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
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
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,"
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
"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,"
Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)