Creative policies needed to resolve Kashmiri alienation: Wajahat Habibullah

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS,

New Delhi : A placid summer and a peaceful Ramzan should have been the endgame of insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir but the sense of “alienation is too deep”, says former bureaucrat and now author Wajahat Habibullah, advocating creative policies from the central and state governments.

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As the alienation of people in the conflict region grows, what the Kashmiri people need is respect, said the former Indian Administrative Service officer and winner of the Rajiv Gandhi Award for Excellence in Secularism.

“A truly representative government in Kashmir can come with full public participation in all elements of governance and fullest accountability of the government to the people, particularly questioning youth at all levels,” Habibullah told IANS.

Caught between conflicting claims from India and Pakistan, the state is today riven by ethnic strife, crisis of national identity, friction between national and local governments and by rival claims to territory.

Habibullah’s book, “My Kashmir: The Dying of the Light”, published by Penguin-Books this month, probes the web of issues like religion, ethnicity, demand for free speech, cultural identity and flawed policies which lie at the roots of the conflict in Kashmir.

Habibullah uses his long personal insights into the state and its troubled history to analyse the flawed government policies, social polarisation and radical religious politics that have vandalised the fragile social fabric.

“I thought the present placid summer cresting with a peaceful Ramzan and a peaceful Eid, despite efforts at infiltration, would help support the hope that this was an endgame (of insurgency). But the alienation is too deep and will take time and creative policy at the level of both the centre and the state to overcome,” Habibullah told IANS in an interview.

“The scars of 1990-1991 (insurgency) have never healed. That is the challenge for democracy in Jammu and Kashmir,” the writer said.

If security concerns remain the font of state policy, freedom of expression will always be the victim of “collateral damage”, said Habibullah, a former senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace and the country’s first chief information commissioner.

He disclosed how former prime minister Indira Gandhi’s attitude towards Jammu and Kashmir had been “grounded in concern for national security and in a lack of confidence in the younger (Farooq) Abdullah in ensuring it”.

When the state government issued a proposal to turn Srinagar airport into an international airport, Indira Gandhi not only rejected the proposal “but also called her joint secretary G.K. Arora, who had recommended acceptance, to admonish him that an ulterior motive must always be suspected in such proposal received from the state…”.

History apart, the other factor that has majorly contributed to the turmoil in the state is the “clash of two concepts of nationhood”, the writer said. “The concept of partition was deeply flawed and it engulfed in its wake the invaluable heritage of Kashmir,” Habibullah said.

“The distinct identity has, through the deliberate ministrations of the agents of both India and Pakistan, been deeply eroded,” Habibullah said.

According to the writer, who worked with Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi, said “the concept of azadi, so basic to Kashmir’s political thought, was consistently evolving”.

“‘Azadi (freedom)’ is therefore an idea in the making, which I consider to be simply a move towards the feeling that Kashmiris are a free people of a free country. It is a right that India’s constitution guarantees to all its citizens and which Indians from other parts of the country increasingly – even though admittedly not yet fully – enjoy,” he said.

But no Kashmiri feels any such sense, Habibullah said.

“To give Kashmir this feeling requires courage. It requires creativity but is decidedly doable,” the writer said.

Habibullah said the title of his book, “Dying of the Light”, was taken from the “exquisitely poignant poem by American poet Dylan Thomas”.

“In this case, it refers to the end of much that was beauty without peer in the cultural heritage of Kashmir – its spiritual syncretism, abhorrence of violence, the union of man and nature. I lament the passing of a golden era from history in this book,” Habibullah said.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at [email protected])