J&K: Time for radical self-determination

Gautam Navlakha

Introduction

Sixty-two years is a long time for learning lessons and to cease being indulgent towards the fallacies and  faults of the Indian state in obfuscating the issue of people’s right to self-determination in Jammu & Kashmir. There is a tendency in India to read wars being carried out inside the country as phenomena that are less than a war. And that is because it takes place within the borders of the ‘nation-state’, where deployment of ‘armed forces of the Union’ is somehow considered legitimate even when it is engaged in brutal suppression of the people. The most ardent supporters of non-violence have had no qualms in acquiescing to this venture in the name of the “nation”, “secularism”, fighting “Islamicist” forces, averting another partition…. And it has been accompanied by a reluctance to grasp the real nature of such wars where casualties occur in the form of ‘encounter’ killings, custodial deaths, enforced disappearances, rapes, search-and-cordon operations, arbitrary detentions, torture. The list is really endless. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that in Jammu and Kashmir the staggering scale of these crimes over nearly two decades have failed to arouse popular revulsion. However, when a non-violent mass agitation took place last year, it shook the Indian state and society to its very core because it pulverised every lie that had been fed to us and it became evident that people wanted to opt out of India. Then the elections to the J&K legislative assembly took place, and a largely malleable Indian media jumped to the conclusion that people had rejected ‘azaadi’. But they were once again left wondering when the voter turnout for the 15th Lok Sabha elections plummeted. (If elections are to be regarded as a barometer for deciphering the people’s mood then it is the turnout in parliamentary elections that should be held as the most important marker of shift in that mood.) And then came the widespread protests against the rape and murder of Nelofer and Asiya in Shopian on May 29, 2009. Once again it became evident that whatever lies Indian spinmeisters have tried to weave, anger against the Indian state continues to simmer. Therefore, it will not do to ignore and devalue aspirations of a people. But, the issue of people wanting to opt out of India is not just an emotional issue. Or, a mere matter of human rights violations. It has an objective basis in the political-economic and environmental dimension, which must inform any search for solution. What are its main contours?

1. 1. According to a statement issued on the floor of the Assembly by the former Deputy Chief Minister on August 1, 2006, there were more than 667,000 security forces in J&K. This is an incredibly high concentration of troops for an area whose total population is less than 12 million. More than half belong to the Indian army. In a meeting with the press on June 17, 2007, the GOC in C of the Northern Command of the India army, Lt. General H S Panang let out that there are 337,000 army personnel in J&K. In other words the ratio of deployment of security force personnel to people is 1 for 18 persons!  This deployment is not only incredibly high but also way out of proportion to the threat posed by armed resistance. India’s army chief is on record saying that only 600 militants operated in entire J&K. But news reports from time to time refer to the threat posed by infiltration. Although, in actual fact, the number of infiltration bids have fallen sharply; in 2001 it was said to be 2,417 but dropped to 537 in 2004, 597 in 2005, 573 in 2006, 535 by 2007. In 2008, according to the army chief, there has been a 65% decline up to July 31, 2008, to 150, as compared to the same period in 2007 (The Times of India, August 23, 2008). The Indian government also claimed more than 75 per cent decline in militancy-related incidents between 1990 and 2008, from 3,500 to 709 incidents, which is officially supposed to mean that the situation is no longer considered critical (1,000+ is the criterion for terming the situation critical).  Firing incidents came down from 671 to 183.  Bomb explosions declined from 1,000 to just 50.  Killings of civilians declined from 914 to 69. (The Times of India, January 25, 2009). Significantly, almost all the civilians killed in 2008 were at the hands of the Indian security forces. For instance, during the agitation last year, 57 persons were killed by the Indian security forces in the Kashmir Valley alone. All this means that fighting armed resistance cannot be an over-riding motive for deployment of troops.

1.2. In counter insurgency warfare there is a blurring of distinction between “(f)ront and rear; strategic and tactical; combatants and non-combatants”.  The Doctrine on sub-conventional warfare of the Indian Army  says that “…the military operations should aim firstly, at neutralizing all hostile elements…and secondly, at transforming the will and attitudes of the people…. However, the manifestation of such a realization can take from a couple of years to decades as attitudes take time to form and to change”. (Pp21-22)

1.3. In plain English this means that people have to be made to give up their aspirations and reconcile themselves to living under an Indian dispensation. But since people are not so easily reconciled, security forces are needed to be deployed in a manner that they can monitor public and private lives of people. And a whole system of informers, gunmen, reward and punishment…instituted. There are reportedly 671 security forces camps in J&K (excluding those in Jammu, Kargil, Leh, Akhnoor and Udhampur). These occupy 100,000 acres.  Besides, it is in the nature of things that when a hostile armed force occupies land, then land adjacent to what is legally transferred also gets annexed. Thus actual land in possession of the Indian security forces is much higher than shown in official records.

1.4. Now the largest source of employment in J&K is agriculture and horticulture. According to the Economic Survey of 2008-09, more than 49 per cent of the people depend on land, one way or another. The biggest source of earning is from horticulture, followed by tourism. But J&K’s dependence on food imports have risen because per capita yields have fallen. For instance, rice yields per hectare fell by 2.78 per cent in  2008-09. In a situation where existing yields are falling, although agriculture forms the main source of livelihood, the question of land becomes critical. For, it concerns both food production and livelihood needs of the people. If the security forces occupy land, which would otherwise be available for cultivation, then, for an economy so dependent on agriculture and horticulture, it amounts to a net loss. Remove this land from cultivation, and one sees a significant decline in earnings and a dwindling in the number of jobs available. What is also eroded, inter-alia, is the opportunity for increasing food output.

1.5. Therefore, involuntary alienation of land, especially cultivable land, will always be a sensitive issue for people. But when land is acquired for armed security personnel who maintain an obtrusive presence among civilians designed to control their public and private lives and, indeed, even “transform their will and attitude”, as is the case in J&K, it compounds the problem. This contributes to increasing J&K’s dependence on New Delhi for its survival. It is worth recalling that in 2008, the Jammu-based agitation had imposed an economic blockade against the Valley, which meant that imports of foodstuffs to the Valley were curtailed. This clearly highlighted the vulnerability of a people who are dependent on the Jammu-Srinagar highway passing through the Banihal pass for their daily needs.  For several weeks Indian security forces failed to clear the highway. It was this that compelled the leadership of the movement to call for the “Muzzafarabad chalo”  (Let us March to Muzzafarabad)  agitation. This lesson ought not to be forgotten.

2.1. Faced with burgeoning public demand for Indian troop reduction in Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian Government constituted three committees in March 2007. An expert committee headed by the defence secretary to look into the question of troop reduction; a review committee headed by M A Ansari to study the Armed Forces (Special) Powers Act as well as the Disturbed Area Act; and a high powered committee headed by the Union minister of defence to study the recommendations of the two panels.

2.2. It was evident that the most important committee was the ‘expert’ committee, headed by the defence secretary. On December 5, 2007, in response to an ‘unstarred’ question  #1672 in the Rajya Sabha, which asked the defence minister to state “whether the committee headed by the defence Secretary…to look into demand of troops reduction in J&K has submitted any report and if so the salient features thereof,”  the answer was:

“The main recommendations pertain to reconciling of the details of the properties occupied by the Security Forces and the rentals paid as also to resolve old cases that have remained unsettled for many years; vacation of public utility services by the security forces such as school buildings, hospitals; the timings of the convoys of the security forces maybe reworked so as to cause least inconvenience to the local population; Dos and Don’ts issued by the Security Forces need to be strictly followed. Implementation of the recommendations is an ongoing process….”

2.3. The conspicuous absence of any reference to ‘troop reduction’ speaks for itself. But also missing were terms such as ‘relocation’ (moving forces from one place to another) and/or ‘restructuring’ (increasing the presence of police and reduce in particular army’s deployment)  or reconfiguration (replacing one force with another i.e. the Army with the Border Security Force, the BSF with the Central Reserve Police Force, and the CRPF with the India  Reserve Battalion). Instead, no more than cosmetic changes were recommended by way of resolving old cases, vacating some buildings and reworking of convoy timings. This amounts to trivialising a popular demand and raises serious doubts about the Indian government’s sincerity to address real issues.

3.1. When Omar Abdullah took over as the new CM, and in fact even during the election campaign, he had made many a promises. Once he came to power the language changed. One of the election promises was ending impunity provided to Indian armed forces under Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Now he claims that impunity will be revoked if the situation “improves”. What is the measure of improvement? And who decides whether it has improved or not? Fact is this decision is not in his hand. It requires New Delhi’s approval. It was left to the Indian home minister to declare on March 18, 2009, that the revocation of the AFSPA is an “old demand” but a “final decision” will be taken after the elections to Indian Parliament. Elections have come and gone and there is little to show for any movement.

3.2. Indian home ministry officials told reporters that it would take two years for the CRPF to hand over control to the local administration. Although it was said that five battalions (bns) of the CRPF will be withdrawn once the Amarnath Yatra (pilgrimage to Amarnath) was over and another five bns, it was said would be pulled out later, the reduction of all of 10 bns or approximately 11,000 personnel out of 667,000 is not a significantly large reduction. [Altogether 16 bns of CRPF (10 from J&K and 6 from NE) 5 bns of BSF and 2 of ITBP will be moved to fight left-wing extremists.] Besides, even if this was accompanied it would be only by replacing the CRPF personnel with a new force, which is called the India Reserve Battalion, from the Indian state of Haryana. [IRB’s are  armed police personnel that each Indian state is helped to raise with financial help extended by the central government and used by the Indian government for deployment wherever it deems necessary.]

3.3. The minister of state for defence also categorically ruled out “thinning” of troops in J&K. In fact, the army opposed dilution or withdrawal of the AFSPA for its personnel in J&K. In response to the MHA’s “phased withdrawal of AFSPA” from districts such as Srinagar, Budgam, Jammu and Kathua, senior army officer told The Times of India (July 8, 2009) that “they (the government) should not rush to assume normalcy has returned, although situation has been brought under control”. The CM also discovered that “we (i.e. J&K state) have over 70 bns of the CRPF and the strength of the state police is not even one-third of it…. So, any rushed decision in this respect can be detrimental to state’s security” (The Asian Age, July 8, 2009). Thus, after promising reduction, including withdrawal of the AFSPA, what is the real situation? Very little has changed.

3.4. Take another example. After the Baramulla firing incident on June 29, 2009, in which four persons were killed in firing by the security forces,  The district commissioner of Baramulla, Lateef ur Zama Deva, wrote a letter to Baramulla based GOC of 19 Infantry Division and GOC of Kilo Force (RR), wherein he wrote that “(t)he J&K police on the basis of deployment shall remain at the forefront at all respective locations brought under curfew with the back up of  army, in standby mode for flag marches and patrolling under the supervision of respective executive magistrates”. The army took strong exception and a senior army officer told Indian Express (2 July, 2009) that “(l)ike in any other place the civil administration makes requisition for Army column. But once the Army comes in it does not work under the magistrate and the problem area is handed over to the Army for a particular task”. Since the task is suppression of a movement, and because this is something which remains incomplete and can take decades to achieve, so long as Indian army remains it will not act under the civilian administration. His seniors did not come to his aid or endorse his stance.

3.5. What about the release of political prisoners? On the issue of releasing detainees New Delhi’s consent  is required. (Even the transfer of senior police officers needs New Delhi’s approval. This became apparent to the CM when he wanted to get rid of some senior police officers who, he claimed, had misled him over the Shopian rape and murder incident.) On taking over as CM he had said that those detained under the PSA during elections would be released. He could not do this. Why? Because he said, on January 15, that, while the list of prisoners was before a committee “but (this) committee now includes a member from central government who is yet to visit Kashmir”. As a matter of fact, Indian home ministry has always been a part of this committee and enjoys veto power over every proposal. In any case, in the past seven months the number of those detained under the dreadful PSA has jumped to 253. Going by the proceedings in the state assembly on August 7, 2009, where a PDP MLA had moved an amendment to section 10 A of the PSA, thereby calling for declaring invalid an order of detention if the grounds mentioned were vague, irrelevant or non-existent, the state law minister found even this mild demand unacceptable. Why? Because, he said, the preventive detention law was needed “for running the state”. He was at least being honest that without arbitrary powers, the hallmark of undemocratic rule, J&K cannot be governed.

3.6. The simple point is that J&K is not just like any other state in the Union of India enjoying additional powers of autonomy under Article 370. It is a “disturbed area” dominated by a hostile military force, which feels it is sufficient to invoke “national security” for every principle of constitutional nicety to be cast aside. Indeed, Article 370, which instead of becoming a mark of internal sovereignty, has became a conduit through which an appointed governor (nominated by the central government) could dismiss even an elected state government and then rule through ordinances and amend the J&K Constitution in such a way that it became legally possible for New Delhi to legislate on matters, which under autonomy were reserved for J&K. For example, between March 7 to September 6, 1986,  i.e., in just six months of governor’s rule in J&K, 29 laws were enacted  all of which extended to New Delhi  powers to enact laws for J&K. A high-powered committee, set up by the pro-India National Conference government of  J&K  in 1996 to look into the subversion of autonomy, also pointed to several “incongruities”. Such as the fact that the constitutional provision for establishing governor’s rule on a state had been undermined in the case of J&K. For, while under the Indian Constitution, the central government can take over powers from the elected state government the term of such can be extended beyond six months only by the upper house of the Indian Parliament. Thus a degree of parliamentary oversight is provided for. But in the case of J&K, central rule requires no such parliamentary approval. As a result, between1990-96 J&K remained under direct central rule without a break. Furthermore, by giving the central government nominee the power to amend the state constitution through ordinances, the legitimacy of the state Constitution, the basis for J&K’s autonomy, was eroded. Lest we forget, democratic practice reserves this right of amendment of Constitution for the people’s representatives. And ordinances/decrees issued by non-elected executives are considered a distinguishing feature of arbitrary, i.e. repressive rule.

4.1. We need to, therefore, appreciate the gamut of dependency relationship that exists between J&K and India to understand how the Indian state perpetuates its control over Kashmir. For instance, the budget for 2009-10 reveals that out of a total non-plan revenue expenditure of Rs 14,949 crore, a sum of Rs 8,126 crore (Rs 6,594 crore for salary and Rs 1,532 crore towards pension) is set aside for salary and pension for the state employees. However, the state’s own revenue generation is only Rs 4,330 crore, i.e., lower than even its salary and pension bill! And yet, the budget proposes to increase recruitment of state employees by 23,000 ( out of which 7,035 will be in the police), fill 7,000 vacancies of Class IV employees and also create 15,000 jobs for returning Kashmiri Pandits.

4.2. The Economic Survey, 2006-07, had earlier noted that “the weakness of J&K state finances arises not from lower revenues but higher expenditures”. The ratio of revenue expenditure to GSDP (Gross State Domestic Product) of J&K at 39.2 per cent is more than twice that for all states average of 17.4 per cent, although only marginally higher than Northeastern states at 38.8 per cent, as computed by the Twelfth Finance Commission. And J&K’s revenue covers only 25 per cent of its expenditure. Which means that J&K’s revenue base is incapable of meeting its own expenditure incurred for maintaining  a huge government apparatus? “Consequently, the index of self-reliance of J&K…is 0.45” (p 230). The ratio of central transfers to total revenues which, at 78.6 per cent for J&K, is twice that for all states at 38.5 per cent, compares with the 67.6 per cent for the NE. But  J&K’s debt to GSDP ratio is higher than others and has been 50 per cent to start with. Thus, more than 50 per cent of J&K’s own revenue goes towards servicing debt.

4.3. However, despite “low own revenues, the public expenditure level of J&K, at 51.4 per cent, in contrast to 20.2 per cent for all (Indian) states is higher than that for all states  as percentage of GSDP and on a per capita basis per capita capital expenditure in J&K of Rs 2,285 is more than three times of all state average of Rs 626, albeit marginally higher than for NE which is Rs 1,924. If revenue expenditure is included then J&K’s total expenditure of Rs 9,661 is not very different from that for NE at Rs 8,637. But it is nearly three times that of all India average of Rs 3,969. And yet, these higher public expenditures in J&K “have not translated into growth mainly for two reasons. The first reason is the higher unit cost of service delivery – the cost of providing schooling to a child or the cost of providing healthcare to a person are typically higher than the all India average because of sparse population density, difficult terrain, poor connectivity and a host of other causes. The second reason is that the beneficial impact of public expenditure spills over beyond J&K as much of the contractors payments are transferred to and purchases are made beyond the state – a phenomenon referred to as ‘missing multiplier’.” (p 232). This is as clear an admission as one will get not only about the limited benefit of public expenditure in J&K but skewed nature of the relationship between India and J&K.

4.4. The Economic Survey, 2006-07, had also noted that  “Centre (i.e., Indian government) has fiscal room available to reduce taxes or increase programme spending – and satisfy its inter-temporal constraint – while the J&K’s only option are to increase taxes or reduce spending in order to achieve fiscal sustainability”. (pp 5) The authors of the Economic Survey advocated a “moratorium on filling vacant posts” (pp 171).  But the government went ahead with “employment intensity growth” in its budget  2007-08, and began to fill vacancies running at 23,000. In addition to that, it began recruitment for 15 battalions of IRB and five battalions of J&K police.  This defeated the very objective of fiscal policy, to reduce government expenditure and thereby reduce financial dependence on grants from India. And this process continues under the budget provisions for 2009-10.

4.5. An argument in favour of such government job creation is that one of the major causes of unrest in J&K is due to a very high incidence of unemployment. Since disputed nature of J&K inhibits private investments in general and industries in particular, there is no option but for the government to create employment. Thus irresolution of the dispute creates a logic that keeps increasing the financial outgo for J&K and pushes up its dependence on New Delhi. This, in turn, creates financial dependence on New Delhi for meeting J&K’s salary bill.

4.6. It is worth recalling that when Ghulam Nabi Azad took over as CM in November 2005, he had claimed that 50 per cent of the 2,73,508 government employees “had no work to do”. If he was speaking the truth then to enlarge government employment, particularly in the unproductive area of recruitment to armed battalions, makes little sense. A bigger and larger government apparatus will continue to dominate the economy, and dependence on New Delhi to cover revenue deficit is likely to go up. Even more disturbing, the size of armed battalions being raised in J&K will continue to raise the scale of unproductive expenditure. How does all this profit the people of J&K?

4.7. Another mark of dependence is in the field of capital expenditure. In 2004, the UPA government had with much fanfare unveiled a Rs 24,000-crore plan. This plan envisaged investing Rs 18,000 crore in the central sector. This included investments in Uri II and Kishanganga Project, Srinagar-Leh road upgradation by Indian army’s BECON and 1,000 micro hydropower stations to be built and managed by the Indian army as part of its ‘Operation Sadbhavna’.  The balance Rs 6,000 crore were given to the state to meet costs of various projects, including salary support for new government jobs created. The strength of government employees, which was less than three in 2004, has risen to 4.5 lakh with 50,000 daily-wage earners. As a result, not only has non-plan expenditure increased but so has the dependence on “handouts”.  Let me illustrate how dependence gets augmented.

4.8. Economic Survey, 2008-09 shows that J&K’s power requirement is 2,120 MW. It generates only 2,318.70 MW out of a 16,200 MW estimated hydel power potential. Of  this 2,318.70 MW, only 758.70 MW was generated by state owned utilities. Even this figure of 758 MW was reached when 450 MW Phase I Baglihar project was recently completed. The balance 1,518 MW is in the central sector. In other words, most projects that exist here do not feed J&K’s own needs. And J&K imports power for which it pays about Rs 2,000 crore. Significantly, the National Hydel Power Corporation which controls Uri I, Salal and Dul Hasti project earned Rs 300 crore as profit for the year ended March 31, 2009. Its coffers will swell once eight more NHPC projects – which includes Kishanganga, Sewa, Nimu Bazgo, Chutak, Uri II and three others that are joint ventures with the state government – are commissioned.

4.9. The J&K government has been lobbying for a long time with New Delhi to transfer 390 MW Salal project, which is free of any encumbrance as it has paid for its cost. That would have enabled J&K to not just reduce its outlay for power purchase, which is running between Rs 1,500-2,000 crore annually but also earn additional revenue. This would have reduced deficit in the power sector, running at Rs 2,000 crore. This deficit is met from special grant from New Delhi.

4.10. On December 22, 2006, a high-powered committee headed by Dr C Rangarajan (chairperson of Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council) recommended that 390 MW Dul Hasti  hydro project should be transferred to the state  instead of  the  390 MW Salal project. Dul Hasti in Doda district has been plagued by cost and time over-runs. The project began in 1985. Work was started in 1989 by a French consortium. The project cost then was Rs 1,290 crore. In 1992, when some of their people were abducted, they pulled out. Four years later Jai Prakash Industries was roped in to complete the project by October 2003. The project cost ran to Rs 3,900 crore. Then it was supposed to be completed by end of 2007 but the cost had gone up to Rs 5,200 crore (of which Rs 1,500 crore was interest). It is this project which the panel wanted transferred. The panel had, however, said that this transfer would be at “accessible tariff” and it is for the Centre to compensate the NHPC. One reason for this switch from Salal to Dul Hasti, reportedly, was opposition of some Indian states.  Salal project charges Rs 0.52  per unit sold to UP, Delhi, Haryana and so on. These states did not want the project to be given to J&K because they expected the unit cost charged to them to rise. As of now, Dul Hasti remains with New Delhi.

5.1. Related to this is the issue of water. The Indus Water Treaty (IWT) has been a sore point because over the heads of people of J&K, India and Pakistan came to an agreement whereby Indus, Jhelum and Chenab waters were virtually handed over to Pakistan whereas Sutlej, Ravi and Beas rivers water remained with India. There is no doubt that the interests of the lower riparian state must  be protected. Pakistan depends for its drinking water and irrigation needs up to 77 per cent on the Indus water basin. However, as the upper riparian region, J&K’s rights can also not be ignored. Such is the nature of the agreement that both use of water for irrigation and for harnessing power get restricted because flow of water cannot be interrupted by building reservoir or controlled through placing any impediment in the path of water flow. For instance, because IWT prevents water storage projects, hydel power is generated through run-off-the-river projects that result in reduction of power generation to less than one-third of installed capacity, particularly during winter months. Many political parties in Indian-held J&K have pitched for compensating J&K for the loss, estimated to be over Rs 6,000, incurred by it due to the IWT. It is worth noting that the IWT was signed in 1960 when in neither part of J&K  there was even a semblance of ‘representative’ government.

5.2 .How can J&K protect its interests as an upper riparian party if it is to remain excluded from the IWT? Can a people argue their case unless they enjoy sovereignty?

5.3. The  issue of water sharing has been impacted by another factor. That of melting glaciers and receding snowline, which threatens to expose J&K to environmental catastrophe. The Siachen glacier is threatened by heavy militarisation of what is described as the third pole and forms part of the Indus Water basin. Melting of Kolhai glacier at a rapid pace may turn J&K into a desert.  Prof Syed Iqbal Hasnain conducted an on-the-spot assessment of Kolhai last year and told Greater Kashmir (August 10, 2009) that “(t)he glacier has developed several crevasses and cracks over the years. Human interference, including the Amarnath pilgrimage, is one of the reasons for the glacier’s recession. Gujjars who are putting up in the glacier’s core area are one of the major contributors for its meltdown.”  The news report said that a study on Kolhai glacier conducted by remote sensing by the National Geophysical Research Institute, Hyderabad, revealed that its spatial extent has changed from 19.34 sq km  in 1992 to 17.23 sq km in 2001, a net decrease of 2.11 sq km in 10 years. The long-term impact would be availability of water for drinking and irrigation. Thus Lidder and Sind basins of Jhelum are under threat. And this in turn may further create tensions for enforcement of IWT.

5.4. While experts do refer to increased militarisation or pilgrimage as factor in the melting of glaciers, the main reason behind rapid depletion of those glaciers is downplayed. Both Siachen and Kolhai are exposed to unprecedented human activity in its core as well as its vicinity. For instance, the presence of a brigade-strength military force in Siachen and the supply line to keep them fed, garbage disposed, use of  helicopters for moving men and material is warming the environment at Saltoro ridge. In the case of Kolhai, the phenomenal increase in the number of pilgrims rising from less than 12,000 in 1989 to four lakh this year (which came down from 5.25 lakh in 2008), the huge presence of security forces (no less than 26,000), movement of people, trucks, and helicopters have become the  biggest source of glacial meltdown. While soldiers and pilgrims, particularly in such large numbers, are detrimental to the environment, it is the population in the Valley which suffers its consequence since they depend on Sind and Lidder (which feeds Jhelum) for their drinking water and irrigation  requirement. And yet, the local population has little influence or control over its fate. It is dependent on the benevolence of the Indian state, which is busier consolidating its military hold over Siachen and promoting Amarnath pilgrimage.

6.1. In 2000-01, Indian commentators discovered that percentage of population living “below poverty line” in J&K was 3.48 per cent as against the all-India average of  26.10 per cent. It became an occasion for jingoists in India to claim how Indian largess had brought prosperity to J&K at the expense of rest of India. However, this underestimation of incidence of poverty generated different explanations among more sober analysts.  One recent claim was that “the (Indian) state had in place a system of ‘development’ practices aimed at buying the ‘hearts and minds’ of the people, what it ended up doing was to make militants richer while at the same time entrenching the institution of corruption deeper and deeper into the culture of the state”.  And then goes on to say that “the fall in poverty rates…pointed to open and surreptitious transfers, which while mitigating poverty, entrenched the already existing system of corruption even deeper”.[Dipankar Sengupta; ‘Policy Making in a Terrorist Economy, Epilogue, July 2009].  Another was provided by Swaminathan A Aiyar who wrote  in The Times of India, July 15, 2001, that one “explanation is the huge expansion of armed forces in the state in the 1990s. India now has over 600,000 military and paramilitary personnel in Kashmir. Their purchasing power is pretty formidable in a small state of 10 million people. Tourism in the Valley may have shrunk, but the armed forces represent tourists of another kind. Most tourists spend only a week in Kashmir, but men in uniform spend the whole year in the state. So, in some ways, every jawan is the equivalent of 52 tourists. They may buy fewer silk carpets and shawls than normal tourists, but are steady buyers of agricultural produce. And that probably has a major impact on local incomes, especially of small farmers…. The irony is that if peace returns, so too might poverty. The armed forces will go away.”

6.2. In the Economic Survey for J&K, 2006-07, it was reported that the decline in poverty ratio between 1993-94 to 1999-2000, from 25.17 per cent to 3.48 per cent in 1999-2000, had been “extremely steep” (p 224)  and noted that there was “no authentic and reliable data on BPL population…available for the state of J&K.” It pointed out that for the year 1993-94 no survey was conducted by the NSSO. Instead, the poverty ratio for Himachal Pradesh was  “adjusted for J&K by the Planning Commission”. It is important to note that internal war was at its peak during this period. Now all these explanations were put to rest by a fresh survey that was undertaken by the authorities and brought out in a report: ‘Below Poverty Line Survey 2008’ [Jammu and Kashmir State; Directorate of Economics and Statistics, J&K, Planning & Development Department, Jammu and Kashmir Government].  According to the report of the survey, “the total BPL Estimated Population Ratio of J&K State has been arrived at 21.63 per cent (24.21 lakh persons) with a dispersion of 26.14 per cent (22.00 lakh persons) from rural areas and 7.96 per cent (2.21 lakh persons) living in urban areas”. In other words, the decline in poverty was far less than estimated and explanations offered were, therefore, way off the mark. [At a workshop on the ‘Role of ICDS’, experts questioned the figure of BPL population at 3.5 per cent when 29 per cent of  children were under-nourished, 52 per cent women anaemic, 41 per cent vitamin-A deficient and 68 per cent suffer from iron deficiency as per the National Family State Health Zone. (Etalaat May 10, 2008). In fact, with per capita income remaining lower than the all-India average this drop was illusory.]

6.3. I cite this for a reason. There is no doubt that Indian military forces make large-scale purchases and government and other sources transfer funds to buy acquiescence of the people. But this does not spread beyond a narrow circle and certainly does not reach the ordinary people whose lives are mired in poverty. Secondly, such transfers, while resulting in  the expansion of economy, are of a kind which accentuates inequalities. This distortion where poverty has declined much less than previously estimated is quite remarkable for an economy which saw radical land reforms in the 1950s, and which boasted of a fairly equitable land holding implying low asset inequality. In other words, it means that in the past 20 years, if not more, the socio-economic profile of J&K has undergone a change for the worse. Thus, despite funds to buy hearts and minds of people pouring in and in spite of the presence of military forces, considered as “permanent tourists”, the economy has registered no sign of being benefited. If anything, such ‘assistance’ has only further distorted the economy and entrenched corruption.

7.1. Keeping this real nature of dependency, and distortions that have been institutionalised, in mind, sovereignty becomes of  utmost importance  for any meaningful solution to emerge.  To argue for autonomy, self-rule and so forth makes little sense when J&K faces this level of control.

7.2. It has been claimed that a deal, which will enable the border/line of control to become irrelevant, has been reached between India and Pakistan over Kashmir and that all that is needed is to fine-tune and sign it. Without going into the justness of such an approach, i.e., to decide people’s fate over their heads, from what is known in the public domain about some of the key areas of agreement two things stand out. First, it is said that the current constitutional system in operation on both sides will be frozen, with some modification, for the next 15-20 years. Second, some subjects such as water will be jointly managed by India and Pakistan.

7.3. What the above means is that existing relationship of dependence will be frozen barring some adjustments. Now how does this amount to a solution? Is it not necessary to argue that unless therelationship of dependence is ended self-rule/self-governance/autonomy would become a worthless exercise? When Indian civilian and military entities own, manage and control policies over land and water, and J&K continues to be dependent on New Delhi for meeting even its salary bill under the existing dispensation (in which the war and requirements of war are prioritised) then not just psychology of dependence and its corrupting influence, but the actual fact of dependence will make “self-rule” ring hollow. Just the same way as the much-vaunted autonomy under Article 370 was made hollow. Indeed, the overall structure of dependence will be like a noose around the neck of the state throttling the realisation of its full potential.

For this state of affairs to end, a radical movement away from the present is required. What that means in short is that people must become masters and mistress of their own destiny.

All this only underlines the significance of a democratic closure for the J&K dispute after 62 years of its non-resolution.  Democratic closure in the case of J&K means ascertaining the wishes of the people, once they are freed of encumbrance, before everything else.

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