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The new ‘political’ Governor of J&K, Satya Pal Malik stepped into a volatile “Disturbed Area” at a testing and disturbing time. He is not the first to do so. However, he has in this short time several firsts to his credit. He did assure Kashmiris that under his watch there will be no underhand move to install a goverment. He also pointed out that J&K is no different from North East and Himachal Pradesh where there is a ban on buying land by outsiders. However, the Governor’s ‘soothing’ words were neutralised by his blatantly prejudiced stance against every political party other than BJP and PDP. In his interview to Naveed Iqbal of the Indian Express (05/10/2018) he claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be the winner in 2019 general elections. We were taught to believe that Governor is supposed to be impartial, that he is expected to uphold the Constitution. So how come Governor in a “Distrubed Area” makes such partisan remarks? Anyway, how does he know in advance the outcome of an election yet to be announced? Is this a mark of sycophancy which was common during emergency and now seems to be back under BJP led government, where everyone has to pay homage to the “leader’? Strangely while he found fault with everyone; Pakistan, Militants, Azaadi movement, National Conference and Congress, he did not utter a word of reproach or even regret at the bigotry, vigilantism, and violently divisive politics of BJP in J&K for the last many decades. He had also nothing to say on Kathua rape and murder of a girl child and the political mobilisation by BJP persons in defense of the accused of this heinous crime which shook the entire country.

A remarkable feature of Governor’s rule has been the social composition of top echelons of police and administration where in a predominately Muslims majority state three out of four of Governor’s advisor is Hindu. Out of 73 IAS ranked, 21 are Muslims; out of 504 KAS rank officers, 235 are Muslims; and as for IPS, only 11 Muslims find place out of 76. Armed forces fare no better in this case. Muslims are in any case poorly represented in army and central para military forces. For a Muslim-majority state, to have such a skewed representation of its actual demographics, is an indictment of India’s 70 years old control and administration of J&K.

In the last four years, if not longer, the Hindutva brigade has vitiated the atmosphere in Jammu to an extent unimaginable with the administration and the police going out of its way to do BJP’s bidding. The lynching, the attacks by ‘Gau sevaks’, driving away Bakerwals-Gujjars from their land, attempts to repeal the last vestiges of autonomy by attempts to do away with Articles 370 and 35A. National Security Adviser, occupying the highest security position in the country, referencing to J&K constitution opined that this was an “aberration”, which dilutes and ill-defines sovereignty of India. Because sovereignty of people is established through the Constitution, applicable to parts of the country. This was read as arguing for hastening the process of assimilation, full integration of J&K as espoused by RSS. With the state under Governor’s rule, is this what is being pushed through? Be that as it may. All this exacerbated communal divide in Jammu which was already simmering with hate politics, and only stoked the fire of resentment.

None of this was even acknowledged by the Governor not even as by the way. Indeed four years of BJP rule with its vicious anti-Muslim campaign in the country has contributed immensely to pushing the groundswell of public opinion in Kashmir in favour of Azaadi and against India, while dividing public opinion against Kashmiris. The boycott of polls as reported in the first two phases of local polls as well as popular eulogisation of militancy is evidence of this, just as crackdown on Kashmiri students in India testifies to this divisive politics. Contrary to official propaganda, this state of affairs has been caused by an insensitive government determined to seek military solution for what is a political matter needing political resolution.

So, to welcome the appointment of such a partisan political Governor in J&K, who has no mandate to hold dialogue but only tasked with the nebulous exercise to create conducive conditions for talks, is full of foreboding. It is quite apparent that military suppression by a government force armed with legal immunity will carry on. Besides, he presides over an administration whose top echelons today are mostly from among non state cadres and predominately non-Muslims at that, which casts doubts on the capability of state police and administrative cadres.

Above all he will go down as the Governor under whose watch State Election Commission has carried out local body elections, where ‘fair and transparent’ conduct of elections have become synonymous with subterfuge. It is unprecedented that in Kashmir the names of the candidates were hidden, and let out only when votes were to be cast and there is no canvassing for the vote by the candidates. Such is the nature of local polls that only 43,091 voters used their mandate in a electorate of 10,50,000, mere 4.2 per cent of the total. Out of 40 urban local bodies in 27 of them no polling was held. It converts into 412 wards out of 598 wards where no votes were cast. In more than half of the seats in Kashmir unknown candidates won by default. It is also a poll where the Governor virtually announced the name of Srinagar Mayor even before casting & counting of votes had begun. This evidences an unheard of process in Kashmir where the administration and military admit that they cannot protect those who chose to stand for local polls. This charade was justified by the Governor as nothing unusual. In this sense it is an unprecedented self-indictment of the Government’s hard line approach where suppression reigns supreme.In this sense local polls are an empty exercise, devoid of value, and meant to provide a fig leaf for military operations and a cover for BJP’s usurpation of political space.

In contrast such was popular defiance of this fraudulent exercise that popular contestation and confrontation was replaced by indifference. An act of civil disobedience quite remarkable in contrast. But it needs saying that while BJP through such sleigh of hand has brought itself to Kashmir , in Jammu its own electoral citadel it won 212 out of 520 urban wards against 185 independents and 110 Congress followed by 13 for Panthers Party. A clear indication all is not well even electorally for BJP.

It is worth a recall that the Central government which directly rules J&K through the Governor had foisted these elections using a dubious argument. They know that in Kashmir Valley there are few takers today for local body elections, rage against India simmers and every now and then boils over. Indigenous militancy shows no sign of flagging, and despite all attempts to plug the LoC the Government still propagates that all the trouble Indian government faces is on account of Pakistan. So brushing all this aside, the media reported senior officers of J&K administration as saying that there were financial considerations which compelled the state administration to push ahead with local body polls.

Apparently, Rs 367.22 cr of central grants meant for Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) in J&K could not be availed because there was “no duly elected” PRI in J&K since 2016. This does not make sense. J&K receives 43% of its Revenue Receipts of Rs 64,269 cr as Central grants in 2018-19. Lapse of Rs 367 cr does not make for a dire necessity. The farcical local body polls in Kashmir also stands out against the vastly different nature of the polls in Jammu and Ladakh. The contrast itself makes it clear that BJP is going all out to derive political advantage for itself. And the Governor and his administration is there to oblige New Delhi.

Against this background the killing of Mannan Wani marks another moment to infuse and enthuse the movement. While we debate the rights and wrongs of Mannan’s choice, and other educated young men like him, I wonder what choice have the Indian state and society actually offered to Kashmiris? We offer nothing by way of political solution, neither how autonomy, which has been hollowed out can be restored, nor show any willingness to even consider the right of self-determination as the only viable peaceful and democratic solution. Why do we shed tears over human rights violations, but do not demand an end to war against our own people? Why is it that we talk about Kashmir as “integral part” but criminal court’s jurisdiction does not apply in J&K. Or that civilians who have suffered at the hands of armed forces cannot get justice in any court? Peaceful political articulation of Azaadi invites persecution while we acquiesce to it through our silence. Why rake up the issue of ‘sovereignty’ vis a vis J&K when there is not even uniform criminal justice across the country. In “Disturbed Areas” government only speaks of restoring its authority, never of upholding the Constitution, including freedoms listed in Part III? In fact, nothing has nudged the BJP Government away from their brutal pursuit to stamp out an idea which refuses to die. Former head of Research And Analysis, A S Dulat, in his bestseller “Kashmir:The Vajpaye Years”, presciently wrote that ‘Kashmiris are in no hurry to accept defeat’.

An excerpt from Mannan Wani’s public letter deserves to be read. I would like the readers to decide if the language of the letter is that of a fanatic and a terrorist :

“A teacher (school, college or university) who teaches students honestly or a doctor who works day in and out to treat his patients humanely or a student protesting the atrocities of occupation honorably or a stone pelter who throws stones on occupying forces while facing bullets in return, or a columnist who writes fearlessly or a Journalist who risks his life to report the truths from ground zero or a person who just talks about the occupation or a lawyer who fights legally in a court, or a government employee who is sincere in his duties or for that matter a policeman who performs his real duty of maintaining law and order (not terrorizing, killing, maiming, and torturing natives), we are all soldiers of resistance.”

Therefore, at such times one can only remember the death of young people in Kashmir and lament the woeful lack of democratic imagination in our search for a political resolution. While opinion-makers cogitate over non violence, military suppression continues unabated under “Operation All out”, and death toll of militants is held out as mark of “improvement”. One cannot help wonder how many more Burhans and Mannans must die before we accept the need to redeem ourselves by embracing a democratic solution.

Gautam Navlakha is a human rights activist and a journalist. Email: navlakha.gautam@yahoo.com

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