Ignoring vox populi

Elected representatives have a hard time being taken seriously in Kashmir

Ignoring vox populi
Just as with any other houses of elected representatives in India, the Legislative Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir and the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Council pass resolutions on issues to highlight that they need to be urgently resolved. Both of them have passed bills and resolutions that were politically sensitive and merited attention. However, those resolutions were not taken seriously either by the governments in the state or by the Government of India. Bill No 7 or the J&K Resettlement Bill brought to the floor of the house by the late Sheikh Abdullah’s government in 1977 is a case in point. It aimed at opening doors for state subjects who had migrated up till 1954. The bill was tossed from the assembly to the Supreme Court and back to the state government but its fate still hangs in the balance.

In another case, the assembly passed a resolution with a two-thirds majority in 2000 for the restoration of greater autonomy to the state. It reflected the sentiments of the people of all three regions as the National Conference (NC) substantially represented Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh in the house. The resolution was in line with the promise first made to NC’s Farooq Abdullah by Narasimha Rao in 1995. Farooq had boycotted the May 1996 parliamentary elections but the Centre had wooed him back with the promise of autonomy so he joined the September 1996 assembly elections. Then Prime Minister Deve Gowda, who was supported by the Left, assured Farooq Abdullah of support. By the time he agreed, the “moderate face” of the BJP, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had taken over the reins in Delhi. And so, when the resolution was passed, the Vajpayee government did not even acknowledge it. Farooq failed to challenge New Delhi’s audacity to discredit the voice of what it had been trumpeting as “the assembly of elected representatives” to the world. Subsequently, the NC failed to establish itself as the party representing the people as it continued to be part of Vajpayee’s government with Omar Abdullah as the minister of state. This resolution was thus buried forever.
A recent resolution sought the declaration of a holiday on the death anniversary of Jammu and Kashmir's last autocrat Maharaja Hari Singh. It was moved by his grandson, Ajat Shatru Singh, and has opened wounds inflicted during the 100-year-long tyrannical rule of the dynasty

Recently, the assembly passed a resolution seeking the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the valley. It was moved by NC leader Omar Abdullah. The essence of the resolution is to demonstrate the collective will of the political set-up to press for their return. Millions have been spent on the rehabilitation of the Pandits and colonies to win them back. Likewise, the council passed a resolution in 2004, seeking to name Srinagar International Airport after the 14th Century saint Sheikh Nooruddin Wali popularly known as Sheikhul Alam. He is buried in Charar-e-Sharif in Budgam, where the airport is located. This resolution was also rejected by the Government of India. In India, there are over a dozen airports named after personalities but in this case the logic was that the government no longer entertained such requests. There is another pending resolution about creating a Hill Development Council in Chenab Valley given that similar councils are functioning in Leh and Kargil.

Another, recent resolution passed by the legislative council kickstarted a debate whether the ruling coalition should have allowed it to be tabled in the first place. The resolution sought the declaration of a holiday on the death anniversary of Jammu and Kashmir’s last autocrat Maharaja Hari Singh. It was moved by his grandson, Ajat Shatru Singh, and has opened wounds inflicted during the 100-year-long tyrannical rule of the dynasty. A majority of the state’s population fought against the Dogra autocracy in favour of democracy in a struggle that ran parallel to the Indian freedom struggle. (Both regional parties, the National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party, find value in having the descendents of the dynasty in their party to address the Jammu concern during the electoral fight.)

The way the resolution was passed also exposed how the government conducted itself, though a PDP member Khurshid Alam was the lone opposition and the NC was absent. PDP leader and Education Minister Naeem Akhtar did ask the member to withdraw it but during the vote it passed without much of a problem. If sources are to be believed, it was Akhtar who set the tone. He heaped praises on the Maharaja saying, “More than 500 states acceded to the Union of India. But it was Maharaja Hari Singh who protected the special status of his State”. Go two decades back, said Naeem Akhtar, and “the state subject laws were the Maharaja’s major contribution towards protecting the cultural and economic essence of Jammu and Kashmir”. He went on to say: “Look at the history and geography of Jammu and Kashmir, look at the circumstances in which its territorial expansion took place… didn’t they build one of the most difficult states in the whole world?”

The PDP should have been careful while handling such a sensitive issue. Even though their partnership with the Bharatiya Janata Party has gone awry, they cannot be so complacent when it comes to the wounds of tyranny. If they or the NC come to power it is because of the sacrifices of the people rendered while fighting Dogra rule. The PDP needs to explain why it failed to block the resolution that has hurt tens of thousands of people.

It is ironic that Hari Singh’s son Karan Singh described him as someone who was not communal at heart, even though the world knows how the Dogras behaved with their predominantly Muslim subjects. Only one example of how Muslims were butchered in Jammu in the last days of Hari Singh’s rule suffices to counter Dr Karan Singh’s declaration on Jan 28 that “[Hari Singh’s] closest friends were Muslims and there were always Muslims in his staff. It is very wrong to call him communal. He was a very progressive ruler who carried [through] several reforms.” If having a few Muslim friends make him secular, then nobody can be called communal. In his book Kashmir-The Untold Story Australian author Christopher Snedden dwells at length on the gory trail that was left behind by Hari Singh in his last days by overseeing the genocide of Muslims. According to him, nearly 22, 000 Muslims were killed before the Tribal invasion, suggesting that the annihilation had started much before. According to The Times of India correspondent, out of 411,000 Muslims 237,000 were systematically exterminated. He wrote this on August 10, 1948. There are hundreds of instances one can quote to debunk Karan Singh’s secular theory.

The government should stop stoking such fires. Hari Singh is a thing of the past and cannot be rediscovered in the present or future and that too when people challenge the wisdom of one who stood against him and made him leave Kashmir.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Srinagar (Kashmir) and can be reached at shujaat7867@gmail.com