns in Tripura, Last word has not yet been heard about the Nagaland lottery scam even though the alleged kingpin behind it is being encouraged to gain political legitimacy.
The border areas which are relatively peaceful: like those of Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Barmer in Rajasthan. are exposed to the threat of a different kind. They are vulnerable to being smothered by drug trafficking. The centuries' old habit of consuming opium in the Thar desert needs to be eliminated in view of the physical and moral damage it causes to the people of a strategically sensitive region. Any comparison between the situation that prevails in these border areas and the one that triggered China's 'opium wars' may appear to be far-fetched at this juncture but there is no harm in drawing the right lessons from history and nip the evil in the bud.
The Border Affairs commits itself to-becoming aforum for highlighting the genuine aspirations of the people of the border states. Its endeavour would be to serve as a link between the country's heartland and the remote areas to create better understanding and a stronger bond.
- Pushp Saraf