Arun Shourie interview: ‘Focus on what can be done now — to improve governance, the life of people’

Arun Shourie interview: ‘Focus on what can be done now — to improve governance, the life of people’

Delhi needs to play a more proactive role on the ground. And Kashmiris need to shed fanciful goals like azadi and start preparing a blueprint for the future without the baggage of the past, says Arun Shourie.

Arun Shourie interview: ‘Focus on what can be done now — to improve governance, the life of people’
Arun Shourie says Delhi needs to play a more proactive role in J&K (File Photo)

Delhi needs to play a more proactive role on the ground. And Kashmiris need to shed fanciful goals like azadi and start preparing a blueprint for the future without the baggage of the past, says Arun Shourie in an interview to The Indian Express.

So, we should talk to the Hurriyat, you say…

I would go farther. The established political parties as well as the Hurriyat leaders have, in fact, lost ground. New leaders must be emerging among, say, the stone-pelters and among those who are actually taking to the gun. We must locate them and do our best to reach out to them also.

Today, they are full of anger. Today they feel they can wrest azadi by the gun. Today, they must be thinking that they just have to take violence to a particular level and Pakistan will rush in and do a Bangladesh. Or that the “Kashmir issue will be internationalised” and the UN or some others will come and complete the job of compelling India.

But soon enough they will see — as many like them saw in the wake of Kargil — that Pakistan’s ability to harm India has its limits. Especially so now as support to cross-border terrorism has already earned Pakistan a bad name. Soon many of them will begin to learn how many times some statement by a British Foreign Minister or a US Congressman, some report of a UN body had convinced persons like them that their cause had been taken up by the world and azadi was round the corner.


In a word, we must not give up on them. We should talk to everyone, and not make much fuss about talking or not talking. And at all times we must keep in mind the other person’s compulsions.

Also read | Shourie interview part 1: ‘All parties have lost legitimacy, we are farther from recommencing a political process in J&K than in years before’


Oh yes, compulsions. Not only would many of them have been proclaiming their undying commitment to azadi, etc., and, therefore, would hesitate to reverse course, there is Pakistan. Anyone who has once been in their grip, and has shown the slightest disillusionment — that Pakistan is only interested in using Kashmiris and the Kashmir issue for its own purposes — or the slightest inclination to explore alternatives with India has been just plain and simple killed: Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq, Majid Dar, Abdul Ghani Lone, Qazi Nissar Ahmed, Dr Guru — as (A S) Dulat says, “the list goes on and on”. So, when you talk to them, and they need protection, you must ensure they have better protection than the best that you can provide.

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A clash at Dooru in Anantnag district after an overnight gunfight in which two militants were killed. (File)

Among the “everyone” would you include Pakistan?

We can talk to Pakistan too, and not make much of talking or not talking —”DGMOs speak to each other”, newspaper headlines proclaim every time cross-border shelling intensifies, as if, now that the two have talked, the shelling will cease; and the shelling resumes the very next day. What could the Pakistani General have said? “No, I am going to continue shelling your people?” So, don’t read too much into either talks or the fact that talks are not taking place in the open at the moment. In any case, we must keep one thing in mind: we should not expect that Pakistan will help solve our problems. That will not happen till the unforeseeable future when the nature of the Pakistani State changes, not until Pakistan develops an identity other than “We are not India”.

I would expect much more from contacts among professionals — judges, artists, musicians, teachers, IT and engineering professionals, entrepreneurs. People on both sides will realise that people on the other side are not monsters. Equally important, when visiting Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Pune and other cities, Pakistanis touring India will see the alternate future to which they too can aspire.

If it is not the fact that Kashmir has a separate culture, if it is not the fact that it has a separate history, what in your view is the root cause for the state to which we have reached?

There are, of course, many roots. But I think there is basic cause — and you see this not just in Kashmir, you see it in every state of the Northeast also, other than Sikkim. And that is the way that we have chosen to administer these areas. You see, in effect, Delhi has sub-contracted governance of the state to someone or the other; and has told him, “We will keep sending you the money, and you keep the semblance of a government going. For the rest, you do what you like.” The result has been that the people have not got the services which are their right. And as a consequence of that, not only have the people continued to suffer, the sub-contractor has lost legitimacy and then not been able to keep even that semblance of a government going. We have then switched to another sub-contractor — only to repeat the whole cycle. It is this sub-contracting model of dealing with these states that has run its course.

Do you seen any improvement in the immediate future?

Quite the contrary. First, today there is no policy in regard to Kashmir — as there is no policy in regard to Pakistan, to China, to Nepal, to Sri Lanka, to Maldives. Or to banks! At least in this regard, the Kashmiris should not feel that they are being singled out!

What we have are either inspirations — revelations, ilhaam — or actions that are entirely event-driven. And that means that what you will do is entirely in the hands of the other person. You announce a ceasefire. The other fellow kills a few. You call off the ceasefire.

Second, today everything is entirely election-driven. And this is a one-trick horse: all it knows is how to foment Hindu-Muslim tensions. And like Trump, the strategy for the elections here is not to convert the people at large. It is to glue their core constituency to themselves more firmly. This has murderous consequences for the country, of course — for instance, as the Kathua rape and the lynchings show, it is already setting the new normal for bestiality. But it has even more dangerous consequences for Kashmir. First, the polarisation between Jammu and Kashmir has intensified no end. Second, as the national security expert explained to me, the polarisation is being fomented in districts that have had a mixed population: in these now “ethnic cleansing” is gathering pace. Both these features make things easier for Pakistan. Most important, this aggressive Hindu-card pushes the Kashmiri to view himself not as a Kashmiri but as a Muslim, and a particular type of Muslim at that. It also leads him to conclude that Muslims in India will have to live on sufferance, and that too as second-class residents.

All this flows from the very nature of the regime, and that is not going to change.

Caught between the militants and the forces, what should the ordinary Kashmiris do?

First, shed fanciful goals like azadi — those are not going to be attained, and, striving for them, even the good that is realisable will be lost.

Second, cast aside these notions of martyrdom. Once Rajmohan Gandhi gave the best counsel: a cause worth dying for is also a cause worth living for.

Third, prepare a blueprint for the future, of what you want without a single word of history — without a word about 1948, Constituent Assembly, Sheikh Sahib’s speech in the Kashmir Constituent Assembly, the Agreement of 1952, Sheikh Sahib’s incarceration, and so on. The past is very heavy baggage: by the time you get through it, the mind has exhausted itself. Moreover, to each fact in that past — the way Article 370 was included in the Constitution, for instance — there are other aspects than the ones that you have internalised. So, one gets bogged down in those controversies and stops thinking about the future. Leave those controversies to persons like us who spend their time writing books.

Fourth, when you recall Narasimha Rao’s “the sky is the limit”, when you invoke Atalji’s “insaniyat, jamhooriyat, Kashmiriyat”, reduce them to specifics.

Fifth, focus on what can be done here and now — to improve governance, to improve the life of the people. For instance, in his new book, Saifuddin Soz urges that insurance be instituted for people living within five kilometres of the border-they are losing their lives and paltry possessions for no fault of their own. Precisely the kind of proposal that should be thought up and one that we should strive to see implemented.

Sixth, please see that the factors that are raining hardship on you are the very ones that are oppressing people in the rest of the country. When you keep insisting that your problems are special, sui generis, people in the rest of the country do not join hands with you to alleviate them. And you fail to lend your weight to solving the basic reasons on account of which problems — yours as much as those of others — are being inflicted on everyone. It will be therapeutic for you as much as it will be useful for us were you, for instance, to travel through the Western Ghats and tell us how the natural beauty of that region should be preserved. You have the knowledge that the rest of us need.

Finally, stop playing the victim. Stop blaming the other. I have seen how doing so set the people, especially the youth of Assam, back a generation and more. Stop expecting the other to do things: do yourself what you are asking someone else to do. A good example occurs in the same book of Soz that I just mentioned. He says that the Government of India should help institute an “internal dialogue” among people of different regions-Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. But that is precisely the sort of thing that Kashmiris can be doing, should be doing themselves.

In one of his poems, the Pakistani poet, Ahmed Faraz put it well:

Shikwa-e-zulmat-e-shab se to behtar tha

Apne hisse ki koi shama jalate jaate


(How much better it would have been if, instead of going on cursing the dark of the evening, we had lit the candle that was within our hands to light…)

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