The news media is full of stories by liberal activists and journalists about a 'political solution' for Kashmir. But what are the contours of such a solution? No one bothers to explain, but everyone hints darkly at some form of freedom for Kashmir and Kashmiris. I'm fortunate enough to know some folks of such leaning, and one of them even lamented that India's presence in Kashmir is as untenable as Britain's in India! Really? Well, let's examine some facts:
- Historically, India was never part of Britain. She was accessed by force and guile. Kashmir on the other hand, is a part of India that fell into dispute because of the act of partition and the naivety of Indian leaders. In fact, the name Kashmir comes from Kashyapa Mira loosely translated as Kashyapa's mountain!
- Britain treated India like a colony. The imperial government killed our industry, our agriculture, and even our people. On the other hand, Kashmir is the most pampered state in the Indian union. Even if we ignore Article 370 (which is actually the reason for Kashmiri youth's despondence), an average Kashmiri gets eight times per-capita greater grants than any other citizen. Unlike every other state which gets 70% of central assistance as debt and 30% as grant, Kashmir gets 90% as grant, and 10% as debt. And unlike Britain, which drained India's resources, the rest of India has actually drained its resources to finance the profligacies of Kashmiri politicians and separatists.
Sane people can now agree that India's presence in Kashmir is nothing like that of Britain's occupation of India. Let's now try to see if there a political solution that works.
It should be clear as daylight to anyone that no prime minister will stand up in Parliament and present the "Independence of Kashmir act". It will not happen even if Prashant Bhushan becomes the prime minister. So, Independence is ruled out. Pakistan will not withdraw from PoK, so plebiscite is ruled out. (For those who came in recently, the 1948 UN resolution on Kashmir dictates three measures to be taken: First, Pakistan withdraws from PoK, second, the two governments restore peace and order in all of J&K and third, India conducts the plebiscite in question, and the three measures are to be taken in sequence.) The only option the Kashmiris have therefore, is to live in peace within the Indian constitution and partake in India's development.
There are three measures Kashmiris can take to get over their plight. First, disavow violence. The Indian government has never known to be gentle or kind towards its citizens, particularly the ones who take up armed revolt against it. Remember how a frail Anna was arrested in the heart of Delhi for his peaceful protest? Then why would we expect the government to take kindly to stone-pelters and saboteurs? I'm not for a minute condoning the government's handling of either protest. But fixing the government is a long-drawn process. And it won't be accomplished by arson. In the meantime, generations of young Kashmiris are forfeiting their right to a better life in chasing the chimera of Independence.
The second measure is to voluntarily abolish Article 370. One thing that is clear from India's development story is that the most open cities and states have created the most job opportunities for the country. Be it Bangalore, NCR, or Mumbai, the successes of these cities (and of course, the accompanying urban decay) is because anyone can stay in these cities, setup businesses and own property. Denying these opportunities to non-Kashmiris only perpetuates the rule of the zamindari class in Kashmir. The people of Kashmir must ask a simple question: Who benefits by the continuance of Article 370? Is it the zamindars, the politicians and the separatists, or is it the common people who have no job opportunities?
Finally, the youth must take a hard look at the supposed leaders of this movement. For all the encouragement the Hurriyat leaders give to the stone-pelters, they have ensured that their own kin are in safe havens pursuing non-separatist occupations! See this report in the Indian Express. The political leaders are no better. In Kannada, there is a saying which roughly translates into boiling your beans in someone else's pyre. The Abdullahs joined hands with Rajiv Gandhi to light the pyre in the 1980s and the Muftis have happily boiled their beans in it. And the separatists have stoked the pyre and added meat to the broth.
A solution to the Kashmir problem is not hard to seek, provided everyone involved realizes what realistic options they have.