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Alienation and the revival of militancy

Print edition : Jan 22, 2000 T+T-

Militancy in Jammu and Kashmir is sustained in some measure by a sense of alienation among the people of the State and the absence of democratic outlets for popular discontent.

BALRAJ PURI

KASHMIRI Muslims, who were disillusioned with Pakistan after its misadventure in Kargil and the Army takeover, were shocked by the recent hijacking of the Indian Airlines aircraft. Every section of the Kashmiri population, including staunch secessionists , categorically condemned it as a terrorist, inhuman and anti-Islamic act.

But none of these three events brought any relief for India. The attacks on the secretariat and the headquarters of the Army, the Border Security Force and the Special Operations Group of the Jammu and Kashmir police, which followed these events, in fact , indicate that militancy is assuming a more aggressive and daredevil form - and that too in the winter months, when it normally subsides. The security forces suffered their worst losses in 1999 when 360 personnel were killed, as against 180 in 1997.

The intensification of militancy cannot entirely be explained in terms of either the motives and compulsions of Pakistan or the effectiveness and lapses of the security forces. Militancy can nowhere be sustained without some degree of local support, and according to official sources, the extent of local support for militancy has increased in Kashmir. The process of exfiltration of Kashmiri youth to receive training and arms from across the Line of Control and join the ranks of the militants has restarte d after several years. Press reports, quoting official sources, put the number of exfiltrators in 1999 at 800. Militancy and the sense of alienation among the people, which were at their lowest ebb in 1996, when a "popular government" was installed, have been on the ascendant ever since, owing to indigenous causes also.

One significant indicator of the increasing alienation is the decreasing participation of voters in the elections in the last three years. A comparison of the percentage of votes polled in the three parliamentary constituencies in the Kashmir Valley - Sr inagar, Anantnag and Baramulla - in the general elections in 1996 and 1999 is illustrative. The polling percentage, which was 35 in Srinagar, 50 in Anantnag and 41 in Baramulla in 1996, dropped to 12, 14 and 28 respectively in the elections of September- October 1999. Among the Muslim-majority Assembly segments in the Jammu region, the polling during the recent elections was 7 in Banihal, 21 in Surankot, 23 in Inderwal, 24 in Kishtwar and 26 in Mendhar. In the Assembly elections of 1996, the respective f igures were 52.26, 74.26, 62.54, 69.46 and 66.79.

The election boycott campaign by the militants this time was more aggressive and violent than in recent elections. But simultaneously the role of the security forces in coercing people to vote was also more brazen and partisan; this was well exposed by t he national press. The Election Commission's official observers were reported to have corroborated these allegations. According to their report, for instance, 8 per cent votes were polled in Pulwama district, and of this 7 per cent were due to the securi ty forces.

Although the ruling National Conference won the three seats in the Kashmir Valley, it secured only a low share of the votes (as a proportion of the total electorate). But even this may have to be discounted further. In Jammu region, where threats for and against voting were far less, the N.C. secured a majority of the votes polled only in four Assembly segments, although it has 15 sitting MLAs in the region.

Ladakh is the only constituency where the N.C. retained the support of Muslims and the seat, thanks to communal polarisation between the Muslim and the Buddhist populations. The N.C. is virtually isolated from the Buddhist population.

WHAT are the reasons for the disenchantment with the N.C. by the people of all communities and in all regions except Muslims in Ladakh, and why has it intensified so much within the last three years?

Economic stagnation could be one of the causes. There are not many employment opportunities for the youth, particularly the educated, except in government service. The number of government employees rose from 2.54 lakhs in March 1996 to 3.58 lakhs at pre sent. As a proportion of the population, this is the highest in the country. The wage bill increased from Rs.1,550 crores to Rs.3,000 crores during the same period, and it now matches almost the entire revenue receipts of the State from internal sources. The government has not paid two instalments of Dearness Allowance to its employees, and often fails to pay salaries on time. Frequent agitations by government employees to secure their dues and other demands have adversely affected the efficiency of the administration.

The arbitrary method of recruitments to government service, which is done almost entirely to accommodate those close to National Conference Ministers and workers, has led to resentment among youth. The arbitrary use (or misuse) of state funds without pro per accountability also breeds discontent. In a report tabled in the most recent session of the State Assembly, the Comptroller and Auditor-General points out that the State has failed to furnish utilisation certificates to the tune of Rs.13,468 crores. Further, the total expenditure of the State Government aggregated Rs.9,544.61 crores, against the authorised provision of the Rs.6,373.49 crores. Likewise, the Planning Commission has observed that out of the Plan allocation of Rs.1,750 crores for the c urrent year, the State Government spent Rs.1,000 crores for the salary and maintenance component alone.

Such an arbitrary and unauthorised manner of spending from the public exchequer, with the connivance of the Centre, may be motivated to strengthen the grip of a one-party state - headed by a party that is supposed to be the most patriotic and loyal. But it also creates room for corruption, nepotism and scandals that are widely known to the local people, and distorts and inhibits developmental activities. For instance, the government admitted recently that one of its Cabinet Ministers owed Rs.34 crores a s arrears of sales tax.

The one-party state, strengthened by the fiscal and economic policies under a unitary form of the State Constitution in a State as diverse as Jammu and Kashmir, further suffocates the political aspirations of the people. The manner in which the State Gov ernment scuttled the report of the Regional Autonomy Committee which was appointed to suggest measures for devolution of political and economic power to the regions and its further decentralisation to district, blocks and panchayats ensured the continuat ion and intensification of tensions between regions and communities. The N.C. did not also seriously pursue its election promise to secure greater autonomy for the State and thus disillusioned Kashmiri Muslims.

The N.C's overenthusiastic support to the Bharatiya Janata Party and its securing a berth in the BJP-led Ministry at the Centre could not have endeared it to Muslims in the State. For despite Vajpayee's liberal face, his party has not been able to win th e support of the Muslim community anywhere in India.

Meanwhile, the increased cordon-and-search operations and crackdowns on civilian populations by the security forces following a spurt in militancy have proved unpopular, particularly when lapses and excesses cannot be ruled out. This in turn has initiate d a new vicious circle in Kashmir.

There is another predicament that the people of the State face, a peculiar disability which people elsewhere in the country do not experience: their discontent, which has accumulated from diverse sources mentioned above, is denied a political and democra tic outlet.

MORE than the N.C. and the BJP, it is the Congress(I) that has let down the people of the State and the national interest. Being the only party which, as a secular Opposition party, had its organisational presence all over the State, it could have provid ed a constructive outlet for the popular discontent. But instead of sympathising with the victims of mismanaged finances of the State, the party's spokespersons have pleaded the State Government's case for more Central aid to cover up its irregularities. The N.C.-BJP alliance exposed the former's claim to being a champion of Kashmiriyat and the latter's claim to being a protector of Jammu's interest. The Congress(I) inexplicably refused to fill the political vacuum in either of the regions. By not takin g any stand on the proposals for greater autonomy for the State or for the regions, it isolated itself from the aspirations of the people in the Valley and in Jammu.

The Congress(I) aspired to emerge as a saviour of Muslims in the rest of India against what is called the threat of the communal BJP. But why did it have no sympathy for Kashmiri Muslims and why did it not utter even a word of disapproval of the N.C's al liance with the BJP? Why did not the national leaders of the party visit the Valley during the elections to capitalise on the disillusionment of the people against the three-year N.C. rule, in particular of the Muslims against the ruling party's alliance with the BJP?

Who fills the vacuum in Jammu may not be of immediate national concern. For even more extremist Hindus are supposed to remain patriots; though with extremist Muslims in Kashmir they could form another vicious circle.

Muslims, however, face a more serious dilemma. Their electoral behaviour is not merely a protest against the ruling parties at the State and the Centre but against the Indian polity, which has left no room for their self-expression. They are being forced to choose between a non-performing and non-accountable Chief Minister who has become the most servile ally of the BJP, on the one hand, and extremist pro-Pakistan militants, on the other. Not everyone may consider the latter to be a lesser evil, but few er people would consider the former to be a lesser evil, and be inspired to rally round it to oppose the latter.

The policy of adopting military measures against militants and diplomatic measures against Pakistan will remain inadequate as long as discontent within the State continues and the Indian system continues to block all electoral and political outlets to it .