Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A simmering volcano!

(In spite of a lull after the last year’s upheaval, the whole of Kashmir seems to be simmering like a volcano waiting to erupt anytime without any warning!)

Kashmir has witnessed a number of upheavals spearheaded by the youth in the recent years starting from the Amarnath land row of 2008. However, the “Burhan Tsunami” of last July was the most widespread and bloody in the recent memory. Firstly, it was a spontaneous mass uprising led by the youth everywhere. The traditional leaders instead of leading were being led by the youth. For their own relevance, they started issuing protest calendars. In fact, at one point they asked the people in general to give suggestions as to how the movement should go ahead. They even held meetings with the cross section of society especially traders and transporters who had had been adversely affected by prolonged shut downs. They have now restarted issuing protest calendars which seem to be more concentrated on relaxation than protest!

The reason for this probably is their uncertainty about the behavior of the people. However, there is no uncertainty about the sudden eruption of protests by youth everywhere. Especially during so called “encounters”. Incidentally, these are not in reality encounters involving militant attacks. There have been no militant attacks in the recent past. On the contrary these are search and kill operations. In nineties of the last century the security forces were conducting similar operations called “Operation Cobra”. On getting information about the presence of militants in different areas, the security forces would then cordon the place and ask the militants to surrender. Usually this resulted in encounters involving killing of the suspected militants. People would in almost all cases, run away from the encounter site.

On the contrary, now the people are storming the “encounter” sites to enable militants to run away! Top security and police officials have called this phenomenon a dangerous development. In fact, even the Army Chief General Bipin Rawat has admitted that this new phenomenon is creating problems in fighting anti-national elements and has threatened the civilians obstructing or storming encounter sites that they would be fired upon. . There has been a severe reaction to General’s statement which has been supported by the Defence Minister and some members of the ruling party. The state government has virtually supported the General Rawat by imposing section 144 around the encounter sites prohibiting assembly of people within 3 kilometers of the sites. One would not have expected such a statement from the top most Security Official against his own people. After all it is not the enemy territory for him! From the Army side, the only realistic statement had come from General Hooda who had publicly stated that for peace in Kashmir everybody will have to be taken on board.

A confirmation of the explosive situation threatening a repeat of 2016 events has come from no one but the State Police itself. According to a news item in local English daily Kashmir Reader, the J & K Police has submitted a confidential report to the government stating that the situation is not normal on the ground and resurgence in public protest has been reported across the Kashmir valley. The report states that after the Hurriyat unity, the workers of the conglomerate have become very active on the ground. The police have mentioned that the people were ready for the new uprising because the administration has physically done nothing to allay the fears of the people. The government should remain ready for the 2016-like unrest at any other moment, the report warns.

Apart from the Police report, there have been many blogs and articles stating that Kashmir is sitting on a powder keg ready to blow up anytime! Bill Clinton in nineties had called it the most dangerous place on Earth! However, the situation instead of improving since that statement has rather deteriorated further. The latest person to raise the alarm has been an important leader of the present ruling elite in New Delhi, Yeshwant Sinha. After his visits to the valley, he has been continuously and repeatedly appealing to the authorities to start a dialogue. However, unfortunately, he has no takers. On the contrary, the chauvinistic members of the ruling set up are adding more fuel to the fire with their daily statements to end Kashmir’s so called special status.. Kashmir valley has geographically a number of physical volcanic sites which have become extinct over a period of time. The Shankracharya Temple and the Fort of Hari Parbat, the two famous landmarks of Srinagar are supposed to be extinct volcanos. However, the political volcano continues to simmer and may erupt anytime with destructive force. All stake holders from within the state and outside need to take immediate measures to diffuse the situation before a destructive eruption engulfs the entire sub-continent!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Daulatabad to Ahmedabad!

(One finds an uncanny resemblance between the rule of Muhammad-bin-Tughluq and the present rulers of the country!)

There is a popular saying that the History repeats itself. Muhammad-bin-Tughluq ruled Delhi from 1325 A.D. to 1351 A.D. After Allaudin Khilji he is supposed to have been the greatest Sultan of Delhi. He is fondly remembered for his bold experiments and innovative thought in many fields especially in administration and agriculture. He is supposed to have been one of the most remarkable rulers of his time. He was highly educated and very well knew both the Arabic and Persian languages. He was very adept in the subjects of religion, philosophy, astronomy, mathematics, medicine and logic. He was also very good at calligraphy.

Even though the Sultan had good knowledge yet he had certain weaknesses. He was very impatient and hasty due to which many of his experiments failed. After the death of his father he ascended the throne in Delhi after declaring himself Sultan in Tughlaqabad where he stayed for forty days. On his arrival in Delhi he was greeted by the nobles and crowned in the Red Palace of Balban. Because of the expectations of the people, he started taking bold measures in different fields. First was revenue assessment to make a correct tabulation of the income and expenditure in the country. For this he set up a separate office. The idea was to have a uniform standard of revenue.

However, the first wrong step was increase in the taxation in Doab Region. Even though the area was very fertile yet the farmers were already paying half the produce as tax. Also the increase came when the area was on the verge of famine. He took harsh measures to recover the tax due to which farmers ran away from their villages and some even went to jungles to join dacoits. In order to bring some improvements in agriculture, he set up a department of agriculture called the Diwan-i-kohi. A large number of peasants were engaged for cultivation. However, even this project also failed. The reason was the land chosen for cultivation was not fertile and the officers lacked experience. The result was again a disaster.

His most known ill-conceived action was the transfer of capital from Delhi to Devagari (Daulatabad). He felt that it was not possible to control southern states from Delhi. Devagari was more central and had been a base for the expansion of Turkish rule in India. Moreover, Delhi was very prone to Mongol invasions. Deavagari being situated in centre was more suitable for South and North administration. He ordered people of Delhi to shift to Davagari. It was a nightmare for the people. However, after spending two years there, he realized as he could not control South from Delhi, similarly he could not control North from Daulatabad. He had no option but to shift the capital back to Delhi! It was at a huge cost both in terms of the discomfort to the people and unnecessary expenditure.

Another bold but disastrous step was introduction of a new currency. Before Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq the rulers depended upon gold and silver coins. However, during his time huge amount of currency was required for various measures and experimental steps. There was not enough gold and silver available. So he ordered making of token currency of bronze coins. However, soon people started making these coins at home and a huge quantity of these forged coins entered everywhere. Tughlaq failed to stop the proliferation of the forged coins and had no alternative but to withdraw the same. Finally, the Sultan made preparations for two expeditions, one to Khurassan and the other to Karajal. Both had to be abandoned at a huge cost. It was because of these failures he has been called a Mad Sultan!

In the present context, some similar steps were taken which refresh the memory of the Sultan. The intention as evident from various pronouncements was good. These included “Ache Din”, “Sab ka saath, sab ka vikas” and so on. However, the hasty implementation created untold problems.  The most important is the change in currency which is these days called the “demonetization”! This sudden and unannounced step created immense difficulties especially for the poor. The withdrawal of the major portion of the currency in circulation consisting of the high denomination notes created a chaos especially among the lower strata of the population. This was because of the curbs on withdrawal of currency and shortage of small denomination notes. The worst affected were the farmers and the daily wage earners. The intention as projected was to end black money in the country and stop fake currency as well as prevent use of currency for terror acts. However, according to information 97% of these high denomination notes were deposited in the banks. So where was the black money? There were also instances of the new notes being made by forgers. The cash crunch created havoc and reportedly over a hundred people died while standing in queues before ATMs to get their own money! As regards overall economy, it also received a jolt. The rupee had a substantial fall in the international market. A number of economists described the step as robbery against the poor people while the corporates remained unaffected.

As regards shifting of the capital, it is happening in a different way. Gujarat with Ahmedabad as its capital is becoming new destination for corporates and multinationals. With the state government giving every possible facility, the investments in Gujarat are in billions of dollars. If not politically, but economically it will be soon India’s capital. NaMo may try his best to give shape to his ideas to make India one of the best advanced and developed countries but he is being pulled down by his Hindutva baggage. The most recent is Mohan Bhagwat’s declaration that everyone born in India is a “Hindu”!

Muhammad Tughluq was ultimately pulled down by his two disastrous expeditions. Well, in the present case, the “Surgical Strikes” may ultimately prove to be the nemesis. These did not achieve anything but created a tense atmosphere of hostility and enmity which is not good for the economic development intended to make India a welfare state. The resemblance to the earlier historical period makes one feel quite uncomfortable and there is no choice but to keep the fingers crossed and hope for the best!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Living in cocoons!

(The excessive security measures have forced Kashmiris, historically reputed to be very sociable people, to live in cocoons with only interactions through social networking sites on the internet!)

The events of the nineties of the last century when armed militancy erupted in the state forced Kashmiris to mostly confine to their homes. There was violence all around with encounters, clashes, explosions and so on. Moreover, the security forces had launched continuous cordon and search operations. Curfews were imposed on almost continuous basis. These events forced people to stay indoors in their own homes. The result was a total break in physical interactions not only among friends but even among close relations. The only interactions were at funeral prayers. This tense atmosphere continued for the whole decade of nineties.

In the beginning of the present century with the lessening of militant activities, there was some relaxation in the situation. However, the physical social interactions still remained rare. Now people used to meet on marriages, some other social functions and as earlier at funerals. The traditional social calling on still remained rare. It may have increased but then we got profuse spread of the internet with its social networking sites of Facebook and Twitter. People found it easy to interact with not only close relations and friends but almost with every organization, newspaper and other set ups of every kind. People started becoming armchair intellectuals, experts and what not! Social events too got fully interactive through these sites. The most destructive fallout was the phenomenal decrease in physical social interactions. Some people virtually started living in cocoons watching the screens of their laptops or smart phones.

The social networking sites are very useful for quick communication, discussion, debate and gathering of information. However, making these sites an end in itself is definitely harmful both physically as well as socially. The greatest revolution in information technology has been the internet known as the information highway. It has tremendous advantages but there are also many scary aspects which need to be kept in view. It is a fact that getting glued to internet whether through social net-working sites or otherwise puts one into a virtual cocoon. It is very essential to revive physical interaction unless one wants to become a silk worm in a cocoon. One cannot dispense with the physical interaction as in the long run it is harmful. Moreover, absence of physical interaction results in isolation which causes mental trauma. According to a report prepared by the “Doctors Without Borders”, almost every second person in Kashmir is suffering from mental trauma. In fact, according to psychiatrists, one of the main causes of dementia and derangement in elders is physical isolation.

Now, the question arises how can physical social interaction be revived? First is meeting and visiting relations and friends on a regular basis. Apart from visiting relations and friends regularly, one can arrange social meetings in different homes rather than in five star hotels and restaurants. Next is physical social interaction of intellectuals, journalists and civil society members. About three decades back, Srinagar had a well-known meeting point and a physical interaction site. That was the famous “India Coffee House”. However, due to the turmoil of nineties, the organization which had been managing these coffee houses closed its outlet in Srinagar. Since that time in spite of the return of ideal atmosphere no one has come forward to start a similar no-loss/ no-profit joint in Srinagar or other places. We have many places but these are expensive and an average citizen cannot afford these on a regular basis. There is scope for starting a chain of Coffee Houses in different major towns of Kashmir Valley where people can meet and exchange views. Will someone come forward and do it? That is a prospect worth exploring.

The other absence of a physical social interaction especially among the journalist community and intellectuals has been the absence of a Press Club. It is a pity that in spite of a huge entourage of local, national and international journalists we do not have a Press Club in Srinagar. For some unknown reasons all he governments so far have failed to facilitate the setting of a Press Club in Srinagar. Jammu where the size of the journalist community is small has a flourishing Press Club. It is time that some members of the journalist community come forward make a concerted effort to set up a Press Club. It is also obligatory for the state to assist in setting up such a facility. Finally, while debating physical social interactions, one must not forget an Art Gallery which is almost a mandatory spot in most famous capitals throughout the world. For a change, let all friends come forward with their views on the subject.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Kashmir Choked by the “New Maharajas”!

(While the Kashmir valley is physically and politically choked, the “New Maharajas” are enjoying the pleasant climate of Jammu and celebrating the erstwhile Maharaja’s birthday!)

Kashmir valley has been politically “choked” right from 1947. The expression of true aspirations is an “anti-national” act in Kashmir. Now added to this political choking has come the physical choking! During last couple of weeks, the Kashmir Valley has received very heavy snowfall intermittently after a long time. This unprecedented snowfall in recent years has completely isolated the valley. There have been no flights for some days and the only road link to India has remained blocked almost for a week. Well, this is not for the first time that the Kashmir Valley has got virtually physically choked. It has happened umpteen times during winter because the natural outlet from the valley to the outside world known as the Jhelum Valley Road has remained politically closed since the events of 1947. That outlet never used to get physically blocked in winter prior to 1947 and was the main access to the outside world. The other road to Jammu via Bannihal used to remain blocked in winter. Even though the link has been upgraded by widening and new tunnels, it still gets blocked in heavy rain or snow. It is a tough job for the Border Roads Organization to keep it open and they have to do it at a huge cost in men and material because it is the only lifeline to the valley! Similar situation is with flights. In spite of having a world class runway which can take any aircraft flown by international airlines, the flights get cancelled because the Air Force which controls the airport does not allow installation of facilities for instrument landing system (ILS) and the precision approach radar (PAR) which can allow aircraft to land even in falling snow with 300 meters visibility. It is time they show magnanimity and ensure landing and taking off by all civilian flights in all kinds of weather!

Incidentally, when the Valley people are facing all the hardships and miseries, the “New Maharajas” of Kashmir are enjoying the pleasant climate of Jammu! Recently, the Legislative Council of the State Assembly passed a resolution for declaring the birthday of the erstwhile Maharaja Hari Singh as a state holiday. A columnist friend has termed it as the betrayal of Kashmir’s Freedom struggle. In 2012, on the unveiling of the statue of the Maharaja Hari Singh in Jammu, a columnist posed a question whether Kashmir had really got rid of the monarchy in 1947? According to the columnist, the event showed that Maharaja Hari Singh continues to be regarded as the beloved King of Jammu & Kashmir by one part of the state even though he had an ignominious exit from the other part and died in exile in Mumbai! Well. The reality is much more than that. We have a new breed of Maharajas who are legitimizing their descent from Maharaja Hari Singh!

The present day monarchy has a different connotation. Following the exit of the Dogra dynasty, we had the dynastic rule of a single family for almost half a century. That has now been followed by another family! We have given birth to new line of maharajas. Similarly, we did not get rid of the feudal lords in 1947 in spite of the revolutionary land reforms but gave birth to a new breed. Earlier the Brahmins used to be the feudal land lords but now we have the new ones, the “Muslim Brahmins”! Aristocracy has been part of the Kashmir Society from the earliest times. Kalhana mentions Damaras as the powerful semi-independent feudal lords who controlled the Royalty of ancient Kashmir. Damaras were feudal land-owners or barons. They mostly lived in the fertile cultivated portions of the valley and their seats formed strong-holds capable of defence. These territorial lords were the true king makers. These earliest aristocrats or nobles continued to be an influential element even under the Sultans of Kashmir. The advent of Islam in the valley introduced a new element. These were the Sayyids who had accompanied Shah-i-Hamadan from Iran. They considered themselves to be superior to the local converts to Islam. Their progeny started a new class of aristocracy. Mughals patronized some of these aristocrats who had sided with them during the capture of Kashmir. However, the rule of Afghans and Sikhs was so harsh that nothing of aristocracy or sophistication survived. They were uncouth and ruthless rulers. Dogras oppressed the local people so much that they were converted into mere serfs. They even murdered Robert Thorpe who dared to expose Kashmiris’ plight in his book, the Kashmir Misgovernment. They also created new class of aristocrats as land barons by importing Rajputs from Jammu as also by patronizing the erstwhile Damaras of Rajatarangini!

Incidentally, Kashmir must be the only place in the world where a state capital is moved from one city to another for the convenience of the rulers. Once the “Durbar” moves to Jammu, the people in the valley are left to fend for themselves. One could not challenge the erstwhile Maharajas as it was their sweet will which mattered and not the welfare of the masses. They wanted to enjoy the best of the seasons and therefore, spent the winter in the warmth of Jammu and enjoyed nature’s beauty in Kashmir’s summer. However, in the present modern age this concept of dual capital is unthinkable. Srinagar is 2000 year old city which has been the capital of Kashmir from the earliest times. The passing of the resolution honouring someone who purchased Kashmir along with its inhabitants and converted them into real serfs should be enough to declare Srinagar as the permanent capital of Kashmir. Let Jammu people have Regional Autonomy and their own permanent capital. Late Balraj Puri died with his unrealized dream of Regional Autonomy for Jammu. One feels it is the right time to honour his memory. Once Srinagar becomes the permanent capital, most of the woes on the developmental side will disappear. In view of the recent clashes and upheavals in the Assembly and total blockade of the valley by nature’s vagaries, it would be more than advisable to debate the proposal of making Srinagar as the permanent capital and granting Jammu, Regional Autonomy.