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April 18, 2000


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E-Mail this column to a friend Arvind Lavakare

Two 'master' prescriptions: One is bizarre, the other is blank

Two national prescriptions for the Government of India are doing the rounds in our so-called intellectual classes. One says, "Talk to Pakistan…now." The second says, "Talk to the Kashmiri people…now." These prescriptions are well intentioned, no doubt. The question is whether they are well reasoned.

Take, for instance, Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of The Indian Express. He finds fault with the NDA government's stance of insisting that talks could be meaningful only with a legitimate, democratic government in Pakistan. Gupta's argument is that we cannot freeze our relationship until the right leader descends on Pakistan.

Forgotten in this proposition is the hard truth that the present military dictator of Pakistan has openly displayed contempt for the Lahore Agreement of February 1999 signed by the democratically elected government that he overthrew in just a day's diabolical coup. How then can anyone be certain that he will not disown his own accord six months down the line, or that his successor will not do just that? After all, a military dictator neither believes in nor creates the sacred tradition of honouring international commitments.

High-profile columnist Tavleen Singh is another who thinks it essential that our government engage Pakistan in talks so as to build trust. She even recommends the Clinton mode of dialogues that combined friendship with tough talking, believing it as the only way of bringing peace between the two countries. Forgotten in this advice is that in February '99 we did talk of friendship as never before and now, a year later, we are forced to talk tough, asking for guarantee on cessation of cross-border terrorism prior to smoking the peace pipe.

What has that mantra given us? If it was Kargil last May, it may be Kutch this June; and we've already had Chattisinghpora in March, ballistic missiles seized in Rajouri last week and hundreds of kilos of RDX strewn around in between.

Then there are those culture-vulture activists who advocate "people to people" contacts as the road to peace with Pakistan. Thus, a women's delegation travelled to Pakistan last month and, after a cup of tea with its CEO, described him as "very charming" and "down to earth." Soon followed a corps of 250 Pakistanis in Bangalore passing resolutions with their hosts from a leftist group that, be it noted, was not a part of the patriotic outpouring on our Kargil fightback.

Such peaceniks on our side can only be dubbed as naïve, innocent of the past and the present. Be it the invasion of Kashmir in October 1947, the raid of Kutch in 1965, the rape of East Bengal in 1971 or the intrusion into Kargil in 1999 or the hundreds of timeless killings committed on our soil in the guise of jihad, the people of Pakistan have never risen against the anti-Indian prejudices of their government of the day. And they never will until they find themselves in a well-nigh-bottomless pit.

It is bizarre to suggest that such a plight of theirs should be prevented by an Indian prime minister offering the olive branch to their military dictator while blinking at the daily deaths being inflicted by professional terrorists. If, because of their inherent aversion for democratic traditions or their pathological hatred of India, the Pakistani people wish to continue being damned to a government that thinks the same way, so be it. India's bright future is certainly not dependent on Pakistan --- even in the ambience of a nuclear flashpoint.

Every Pakistani government will, of course, put up the pretext of Kashmir as being the root cause of its anti-India allergy. Our position on that is clear, though sadly not propagated loudly and widely across the world

The accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India in October 1947 is legal, final and irreversible. That constant refrain of our commitment to the United Nations for holding a plebiscite there was conditional to Pakistan first vacating the areas of Jammu and Kashmir seized by it through internationally accepted aggression. If that first part has never happened, how can the second part be enacted? How can there be an end without a beginning? And Pakistan mucked it further by ceding some of its occupied Kashmir to China. Plebiscite is really worse than being meaningless in these circumstances.

This is not to say that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir is emotionally an integral part of India. A successive line of inefficient, corrupt and conspiratorial State governments right from Sheikh Abdullah down to his current heir has failed to give Jammu and Kashmir the modicum of peace, progress and prosperity that every community aspires for. The continued prevalence of Article 370 of our Constitution has, moreover, prevented a socio-economic-cultural integration between the people of Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of India.

Both, the Sangh Parivar and the "secularists" have failed to see the reality that 50 years of free intermingling of ideas, individuals and investments has enabled the States from Kerala to Himachal Pradesh to broaden their vision and goals without any one of them losing its cultural or ethnic essence.

It is evident that the Hindutva brigade has proved utterly incapable of explaining how the abrogation of Article 370 would help an integration of development and diaspora for Jammu and Kashmir without violating the inherent characteristics of Kashmiriyat. On the other hand, the "secular" lot has failed to comprehend that what that Article preserves is not so much Kashmiriyat as conservatism and regression.

Just see the unhappy socio-economic profile below of Jammu and Kashmir as per the latest available figures.

Vital Socio-Economic Statistics of Jammu and Kashmir State

Socio-Economic Indicator Measure Comparative Status
1. Literacy among total population 26.17 % By far the lowest in India; lower than even the Union Territories of Dadra and Nagar Haveli (41.0 %), Daman and Diu (74.58 %) and Lakshwadeep (79.23 %)
2. Proportion of children (age group 6 to 11 years) enrolled in primary schools, 1997-98 67 % Stands 24th in descending order among India's 25 states
3. Decennial growth of population, 1981-1991 28.9% Higher than the All-India average by 5.1%, and lower than only the north-eastern states of Manipur (29.3%), Meghalaya (32.9%) Tripura (34.3%) and Nagaland (56.1 %)
4. Per capita income, 1996-97 (Provisional Estimates) Rs. 6,658 Stands 22nd in descending order among India's 25 states, its per capita income being higher only than that of Orissa (Rs.5,893), Tripura (Rs. 5,432), and Bihar (Rs 4,231). The All-India national per capita income for the reference year was Rs 12,237
5. Growth in per capita income in 1996-97 over 1990-91 72.1% Stands 23rd in descending order among the 25 states; lower growth was recorded only by Assam (61.8%) and Bihar (59.1%)
6. Gross industrial output per capita, 1995-96 Rs. 1,215 This is the lowest among 25 states of India and just a little more than half of Bihar's (Rs.2,295)
7. Per capita value added in industries, 1995-96 Rs. 178 This is the lowest among 25 states of India and less than one third of Bihar's (Rs.527)
8. Average daily number of factory employment per 100,000 of population, 1996 300 This is the lowest among 25 states of India
9. Fertiliser consumption per hectare of cropped area, 1997-98 57.8 % Stands 20th in the descending order of 25 states
Source: a. Manorama Year Book 2000 for items 1,4 and 5 citing latest available figures from Directorate of Economics and Statistics and Central Statistical Organisation, New Delhi.

b. Statistical Outline of India 1999-2000 of Tata Services Limited, Mumbai, for all remaining items 2, 3, 6, 7, 8 and 9.

The above facts send out a loud message. While Bihar will continue to languish as long as the likes of Laloo Yadav are voted to power there, Jammu and Kashmir's embroilment in almost a perpetual mix of misgovernance and militancy calls for a very special effort from Delhi to upgrade its people's standard of living and to develop in them a genuine affinity for the rest of India

Here is where the second master prescription comes into focus. "Talk with the Kashmiris, talk now." That's what many around suggest as a mantra of some kind.

Inder Gujral has recently gone on record as saying, "It is important that we start a dialogue with the Hurriyat and others in Kashmir. It should not only be a government dialogue. Other elements in public life should encourage and promote a dialogue between various elements in the state and in the country and help end the feeling of alienation in Jammu and Kashmir." Indeed, Gujral and three other ex-prime ministers (excluding Narasimha Rao) are not averse, if required, to initiate such a dialogue. Home Minister Advani has, of course, expressed his willingness to start such talks. And commentators of various hues are endorsing the same sentiment.

It is conspicuous, however, that none of these worthies is spelling out what precisely the contents of the talks must be. Talk, yes, but what do you talk? Do you talk tea and sympathy? Do you talk sentiment or do you talk substance?

Obviously, substance alone will take you forward. What should be that substance? Opinions may differ but this columnist believes that we must engage the Kashmiri people in a dialogue that will conform to the old advice for a woman: The road to a man's heart is through his stomach. In other words, Delhi must offer a comprehensive, practical socio-economic package to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

This package will necessarily have to be finalised in consultation with the ruling National Conference, the Congress and other major Opposition party leaders; the ex-PMs should also be consulted. This prior consensus is a critical pre-requisite for the Vajpayee-led NDA government to make its move towards winning the hearts of Jammu and Kashmir's people.

For starters, this package to Jammu and Kashmir should offer:

1.A specific quota of jobs in Union/state governments for the youth of Jammu and Kashmir. Construction of a large number of widely dispersed primary schools by government of India on land acquired by the Jammu and Kashmir government. Schools on the basis of panchayat locations would be ideal.

2.Free training with stipends for B Ed courses to qualified Jammu and Kashmir people selected by a Public Service Commission. This training to preferably be in reputed institutions in cosmopolitan metros that can provide hostel accommodation.

3. Free computer courses for the young in reputed institutions as a prelude to setting up a few such institutions in Jammu and Kashmir itself with funding by Delhi and management by NIIT or NITIE.

4. Extensive highly subsidised rural housing financed by HUDCO/HDFC and constructed under the aegis of Tata/Godrej housing companies on land provided by Jammu and Kashmir government. The allotment of such houses to be done by the panchayats (scheduled to be elected this June) in co-ordination with a respected NGO.

5. Very soft loans to be made available to all small and handicraft entrepreneurs as well as for repair/renovation of boathouses. But they must be loans, not grants.

6. Establishment of a big Technology Park by Confederation of Indian Industry on land to be provided by the Jammu and Kashmir government. Plots in this Park would have to be leased out for 99 years to IT companies which would have to be given liberal tax concessions.

7. Private sector companies to be given incentives for providing Jammu and Kashmir youth with scholarships, apprenticeships and jobs in their establishments outside of Jammu and Kashmir.

8. All existing government of India schemes/projects in Jammu and Kashmir to be monitored by an exclusive Planning Commission cell in co-ordination with suitable representation from the Jammu and Kashmir government and all members of Parliament from Jammu and Kashmir.

Finalise the above package --- it's only a draft, remember --- put its funding and implementation in place by a certain time and then publicise it in print to the people of Jammu and Kashmir as representing their mission statement for the coming five years. Chances are that they'll forget about autonomy, plebiscite and militancy… and, maybe, about Article 370 as well.

Arvind Lavakare

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