The Jammu and Kashmir situation: The Azadi debate - Part II

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New Delhi, Sept.18 (ANI): The Pandits of the Kashmir Valley, currently in exile, the Dogras and Muslims of Jammu, the Buddhists of Ladhakh, the Shias and Gujjars in different parts of the state have never been part of any Azadi movement, let alone any Islamic Azadi.

They, in fact, are fairly clear that they want greater integration with a secular India, let alone any loosening of ties, what to talk about any separation from India into an Islamic Kashmir. In fact, the greater the cry for Azadi, the greater is the desire for integration in Jammu and Ladhakh.

So, what does Azadi mean for them? It means the continued domination of valley politics and valley politicians over their affairs. It means the continued neglect of their areas, witnessed during the last 63 years. And, if Azadi is Islamic, it means further discrimination and insecurity.

Finally and perhaps crucially, the demand for 'Azadi' if understood as freedom from India is clearly unacceptable to the India state. No Government of India can accept the demand for 'Azadi' over the needs of 'atoot ang'. The people of India would never spare such a government, whatever its shape and hue and whatever its majority.

So where does this leave the Azadi debate?

The example of the 'raiders' in 1947 is clear proof that an Azad or 'independent' Kashmir would not be able to survive or preserve its independence. Even Gilgit, which overthrew the Maharaja's rule on November 1, 1947 and declared itself independent, could remain so only for less than three weeks before Pakistan took control of the territory.

The colour of Azadi cannot be green. The minorities would not accept it and it would mean, at a minimum, the delinking of Jammu and Ladakh from the valley. Equally, the colour of Azadi cannot be saffron. The majority would not accept it. Only under the 'trianga', a secular India, can the true essence of Kashmir flower and prosper. It is here that their distinct cultural and ethnic identity would be preserved and strengthened.

Azadi, too, cannot be accession to Pakistan. Barring a few die-hard votaries, no one in his right mind would think of joining Pakistan. Not only is there distrust of the Punjabi-Pathan elements, there is a realization that Kashmir's cultural identity would have no chance of survival in a failing and increasingly Talibanised Pakistan.

Azadi, therefore, has to be freedom from Pakistan, once and for all and freedom to enjoy what the other citizens of India take for granted.

But, there has to be a limit to what the Kashmiris think they can extract from India in the garb of Azadi. Bargaining for concessions is a democratic right that all Indians enjoy, no less the Kashmiri. But where bargaining is perceived as blackmailing, and especially if it has an international dimension, then what gets compromised is the freedom to enjoy what others in India enjoy. It also undercuts support that other civil society members and political parties in India can offer.

At the same time, the Government of India needs to treat the cry of Azadi as a cry for justice, a cry to undo past wrongs, and above all, a cry to give the Kashmiris a stake and pride in India, rather than bullets and doles, an assurance that their identity would be as secure in India as is say the Tamil identity or the Marathi identity or the Bengali identity.

Today, clearly, the Kashmiris don't perceive this to be the case. Hence, the cry for Azadi for want of another slogan that can penetrate the ear plugs worn by the Indian leadership. By Salim Haq (ANI)

Attn:News Editors/News Desks: This is Part-II of the article titled The Jammu and Kashmir situation: The Azadi debate. The views expressed in the article are that of the author Mr. Salim Haq.

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