Tuesday, January 6, 2015

BRP Bhaskar's note on ASHRAF

‘Difficult can be done now, impossible may take some time!’

The Zanskar Valley in J&KThe Zanskar Valley in J&K

New technology has helped me to re-establish contact with a friend after 36 long years.

Mohammad Ashraf was a dashing young officer in the Mountaineering Tourism division of the Tourism Department of Jammu and Kashmir when I made his acquaintance.

Established in late 19thcentury, J & K Tourism is the oldest Tourism department in India. British officers used to visit Kashmir to escape the summer heat, and following their example Bengali babus started visiting the valley during the Puja holidays. (Kolkata was the seat of the British Indian government at the time.) The Maharaja’s government, recognizing the importance of tourism, set up the department to cater to the needs of visitors.

Mohammad Ashraf, IAS (Retd)Mohammad Ashraf, IAS (Retd)Ashraf who had to leave engineering studies in unforeseen circumstances had joined the Tourism department after undergoing training at the Himalayan Mountaineerng Institute, Darjeeling, in adventure sports like mountaineering and skiing. In 1973, the government admitted his proposal to set up a division to promote adventure tourism, and put him in charge of it. That was when I landed in Srinagar. 

Then, as now, Kashmir was loaded with political stuff, and journalists in the state were too engrossed in political reporting to devote attention to other subjects. I kept in touch with Ashraf as part of my quest for non-political stories. He proved to be a very valuable news source. He appreciated my interest in his division’s activities as it helped it get some publicity.  

The most memorable of the stories I got from him was about the rescue of a young woman who went on a trek through the Zanskar valley not knowing that the pet dog which bit her had rabies. 

She was the daughter of an IPS officer posted in Mumbai. She met Ashraf at his office and sought help to plan a trek through the remote Valley. He helped her. The next day he received a frantic call from Mumbai saying her father wanted to contact her urgently. The pet dog that bit her before she left Mumbai had died, and she needed to take anti-rabies injections immediately.
Trekkers in Zanskar ValleyTrekkers in Zanskar Valley
There was no way Ashraf could contact her. He told me about this. There was a human interest story in it. But my mind was working on how we could save her. I suggested to him to contact the Air Force authorities and seek help. He did, and they agreed to make an aerial search. As dusk fell, the search had to be suspended due to poor visibility.

I filed a report that night saying Air Force planes were searching for a young woman from Mumbai who was on trekking through the remote Zanskar Valley not knowing that the pet dog that bit her had died of rabies.

The next morning the Air Force resumed the search, and struck pay dirt, as the Americans will put it. The search party located the woman, a helicopter picked her up and flew her to Srinagar where she was given the first anti-rabies shot before being put on a plane to Delhi on way to Mumbai.

When I was leaving Srinagar after more than five years covering Kashmir developments – it was during this period that Indira Gandhi signed an accord with Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, paving the way for his return as head of the state government after 22 years -- Ashraf told me flatteringly that my departure was a loss to J and K tourism!

Ashraf later became Director of Mountain Tourism and then Director-General of Tourism.

Recently I chanced upon a link to an article by Ashraf. That took me to his website Kashmir First (http://www.kashmirfirst.com/), packed with his writings on politics, history, tourism, adventure etc. When attempts to reach him through the site failed, I sought the help of a mutual friend, Mohammad Sayeed Malik, Resident Editor of the Kashmir Times, Srinagar, who kindly provided his telephone number and e-mail address.

Ashraf, who writes regularly for Greater Kashmir, Rising Kashmir, the Kashmir Times, the Citizen, Countercurrents, the Caravan and the Khaleej Times of Dubai, says, “My motto is to speak the truth, regardless of consequences and I am always reminded of the Border Roads sign on the Leh Road, ‘Difficult can be done now, impossible may take some time!’”

All strength to MohammadAshraf's elbow.

Modi’s presents for Obama!

After having informed Obama about Pakistan’s role in terrorist activities during his US visit, is Modi planning to authenticate the same through border fireworks and Kashmir elections?

A fellow columnist (ZGM) in an article “Fireworks for Obama” postulates that the recent spurt in firing on Indo-Pak border in J&K and the blowing up of a boat laden with arms and ammunition on the high seas are fireworks for the forthcoming visit of Obama during the Republic day celebrations. It is allegedly to convince the US President about the active role Pakistan is playing in fomenting trouble not only in Kashmir but all over India. Incidentally, these happenings have an uncanny resemblance to visit of Bill Clinton when Chattisinghpora incident took place. In fact, subsequently, Bill Clinton in his forward to Madeleine Albright’s book mentioned about the perpetrators of the massacre but that remark was withdrawn from subsequent editions of the book!
 That is only one part of the story. The other part is presenting Kashmir itself! The recent election held in spite of an unfavourable situation created by the worst flood in last 120 years witnessed an all-time high participation. However, the participation was a counter to the colossal campaign of Mission 44+ initiated by Modi to sweep J&K for chauvinistically Hindu pro-India party BJP. The unprecedented participation was drummed up through corporate media as a vote for democracy and complete integration with India. Nobody bothered to convey to the world the fact that all but one BJP candidates in the valley lost their deposits thereby demonstrating the complete rejection of BJP and its mandate by the Kashmiris. On the contrary preparations are on to present the coup the grace of the whole mission, a Kashmiri Chief Minister heading an alliance with BJP.
Hectic activities are going on to cobble a government with BJP partnership. Normally in a hung house, the largest party is called upon to work out the possibility of government formation. In no case, two parties are simultaneously called to explore the possibility of government formation. Before the elections, the BJP had given a very tough anti-valley agenda including abrogation of article 370. The Jammu section of the party had demanded a Hindu Chief Minister from Jammu. However, now they are declaring no pre-conditions for alliance with any regional party. They are prepared to give (temporarily) even moon to get a pro BJP government with any regional party! Once a government with BJP participation is put in place, the Chief Minister may be presented to Obama as the popularly elected representative of a pro-India Kashmir, thereby, confirming that the Kashmiris have voted for India. After this, where is the problem in Kashmir? It is Pakistan which is the main culprit in disturbing the peace. One is reminded of a similar situation in fifties when Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad was presented as a leader of Kashmiris to Bulganin and Khrushchev who were taken in a boat procession on the River Jhelum during their visit to Kashmir. Those days erstwhile Soviet Union was extending total support to the Indian stand in the UN Security Council.
The regional parties clamouring to be BJP partners need to take an overall view of the situation especially about the long term agenda of RSS. Praful Bidwai in an article, “BJP’s real agenda”, mentions that in the BJP’s overall programme, Hindutva trumps “Development”. He cites many examples starting with the conferring of the Bharat Ratna award on Madan Mohan Malaviya, the founder of Hindu Mahasabha. According to Bidwai, “Malviya in 1923 falsely complained “Hindu numbers are depleting”, advocated the “reconversion” of Muslims and Christians to Hinduism. The declaration of Godse as a national hero and denigration of Gandhi as unpatriotic are some other instances. This is already having a reaction in the South where Afzal Guru is proposed to be made a martyr! Bidwai further states, “Bharat Ratna awards apart, the Sangh Parivar is making its overbearing influence felt in numerous institutions of the state, even as its functionaries indulge in hate speech contrasting ramzadas and haramzadas and in provocative acts including ghar wapsi (“reconversion” of Muslims and Christians) through inducements. For RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, these minorities are “our maal” (goods) stolen by “outsiders, which “us Hindus” have the right to “recover”. Even the foreign minister, Sushma Sawraj has demanded declaration of Bhagvad Gita as India’s “national scripture”-a demand incompatible with the Indian constitution.
Bidwai says, “For the Parivar, as for Modi, the top priority is not economic growth, not job creation, leave aside holistic development, but politics-how to deepen and widen Hindutva’s influence and ensure its long-term presence in India, if necessary  by coercion and repression”. In view of these glaring facts, the regional parties falling one over each other to be BJP partners need to take a long term view lest they become instrumental for “ghar wapsi” of the majority population of the valley which in ancient times was the most glorious and well known Hindu Kingdom. The apprehension that Delhi may starve Kashmiris to submission may not hold for the new generation which may prefer starvation to “ghar wapsi”! This could very well turn into another episode like the one of 1990!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Governor’s Rule-unavoidable alternative?

To prevent further paralysis in the state administration urgently required to move on a fast track in the task of restoration of the flood damage, the Governor’s Rule seems only sensible alternative!
In the aftermath of the most devastating flood of the century in Kashmir after the total collapse of the “Banana Government”, it was suggested in these columns that the best alternative for the state was to impose Governor’s rule and fully activate the administrative machinery for restoration without any political interference. As usual, Delhi dithered in taking such a decision probably to avoid international embarrassment of imposing the central rule. In spite of the fact that the conditions were totally disturbed because of massive destruction and the displacement of a sizeable population, it went ahead with elections. In normal conditions, the people would not have bothered about these elections, boycott or no boycott. However, two things motivated people to come out to vote. The first was to get rid of the nincompoop “Banana Government” to ensure quick relief and restoration and the other was to stem the alarming Hindutva tide trying to sweep away the centuries old traditional identity of the religious tolerance of the saintly Valley. The twin pronged vote has given a fractured mandate as the people voted for the persons who had the best chance of winning thereby making all the BJP candidates except one lose their deposits in the valley. Jammu was totally swept by the Hindutva tide thereby giving BJP a sizeable majority. Ladakhis chose the safest alternative as perceived by them.
The fractured and confusing mandate has made it virtually impossible to clobber together a government in conformity with the trust imposed by various people from the different regions in the representatives elected by them. The differences in agendas as well as in ideologies between the regional and the national parties make it very difficult to put together a stable combination. From both sides any climb down would be detrimental and the combination may not last long. This is especially so because of the massive pre-election hype generated by both sides. The only grand alliance possible is for all parties to come together to form a sort of a national government giving representation to each region and safeguarding interests of all the citizens of the State of J & K. Even though this appears to be a tall order yet if the people are sincere, something could be worked out with the revival of the now most battered proposal of regional autonomy. Whether we like it or not, the state has been divided on regional as well as communal lines by the recent mandate.
The unending wait for the government formation has totally paralysed the administration. Not only is the relief and restoration going on a snail’s pace but the overall developmental activities have come to a standstill. Everybody is waiting for the new government and its policies. In these circumstances, it would be advisable for the Central Government to impose Governor’s rule, may be for a short stint of six months as provided under the constitution, keeping the assembly in suspended animation. That may give a breathing time to politicians of all hues and shades to either make up their mind or go for fresh elections in case of a deadlock. The Governor can go full steam ahead with the implementation of the relief package without any political interference. If Delhi is able to deliver and ameliorate the lot of the suffering masses through a capable governor, it may earn more goodwill than by imposing its own agenda of Mission 44+ rejected by the people, by bulldozing the same by hook or by crook! The ball is in Delhi’s court!