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Cutting up the pie with a poisoned knife

This is in response to Professor Hari Om's comment `For Lasting Peace in Kashmir...', (IE, March 24). He argues that if there is to be pea...

Written by Rekha Chowdhary |
April 14, 2000

This is in response to Professor Hari Om’s comment `For Lasting Peace in Kashmir…’, (IE, March 24). He argues that if there is to be peace in J&K, the state would have to be politically reorganised. This simplistic analysis ignores the complexity that underlies the political responses within the state at every level. His argument that the divergent political aspirations within the state can be satisfied only through a political division of the state overlooks the fact that divergence exists not only at the regional levels but extends to the sub-regional levels. Any demand for the division of the state, therefore, will not stop at the level of “Jammu and Ladakh going their own way” but will lead to further demands.

There are two major reasons for this. First, the demand to divide the state into the Kashmir Valley, Jammu and Ladakh cannot be isolated from the ongoing process of communalism in the state. Over the last few years, religious identities not regional identities have been politicised. Take the example of Ladakh. The grievances of the people here are not projected as the grievances of the people of Ladakh. On the contrary, it is the Buddhist politics of Ladakh that’s pitted against the Muslim politics of Ladakh. There already exists a wedge between Buddhist-dominated Leh and Muslim-dominated Kargil.

A similar kind of politicisation is also under way in the Jammu region. Any demand for a separate Jammu, or a separate Ladakh, therefore, will not be devoid of communal overtones. The demand of a separate Ladakh will be followed by a demand for a separate Kargil, and the demand for a separate Jammu will lead to the demand for separate political units of Doda-Baderwah and Rajouri-Poonch. The most unpleasant part of the whole process will be its effect of reinforcing the communal divide among the people.

The division of the state does not have much to offer to the backward and the hilly areas of Jammu. These areas will seek separation from the more developed part of the region, in case a demand for a separate state of Jammu is made. This is because the political leaders of the sub-regions of Doda, Baderwah, Poonch and Rajouri have grievances not only against the power centre in Kashmir, it is also against Jammu’s political elite. They fear that it will be indifferent to the specific problems of these sub-regions.

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Besides, there is a lurking fear of domination by the Jammu elite.Hari Om’s logic that the state lacks an organic unity having come into existence, as he puts it, `by a quirk of history’ very well suits those who are interested in creating permanent communal divisions within the state.

Interestingly, the same logic of Jammu region not having an organic unity was manifest in the Regional Autonomy Committee (RAC) report of the state government. The report has been widely criticised on the grounds that it has communal implications as it aims to separate Buddhist Leh from Muslim Kargil, and the Hindu-dominated two and half districts of Jammu Division from the Muslim-dominated regions of Doda-Baderwaah and Poonch-Rajouri.

Divergence of political aspirations is a reality in J&K. So are the inter-regional tensions. Such tensions need to be dealt with urgently. But the division of the state is no way to deal with such tensions. Emphasis should instead be placed on the effective devolution of power within the state. Regional autonomy is still the way out. This is also the most vocal demand within the regions of Jammu and Ladakh. The Regional Autonomy Committee has failed in the task of fulfilling this demand. But that is no reason to drop the demand and opt for dividing the state. That has a distinct ring of defeatism to it.

The writer is professor and head of the political science department, University of Jammu

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