THE Hizbul Mujahideen leader Syed Salahuddin’s comments on panchayat institutions in Kashmir have caused disquiet in that region.

He told Riyaz Wani of Tehelka: “Panchayat institutions are meant to take care of local affairs. But this is not their role in Kashmir, where they are exploited to serve pro-India political parties and build vote banks. What is of real concern for us is that panchayats are projected as a referendum on Kashmir. New Delhi advertises the participation in panchayat polls as yet another instance of Kashmiris reposing their faith in India.” India hopes “to declare things normal in Kashmir by holding panchayat polls in the state”.

These remarks fall into three parts. First comes a fair recognition of the role of panchayat members to take care of local problems. Kashmiris sorely need attention to their mounting problems near their very homes.

Secondly, Syed Salahuddin fears their exploitation by New Delhi “as a referendum on Kashmir. This is far from the truth. For decades New Delhi did cite rigged elections to the Kashmir assembly as proof of popular ratification of accession to India. But beginning with the PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) government’s assumption of power in 2002, that myth has been buried.

The PDP’s Mufti Mohammed Sayeed made it plain that the polls were no substitute for a political settlement of the Kashmir dispute with the consent of India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah of the National Conference has said the same thing repeatedly. If assembly polls cannot be cited as a ratification, surely still less can polls to local bodies; whether municipalities or panchayats.

During the campaigns for elections to the assembly in 1996, 2002 and 2008, correspondents from New Delhi noted with some dismay that voters in the queues were shouting “azadi”. In the voters’ eyes there was no contradiction between that cry and their vote. The cry represented their abiding commitment; the vote gave them a right to demand the local MLA’s response to their grievances.

Lastly and unfortunately, Syed Salahuddin also said: “Panches (village council members) and sarpanches (village council heads) are exploited by India to project Kashmir as pro-India, and as such, they will continue to be targeted. No matter how much the government tries to secure them, they will still be attacked.”

Only a few days earlier Syed Ali Shah Geelani, whom Syed Salahuddin respects, denounced on Sept 15 the killings of panchayat members. “It is our longstanding policy that we have always condemned innocent killings,” he said,  adding, “no person should be killed for his political ideology”.

Syed Salahuddin’s remarks reflect both impatience and distrust. These sentiments are widely shared by separatists in Kashmir. They fear that the lapse of time would induce ‘normalcy’ which would end the Kashmir dispute.

This reflects a profound distrust of the people. It is widely accepted that even if militancy were to end altogether popular alienation from New Delhi would survive; so deep is their alienation.

I was present at a convention of elected sarpanches at Yusmarg in the Badgan district of Kashmir on June 23 and 24 this year. They clamoured for real power from an insensitive Kashmir government. Engineer Abdul Rashid was lustily cheered when he demanded azadi. This independent MLA has made a mark in the assembly with his brave speeches. Can you imagine the impact of a score of such MLAs backed by the Hurriyat leaders?

The separatist leaders do not realise that their tactics of hartals impose a heavy toll on the people’s patience and economic costs which they find increasingly hard to bear. But such is the mindlessly negative approach of some of the leaders that they begin to tremble whenever there is some movement in other fields.

We are constantly treated to inane cries such as ‘LoC trade is no solution’, ‘cultural exchanges give a false impression of normalcy’, etc.

Can the 65-year-old Kashmir dispute be resolved immediately under pressure from such negative assertions? These leaders and, for that matter, the academia also, do not take even a brief holiday from the shouting of old sterile slogans and instead devote themselves to devising creatively new approaches which will chip away at the deadlock by gradual degrees.

Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who staunchly opposed British rule, won an election to the Bombay Municipal Corporation on March 10, 1904. The stalwarts of old first excelled in municipal bodies. Both the two major political parties, the Congress and the Muslim League, participated in the general elections of 1937 and 1946 under the British dispensation and ran ministries in different provinces.

Would independence have been won if the League and the Congress had boycotted the polls and demanded a solution first? More to the point. Would the Quaid-i-Azam have achieved his goal, Pakistan, if he had not shown a spirit of compromise by accepting the Cabinet Mission’s Plan of May 16, 1946? The Congress wrecked it.

No power can deprive Kashmiris of their rights, provided only that they close their ranks and adopt realistic politics. History has been unkind to them.

Their future is to be decided by an agreement between India and Pakistan – subject of course to the Kashmiris’ approval. They must raise their voice to force these states to stop wasting time and finalise the elements of the five-year-old consensus. The best must not be made enemy of the good.

The writer is an author and a lawyer.

Updated Nov 09, 2012 10:01pm

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Comments (8) (Closed)


Ashish
Nov 10, 2012 06:44am
Killers and murderers should not be shielded by anyone. Holding such people in high esteem is the wrong strategy.
BRR
Nov 10, 2012 03:59am
A landlocked place trying to be an independent country, when it his little to offer and a lot of hatred for every one else in the state. Seem to be degenrating into obscurantism.
Rahmat
Nov 10, 2012 04:05am
Mr. Noorani is patently wrong when he says Kashmir is a dispute where approval of Kashmiris is a must. Which Kashmiris is he talking about ? People like Salaudin and Geelani are not the representatives of Kashmiris. They are their tormentors and actually deserving of being hauled to court for treason. All that Kashmir problem needs is for India and Pakistan to understand boudaries can not be changed by any force on earth. Kashmiris need to wake up and smell the roses
does not matter
Nov 10, 2012 05:52am
so people can vote...choose their own electives..decide the democratic government...are free to follow their religion...are free to choose their professions....what else is freedom?
Jay
Nov 10, 2012 08:09pm
Mr. Noorani has fallen into the trap of thinking that political parties won freedom for India. He is entirely ignorant of the economics and the strategic constraints on the British empire. It is now fairly well established amongst Indian historians that the British left India because the feared the impact of uprisings in the military triggered off by the role of Subhash Bose's Indian National Army. Infact they were keen to leave at the earliest after a chain of rebellions culminating in the revolt in Royal Indian Navy in 1946 at Mumbai. Were Gandhi and Jinnah successful in their missions, history is unlikely to think so. Was Pakistan what Jinnah wanted? The answer might surprize Mr. Noorani. Was Pakistan a defeat for Indian Muslims? There are some who would undoubtedly say so and some might disagree but it has certainly left them worse off economically and the Pakistan movement was undoubtedly a movement to protect the economic interests of Indian Muslims (if there is a definition that one can agree on "who is a muslim"). The history of the subcontinent has shown that as a people the subcontinentals suffer from what Freud has called the "Narcissism of small differences". The subcontinentals are so consumed by their small differences (in religion, culture etc.) that they forget the many other things which bind them together, geography and contiguity being the foremost. Kashmiri's would best be served by autonomy, the brief history of the newly independent Islamic CIS states shows that small countries have miniscule voices and face severe challanges which have isolated them further without bringing the promised benefits. Kashmir sorrounded by India, Pakistan and China can hardly be independent or free from pressure of the near and far powers (who have been interested for so long).
Plal
Nov 10, 2012 07:16pm
Author who is practicing :Lawyer in supreme court of India,is bent upon dishing out negativity about India and never explain the legal position of the actors involved in the Kashmir tangle.
Vikrant
Nov 10, 2012 06:54pm
Same old senile rants from a rabid anti-India author (so-called) ... this time against his own!
Aimal
Nov 10, 2012 04:05pm
I fear that Kashmir problem will have a logical solution with the disintegration of Pakistan being threatened by its economic and governmental failure. It is like in an aircraft in danger - first pull the oxygen mask to yourself before helping others.