Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Kashmiris as “Hostages”!

M J Akbar, a journalist turned politician has spoken the “Truth”. “Kashmiris have to be kept as hostages for the safety of Muslims in “Secular” India”!

Before one comments on the assertions of Mr. Akbar, let us examine if India is really a “Secular” State. This fact can be straight away ascertained from the Constitution of the Republic. The concerned part of the constitution which deals with religion, Article 25 is reproduced below:
25. Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion.
1. Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion.
2. Nothing in this article shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any law:-
(a) regulating or restricting any economic, financial, political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious practice;
(b) providing for social welfare and reform or the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus.
Explanation I:- The wearing and carrying of Kirpans shall be deemed to be included in profession of the Sikh religion.
Explanation II:-  In sub-clause (b) of clause reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jain or Buddhist religion, and the reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be construed accordingly.

The most important question is how the State has constitutionally empowered itself to throw open religious institutions of “Hindu” character only unless it was sure that it would always be a “Hindu” State? Apart from this, the State itself uses Hindu customs and rituals for starting various official functions. Hinduism is overtly and covertly reflected in all institutions and the actions of the State especially of those at the helm right now!
Till the last government set up, the discrimination of Muslims was more or less a covert operation. There were few overt incidents like the demolition of the Babri Masjid. However, the new State set up is brazenly anti-Muslim in most of its actions. They are simply an extension of the Rashtriya  Swayamsevak Sangh or the RSS whose founder Golwalkar was rabidly anti-Muslim. Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, also known as Shri Guruji. Golwalkar was the supreme leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, He wrote, “Bunch of thoughts” and “We, or Our Nationhood Defined”. Narendra Modi has written a biographical profile of Golwalkar in his book, “Jyotipunj”. He considers Golwalkar to be one of his inspirations. According to Rajeshwar Dayal, the Chief Secretary of the United Provinces in 1947-48, Golwalkar had planned to carry out a Pogrom of Muslims. Golwalkar in his book writes about non-Hindus : “The non-Hindu people of Hindustan must either adopt Hindu culture and language, must learn and respect and hold in reverence the Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but of those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture ... In a word they must cease to be foreigners, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment—not even citizens' rights.” RSS is now giving practical shape to these ideas of Golwalkar through their nominee, Narendra Modi. 
There is a certain class of Muslims in India who by their actions and speech try to be proverbially “More loyal than the King”! They have probably not seen the report about the state of their fellow Muslims. The most authentic report has been given by Rajinder Sachar. He says in his report that the Muslims in India are in a condition worse than even the Dalits, the lowest caste among Hindus. A paragraph about the report given in Wikipedia is reproduced: “The report showed the growing social and economic insecurity that had been imposed on Muslims since independence sixty years earlier. It found that the Muslim population, estimated at over 138 million in 2001, was under-represented in the civil service, police, military and in politics. Muslims were more likely to be poor, illiterate, unhealthy and to have trouble with the law than other Indians. Muslims were accused of being against the Indian state, of being terrorists, and politicians who tried to help them risked being accused of "appeasing" them”.
One need not recollect the story of Kashmiris as it is universally known. They are in no way related to the happenings in the sub-continent except by being accidentally dragged into the Hindu-Muslim divide of the sub-continent at the time of the partition by the manipulation of the British and some Indian leaders. However, in view of their history, their right to self-determination has been accepted not only by the Indian leaders at the time of the partition but by the whole world through various resolutions, declarations and actions of the UN Security Council.
Connecting this with the fate of Muslims in India is the most ridiculous thing and a virtual blackmail indulged in by these so called “Muslim” supporters of Modi! It is really unfortunate that a person who was earlier a staunch supporter of the rights of Kashmiris has now turned against them and is advocating their retention even against their will for the pseudo-secular image of India to safeguard the future of the Muslim minority. There cannot be worse commentary than this for the world’s so called largest democratic and “secular” republic! 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Flood prevention measures

Take action to prevent the future floods. Nothing tangible seems to have been done so far!

Flood prevention measures

The sudden passing away of the former Chief Minister has thrown the state into a very uneasy state of uncertainty. One is not sure how long will the Governor’s rule continue nor is any definite indication about the date of swearing in of the new Chief Minister. One of the negative fall outs of this uncertainty is the stalling of urgent measures for taming the River to prevent future floods.
The Governor in a high level meeting held recently had ordered the Secretary Irrigation and Flood Control to immediately start dredging of the River Jhelum and also strengthen its embankments. The process was directed to be completed in a given time frame and had also to be continuously monitored. This is the most important assignment which has to be carried out in the shortest possible time by some resourceful agencies. 
In fact, there are already detailed reports and plans on the subject of flood prevention with the concerned department. They had even submitted some of these plans to Government of India few years back but after that the whole thing seems to have gone into limbo, the result of which was the destructive flood of September, 2014. The destruction could be easily classified as criminal negligence on the part of all concerned. In any other country, there would have been a thorough probe and the guilty would have been tried and punished. However, in Kashmir, the “Accountability” has been the first victim of the turmoil of the recent years!
Even last year some experts have conducted detailed satellite survey of the flood. It has been pointed out by the experts that most of the flood basins of the River have been fully silted or encroached upon. The River and its spill over channel have not been dredged for decades. Apart from this the water shed of the River has been deforested thereby allowing the rain water to run off immediately after it falls. There is hardly any retention because of the denuded soil. It has also been observed that there is a definite climate change which has resulted in either very little precipitation sometimes while as some other times like during the start of the month of September, 2014, there is too much precipitation. Keeping in view all these reports and observations, it is the most immediate need to implement specific flood prevention measures. Rehabilitation and restoration of the infrastructure even if delayed, will not be as fatal as neglecting measures for prevention of future floods. Moreover, no one would like to be once again rehabilitated after yet another disastrous flood. People already rehabilitated have still not forgotten the nightmares of the last trauma! 
The work of dredging has to be undertaken throughout the length of the River, especially, at Baramulla and Sopore in the downstream area and beyond Sangam in the upstream area. During Maharajas time there used to be a dredger permanently stationed in Baramulla. 
According to Environmental Policy Group almost all the wetlands have been silted up. These too need to be desilted. The Srinagar City itself is now in continuous danger of getting submerged with every sizeable flood. The areas across towards Mahjoor Nagar, Natipora, Barzulla, and Bemina and so on formed the flood basin of the River. These have been encroached upon and a major portion of the Capital City is housed there. Most of the water bodies in and around Srinagar have either disappeared or have shrunk due to encroachments. To restore all these will take quite some time. The immediate solution to save the City from yet another disastrous flood would be immediate and sizeable dredging of the River all along its length and strengthening of the embankments on the its two sides as it passes through the City. This task can be successful only if it is entrusted to a very resourceful agency with sufficient equipment and trained manpower. Piecemeal dredging here and there will not solve the problem. 
The Governor has initiated a very good people friendly move. It would be in the fitness of things if he continues to supervise and monitor the operation even after the installation of a popular government. This being the most fundamental requirement for the safety and security of the people, all the political parties should have no objection to such a project initiated in the public interest! Let us hope some good sense prevails and people rise above all petty considerations!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Revamping Srinagar Airport

Will Srinagar ever have a truly International Airport? Yes, only if NAMO takes the initiative in his typically unconventional style!

Revamping Srinagar Airport

It has been pointed out several times that the Airport at Srinagar erroneously called the International Airport is a practical joke being played on Kashmiris by the Indian Government. One flight to Dubai was started with great fanfare and then within six months it was taken off. It is a fact that the real high end international tourism to Kashmir can never grow without an international air connection. In the best of the times, the number of international tourists visiting Kashmir has never been more than 5% because of the add on fare from Delhi. 
According to news reports, for a change, the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India itself has pointed out that Kashmir may lose its Tourism soon unless Srinagar Airport is revamped, expanded and opened to International flights. A report prepared by the Union Tourism Ministry titled ‘20 years of Perspective and Sustainable Tourism in JK’ states that “there is need for expansion of Srinagar airport, state airline service (19 routes), helicopter taxi service and developing the Srinagar Airport as an international hub of air traffic in order to connect and attract tourists from gulf countries.” The report projects 2.5 crore tourists and 34 lakh jobs in Kashmir. One would not like to agree with such fantastic figures as it would mean over-running Kashmir thereby destroying the delicate environment which in the first place is the main attraction! We have to go for sustainable tourism. The numbers which can be sustained without causing any damage to ecology and environment. However, it is also essential to aim for high-end tourism rather than go for mass budgeted tourism. Tourism is an economic activity and not a charity!
The bottlenecks in declaring Srinagar Airport as an International Airport and starting direct international flights are many. The Airport at the moment is totally under the control of the Indian Airforce. First restriction is that no foreign pilots are allowed to fly in the J & K airspace by the Defence Authorities. Only Indian pilots can use the airspace. Secondly, most of the flights coming from the west would have to use the Pakistani airspace. However, Pakistan does not allow any aircraft landing or taking off from Srinagar to use its airspace. They have to take a long detour which makes such flights uneconomical. However, the greatest bottle neck is the “National Security” phobia. A single unsuccessful militant attack on the outer security gate some years back converted the place into the world’s most guarded Airport with the maximum security hassles. In no airport in the entire world passengers and their baggage is screened more than a kilometer before the entry to the terminal building. This aspect too has been highlighted in the Government of India, Ministry of Tourism report. No doubt the US airports have now most notorious body searches and security drills but Srinagar tops all these. If the security people are so jittery about the possibility of militants sneaking in, they should install vehicle and whole body scanner at the first security gate. This will enable the genuine passengers to cross at a faster speed without any hassles.
Regarding starting of International flights, there are two choices. The first is to start charter flights of Air India (Indian aircraft being flown by Indian pilots) from Russia, Central Asian destinations like Tashkent and Tajikistan on western side and Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong on Eastern side. Incidentally, the South East Asian tourists have continued to visit Kashmir in the worst years of turmoil without any fear. Russians used to send hundreds of Charters to Goa in winter and to Turkey in summer. The closure of Turkey to Russians could give them an alternative destination of Kashmir in summer. In fact, prior to the turmoil of nineties, a large number of Russian groups had started visiting Kashmir. On the outgoing side there are many possibilities of charters to Jeddah for Umra and to Coolab in the Khatlan province of Tajikistan to pay reverence at the shrine of Shah-i-Hamadan. The Gulf flights suggested in the Government of India, Ministry of Tourism report could be via Delhi on the line of Jaipur and Amritsar flights. These flights originate from Jaipur and Amritsar but go to Gulf after an hour’s stopover at Delhi. 
The report could be implemented provided someone takes a bold initiative. The only person capable of doing so is the Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has made a name in taking unconventional and dramatic initiatives. If the recent Nawaz Sharif-Modi meet is to sustain then in spite of Pathankot a number of steps for opening up the closed barriers like the starting of international flights to Srinagar need to be taken without any reservations. Let us hope NAMO will do it again!  

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Kashmir, a rudderless ship!

Mufti Sahib’s passing away seems to have set the ship of Kashmir once again adrift on an uncharted sea!


It is not for the first time that there is an uncertainty about not only the ultimate fate of this land but even about its day to day governance. This always happens when a ship is set on an uncharted course without any definite goal. Unfortunately, the leaders of all the streams do not outline a definite and a practically achievable goal. It is like a ship sailing from a port to port without an ultimate destination. Probably, the main problem in putting the ship on a definite course is the captain’s uncertainty about the ultimate goal and the delusions about the way to reach that destination. Almost all our leaders start with the declaration of achieving a place of dignity and honour for the people but end up trying to keep their own “dignity” and “honour” intact leaving the common people in the lurch. Is it because they are not sure of the ultimate goal and develop doubts about achieving that or it is because of the fatigue and tiredness of the struggle? An important question which needs to be debated.
Mufti Sahib had started his political career in the Indian National Congress but ended up by pioneering his own party the People’s Democratic Party. He had declared that Kashmir’s emancipation was possible through Indo-Pak rapprochement and for that he had propagated “self-rule”. During his first tenure he did work for and achieve a breakthrough in starting cross LOC travel and trade. However, it did not grow as expected and remained a stagnant measure. The second coming appeared a total compromise especially after propagating throughout the valley keeping out the Hindutva agenda and then virtually embracing the same. The delusion was that by aligning with the party ruling at the centre, he will at least be able to bring scour to the people devastated by the worst flood in the century. However, after getting a bear hug, he was totally let down by the other party! The meeting of the North Pole and the South Pole did not bear the fruit as was expected by him.
Now his daughter faces the same dilemma! Some people have opined that she stands at the crossroads of history. There have been umpteen rumours as well as suggestions about what she intends to do or should do. Most of these have been put forth without any body actually speaking to her! Some believe that if she ditches BJP and formulates some other combination probably with Congress, she will regain the lost popularity in the valley. On the other hand some have opined that by backing out she will get a squeeze from the Central Government in everything including massive funds needed for restoration and rehabilitation regardless of the combination she formulates. According to these commentaries she seems to be standing between the devil and the deep sea! Some have even suggested going back to the people to get a clear mandate as even good governance is always a casualty in every coalition set up. 
If one analyses truly the situation of the mainstream parties, they can at best look at good governance which has been missing now for a long time. The question of the mainstream parties having any say in the ultimate solution of the basic political problem is a delusion suffered by the leaders of all these parties. They need to accept the fact that they are at the pleasure of whomsoever is at the helm in Delhi which considers Kashmir to have been settled once for and all. In these circumstances, the best bet is to let Delhi govern the state on its own through Governor’s and President’s rule. No political party can then be blamed for at least the lack of governance. On the contrary Delhi will have to undertake a massive construction and rehabilitation programme without any political interference to gain sympathy of the local people whose main interest at the moment is rehabilitation, restoration and prevention of future calamities.     

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Kashmir’s “Gabbar Singhs”!

There are many characters like that notorious bandit of Bollywood. See them in administration, politics and other streams of Kashmir!
 Kashmir’s “Gabbar Singhs”!
Recently, there have been many instances where some of the members of the ruling elite have acted very high-handedly and treated senior officers of the administration as if they were their servants. Some people have referred to them as “Gabar Singh” of the famous Hindi movie “Sholay”. In the movie, Gabbar Singh played by late Amjad Khan, is a very notorious dacoit. He leads a gang of dacoits who have terrorised one and all. The twin heroes come to face him and have many encounters. The dialogue of Gabbar Singh when he addresses his gang members who had let him down before the twin heroes, “Samba, kitnay Aadmi thai woh?” was a craze among the general public for quiet sometime. After uttering the dialogue, Gabbar Singh shoots his derelict gang members one after the other. This is the Gabbar Singh’s punishment for dereliction of duty. In Kashmir too there have been similar instances where people in government and administration as well as various political parties have been behaving like Gabbar Singh.
The style of Gabbar Singh has been prevalent in Kashmir right from forties. The National Conferences headed by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah had a number of muscle men under the patronage of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad. Dissenting views were not tolerated at all. The group of National Conference goons would beat up people and even break radios if people listened to Radio Pakistan or Azad Kashmir. A security officer had become notorious for the tortures he inflicted on anti-Abdullah people. He was like the notorious Beria of the erstwhile KGB. 
After the dethroning of Sheikh Abdullah, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad got the NC “Peace Brigade” perfected under his cousin Bakshi Rashid who was exactly like the Gabbar Singh of the movie. The clan had been given the name of “Gogas”. Bakshi Rashid used to wear a tilted Qaraqul cap and always had a couple of strongmen with him. He was a real terror for the people but met his nemesis during the holy relic agitation of 1963 when his car was burnt and thrown into River Jhelum by angry mobs. All these people went into hiding then and totally disappeared from the scene.
The high handedness by the politicians percolated into the administration and even in the internal setup of various political parties. This disease was worsened by the personality cult and nepotism. Delhi instead of patronising the honest, upright and people of integrity supported the deviant ones who could carry on their agenda. These people would bully common man and could get anything done and remain totally unaccountable. These included Deputy Commissioners, Divisional Commissioners, Officers in Civil Administration and Police. Slowly, accountability vanished and the “Gabar Singhs” became bold and totally high-handed. They had the cover of “National Interest” and “National Security”. During the turmoil of nineties, the accountability both in security apparatus and administration went for a six. 
Same situation occurred in most of the political party set ups. These were plagued by dynastic succession and nepotism. There was total sycophancy and the personality cult was perfected. This could be a natural phenomenon for the parties and groups sustained by external forces. However, even the people supposed to be leading a popular cause were divided into dozens of parties and sub-parties. Again the reason was personality cult and lack of democracy in the set ups. These are functioning as if they are about to take over the government rather than to continue to struggle for achieving their goal which in many cases remains still vague. 
The first requisite for the success of any party or organisation is the exercise of real democracy in its working. Every one’s dignity and honour has to be respected. In a ruling set up, both in the ruling elite and the administration, respect is to be given to all the sub-ordinates. One cannot brow beat simply if one claims to be honest. No one can judge every other person to be dishonest. False pretence of honesty and integrity only exposes one’s hollowness. Accountability is the prime requisite for an honest and integral administration but it has to follow certain rules as well civilised behaviour. Let us hope all the concerned take a cue and act truly in a democratic and civilised way and not follow the proverbial “Gabar Singh”!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Leave Kashmiris Alone!

Indo-Pak bonhomie is welcome, but it would be successful only if both countries decide to leave Kashmiris alone by declaring Kashmir as neutral territory!

 Leave Kashmiris Alone!
The recent dramatic, and an unscheduled visit of the Indian Prime Minister Narender Modi to Lahore to meet Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif created quite a stir. There have been umpteen comments and reactions about this meeting out of the blue ostensibly to greet Nawaz Sharif on his birthday. The comments have been both positive and negative. While as some people have hailed it as a breakthrough in the Indo-Pak reconciliation process, others have criticised it as the histrionics of Modi who is given to such dramatic gestures to steal the show. It has been observed by some commentators that it is not very easy to have a real and true rapprochement between these two neighbours who have been at each other’s throats right from their creation in 1947. One needs to analyse all aspects of the relationship before making a final judgement.
It is a fact that the partition of the sub-continent by the British created two antagonistic neighbours. It was the worst tragedy in the history of the sub-continent. Had India not been divided, it would truly have been a super-power. However, the British had their own ideas to keep their presence in the sub-continent after their departure. There could not have been a better solution than to have two antagonistic neighbours always at each other’s throats and dependent on the weapons of war most of the time on the west. India is the largest importer of arms in the world, and Pakistan spends more than 22% of its budget on defence. Both the countries have piles and piles of nukes, missiles, and other lethal weapons of war. At the same time they have millions of their citizens living below the poverty line not being able to get a single square meal. All their defence deals have huge paybacks. If only they could cut their defence budgets by half, these would become real welfare states.
Why are not these two countries able to work out a rapprochement? Apart from the vested interests of the western powers that are milking these countries only because of a perennial conflict there are also deeply entrenched vested interests on the two sides of the divide. People on either side do not want war but they want to live in peace. The greatest tragedy is that the people across the divide cannot meet each other freely. There is a barrier worse than the notorious Berlin Wall. Dramatic meetings between the top leaders or the interaction of the Civil Society members from the two sides in five star hotels is not going to bring the real meeting of the hearts. It is the totally free people to people contact which can break the ice. The Indo-Pak barrier has to break. Unfortunately, both the sides are swimming against the tide. While as barriers in Europe have totally broken down, we are here creating new ones and strengthening earlier ones! Reportedly there is a plan to build a concrete wall on the International Border and the Line of Control in J& K. 
The barriers will break only when the mind-set of the persons manning the Security related organisations on both the sides’ changes. The Inter-Services Intelligence of Pakistan feels that they have to bleed India from a thousand cuts for their survival. Also Kashmir has to be merged into Pakistan to complete the agenda of partition. On this side the Research and Analysis Wing feels that they must keep Pakistan on the boil to prevent them from harming India. Apart from this a large extremist Hindutva population feels that the Muslims who came from Saudi Arabia have stolen half of their country and it is to be retrieved to make India the Akhand Bharat of the ancient times. The silver lining in the dark clouds of war hovering over the sub-continent is a possible rapprochement between the top leaders in spite of all the hatred and venom being spitted out by the professional war-mongers. It could be a good beginning if there is sincerity. The leaders have not only to meet and work out a practical approach but have to rein in the Chauvinists on the two sides. It is here that the question of Kashmir comes in. For last 68 years people on both sides have been fed a very fanatic line. Pakistanis claim Kashmir to be their jugular vein while as the Indians claim it to be their crown. Kashmir has been made out to be the core issue. However, in reality it is a symptom and not the disease.
As regards Kashmiris themselves, neither of the countries is bothered about their fate. Here, the question of the egg and the chicken comes in. Which came first, Kashmir the chicken or the eggs of India and Pakistan? Historically, Kashmir has been an independent sovereign country for thousands of years. Pakistan did not exist before 1947. India has been united as one country in the time of Chandragupta Maurya, Asoka the Great and under the British. Both the countries do not represent nations but a group of ethnically different people clobbered together. On the other hand Kashmiris are a nation by every definition of Political Science. 
The reaction in Kashmir about the talks has been mixed. Some have welcomed it while others have opined that any rapprochement without Kashmir is meaningless. To be realistic, one has to admit that the rapprochement is practically impossible without removing the sore of bleeding Kashmir. Would both the sides agree to leave Kashmiris alone! It could be geographically as well politically converted into the Switzerland of the sub-continent. Instead of a bleeding Heart of Asia, it could be the real Tulip Garden of Asia where people from the entire area could meet for peace and pleasure. That may be a possible solution. Will the two leaders take such an initiative in the interests of the future generations? That is the million dollar question!