Politics Now

Thorn in the Rose: Tackling the Kashmiri Crisis

A young student involves in stone-pelting activities (REUTERS File photo)

Kashmir has for long been the prickly point of Indo-Pakistani relations. Both parties want the heavenly paradise of Kashmir; this has been the contentious issue for decades. Situations have only volleyed towards the worse- tumultuous relations and widening cracks being projected on the upfront by separatist activities. What is more concerning is the fact that Islami propaganda that features the demand of an Azad Kashmir is gaining momentum; it has clearly secured a vital traction with the youth masses. This is a perennial conflict, and no amount of international intervention can resolve the matter, at least for the next few decades to come.

Welcome to Kashmir 2.0, the Land of Revolution and Violence.

On July 8th, 2016, the “Che Guevara” of the Kashmir revolution- Burhan Wani- was shot dead by the Indian Armed Forces. Within minutes, social media was abuzz with the news of his death, spreading like wildfire in a forest of dry leaves. The youth of Kashmir seemed to overflow with emotions of contempt over such an action by the forces, and separatist parties called for an unparalleled showdown in the Valley. And since then, the revolution has taken a course of its own: Over the last couple of years, a lot has been said on the national media about Kashmir and its multifarious flaws. The mess is a precarious mix of frustration, coupled with a loss of identity and dishonour of the Kashmiri pride. The more one tries to play the escapist card, the deeper they fall in the trenches of an ever-broadening political conundrum.

As the April 2017 elections approached, separatist organisations, including the umbrella organisation, the All Party Hurriyat Conference, called for a unilateral boycott. This was nothing new, and on previous occasions, most Kashmiris ignored the instructions and turned out to the polls in substantial numbers. This time, however, even the capital city, Srinagar, saw a precipitous decline in voter turnout. A mere 7.14 percent of the eligible electorate turned up to the polls during the first week of April—the worst showing in three decades. Violence was so widespread in the other constituency, Anantnag, that one of the candidates asked the election commission to postpone the election until late May, which it did. As a part of the research work that precedes any article, I came across a quote from an IPS officer by the name of Sanjiv Bhatt:

Why is there such a furore, such an uprising? Why are the Kashmiri people incensed, and why are pseudo-nationalists digging so deep into matters they have only a superficial idea of? Is Kashmir a lost case, or is Kashmir the paradise that always belonged to India? While answers to all the questions are relative (as is everything in the world of political science), they are all inter-linked. The root of the conflict between the Kashmiri insurgents and the Indian Government is tied to a dispute over local autonomy. Politics Now will break down the labyrinthine situation in Kashmir for you to digest and understand.

Armed Forces and Human Rights

Protests that erupt periodically in Kashmir have often overwhelmed Indian police for decades. So much so, that the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF)- a special unit designed to undertake counterterrorism operations- has to be involved in law enforcement duties. The involvement of the CRPF marks a definite failure of the Jammu and Kashmir Police to maintain adept law and order in the State, and more importantly, reflects a lack of will on part of the State leadership to provide necessary training to bring the State cadre to a base minimum level of institutional credibility. The CRPF is notorious for using crowd-control methods that are at best controversial, including pepper sprays, pellet guns, and even live ammunition.

International human rights groups have condemned such ruthless use of brute force on ordinary civilians on the mere basis of suspicion. Concrete evidence is not required in the valley to sanction the use of such force; ground situations vary and the magnitude of repressive measure deployed depends on the decision made there. These unorthodox weapons of crowd-control have caused serious injuries and have deprived hundreds of proper vision. Moreover, manufacturing standards themselves state that accuracy in such guns cannot be cent percent: in all, such blatant statements clearly give us an imprint of the number of casualties caused due to such misfired ammunition. Several litigations were filed in the State High Court to review the use of such non-powder ballistic guns. In a landmark ruling in mid-September, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court denied an explicit ban on the use of pellet guns, but made it clear that it must be employed only in “rarest of rare cases”. The trouble is, “rarest of rare” in Constitutional terms is ambiguous.

Many Kashmiri men have endured routine harassment, been subjected to degrading interrogation, and been detained without trial for indefinite periods of time – Sumit Ganguly, Foreign Affairs

Such incidents as stray bullets killing civilians are bound to have chain reaction effects. The ramifications are perilous: families of victims would perceive the death of civilians as an attempt by the Government to suppress their voices of dissent. Perhaps, they too wish and dream of a Kashmir wherein the State is just another part of the country. Perhaps, they too wish to serve in Government offices. Perhaps, they too have academic ambitions as high as any other societal cream would. However, their aspirations are crushed by the reality of the gory present- and hence the cycle of depression, destruction and death continues.

The Pakistani Factor

Islamabad’s glee is evidently visible as the violence in mainstream Kashmir worsens. Pakistan has always viewed Kashmir as a land to be annexed. Right after partition, it had sent in Pashtun tribesmen from the North-Western Frontier Provinces (NWFP) to destabilise the State under the then Maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singh. The last public attempt at annexing Kashmir was made back in late 1998. The Inter-Services Intelligence Agency was covertly training insurgent groups to infiltrate the LOC and cross over to Indian-Occupied Kashmir. As reports followed, Pakistan denied any involvement, but subsequent confirmations from operating chiefs and substantial evidence found from operatives captured alive showed direct involvement of the Pakistani establishment. On international pressure from diplomatic circles, Pakistan finally had to withdraw in mid-1999, and with that, the Kargil War was declared over.

However, the taste of humiliation has not gone down well enough for Pakistan- and it is burning to take a rightful revenge on its border rival, India. The problem with Pakistan is that it maintains an observable reluctance in prosecuting terrorists operating from its own soil. Of course, in politics, the word “terrorist” has no meaning- Masood Azhar to Pakistan is a hero, while in India we castigate and lambaste the person as a perpetrator of consequential attacks. Pakistan seeks Kashmir for more reasons than religious demographics- the control of water resources is a powerful option that it would like to keep in its hands.

Such covert support in fanning extremist propaganda to the other side of the border seems to be working well for Pakistan. Kashmir, already boiling with the domestic turmoil due to perceived oppression from the Armed Forces, has received a catalyst in the form of separatist leaders who have no other agenda but to spread their own prejudiced ideas. Let us all take a moment and speak the language the common man speaks: If all they want is azadi, why on earth are they staying here? A close look at the resume of the sons and daughters of these reveals the narrow-mindedness of their goal. Their families stay in safe havens across the globe. Hypocrisy gets a brand new definition when these people incite incensed Kashmiris to take up the gun against the State.

Hands tied up

The Kashmir dispute is nothing new, it has existed since the dawn of independence. As such, drastic actions cannot be quickly contemplated and enforced due to a stringent set of guidelines that govern the functioning of the State machinery in Jammu and Kashmir.

Upon independence, princely states within the Dominion of India had to voice their assent to be integrated into the Indian Union. To be a part of the Indian Union, the precondition was that the Indian Constitution had to adopted in the State over the Constitution of the Princely State. If Kashmir was yet another princely state in India, why did the Government enact the Article 370, which provided the State with incredulous amounts of autonomy? The answer lies in the history textbooks: On ascension to the Indian Union, Jammu and Kashmir refused to enact the Constitution of India. Such an obstinate move left New Delhi manoeuvring new tactics to keep the State integrated. Dr BR Ambedkar, the principal drafter of the Indian Constitution, had outrightly rejected such an attempt to assign Jammu and Kashmir a special status. However, the task was taken up by Gopalaswami Ayyangar, on the insistence of Nehru. It was meant to be a temporal measure, an act which would help facilitate the smooth transfer of the State from an autocracy to a democracy under New Delhi’s control.

Article 370, coupled with the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) that has for long been enforced in the State, make a draconian duo. While Article 370 restricts the Parliament from altering demographical characteristics and redrawing of border lines, AFSPA permits the army to have a free run in the State. The army can search and arrest any person without issuing a warrant and can open fire without major consequences. This deadly combination of repressive acts have for long been the source of discontentment in the State circles. However, the political brass defers any reference made and/or call to abdicate AFSPA from Kashmir, since it is a delicate issue and the Army would best know how to deal with it (or so do they believe).

The Way Forward

At present, the ground reality looks grim. I doubt how far such a strategy of repression might work out. The government has been staunch on its stand to use brute force in case of any objection to using of any of the aforementioned methods of combating terrorism by cross-border elements. However, I have always maintained that war cannot be ended with another war, and that is something that has been eternally true throughout all the years that have witnessed wars. The third world countries in the postmodern world cannot afford any such dramatic climax that leads to a standoff between two nuclear-capable countries. Before writing the article, I went through a treacherous number of videos posted by Kashmiri militants, in order to gauge the perspectives on both sides. The fact remains thus that the militants have increased, which is in keeping with the proportion of sentiments of avenging deaths of close ones. As an independent researcher, I have found facts contrary to what the national media airs: the police force has also crossed limits on a good number of occasions. Disappointment and public exasperation due to such instances of the police mercilessly beating up innocent civilians have also contributed largely to the spark in violence.

The government must, therefore, devise a different strategy. The primary step to advancement is to outlaw the Hurriyat. Till date, every government has tolerated the Hurriyat so as to show that India values the fundamental rights such as the freedom of expression and speech. However, these nefarious agents are the ones who are involved in anti-India activities. In one of my previous articles on illusory nationalism, I had regretted the fact that the volley of sedition cases being slapped indiscriminately was hardly justifiable- if calling for pelting stones at the Army to stop the government is not sedition, I do not know what the government considers as sedition. The Kashmir Valley is reeling from a brutal onslaught of terrorism and suspension of democratic logistics. Curfews have curbed all freedoms, and every person of Kashmiri origin has been compelled to shame and suspicion. The State also has to ensure that educational institutions are not affected as a part of Valley shutdowns- because closing the gates of such institutions would only exacerbate the situation for the worse. A week before the article was written, schools had shut down due to fear of clashes between the police and the civilians. Such acts would create doubts in the minds of children who would question the intentions of the State and would feel insecure being a part of India. Thus, places of educational interest must be kept open under any circumstances, a fact that the Jammu and Kashmir High Court has repeatedly argued for. Also, although difficult, constant efforts must be made to provide reasonable employment opportunities- a Directive Principle of the State policy- to all citizens residing within its territorial lines. Employment would reduce the problem of militancy as it would cut off active support bases from being harnessed again for illicit purposes.

I keep my fingers crossed in the hope that one day, high-running tensions of today would return to the normalcy of yore. Some day, Kashmir would be trouble-free, a heaven for tourists, an asset for India. Some day, when Kashmiris would no longer be discriminated upon and Kashmiri arts such as carpets and blankets would flourish again. I keep my fingers crossed, to realise Amir Khusrau’s words again, someday:

Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast,
Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast.

(If there is a paradise on earth,
It is this, it is this, it is this)

Digital India and Indian Railways

Representative image.

One of the flagship projects of the Narendra Modi-led NDA government has been a marked shift onto the route of digitalisation. The Indian Railways is the single-largest State-owned commercial entity in the entire world, and adaptability is pivotal to its survival in contemporary times. Over the past couple of years, a number of schemes have been initiated, all of which take a step forward to riding the Digital Wave. It is indeed commendable to witness the progress that the Indian Railways has made over the course of the yesteryears, mutating from issuing manual tickets to being a pioneer in the era of paperless tickets, from having the quintessential pantry cars in the long-haul trains to e-catering services seeing the light of the day, a plethora of such success stories have cropped up. An effective analysis of how Indian Railways has transfigured itself as per the changing demands of the passing years is surprisingly remarkable.

To fully comprehend the present, knowing the past is of vital significance. The stride to the journey towards modernisation of the Railways transpired in the early eighties, when in 1982, the railways set up a central organisation named COFOIS (Central Organisation for Freight Operations Information System), to look after the increasing volume of freight operations. Till 1985, all tickets were issued manually. This led to the process being cumbersome and time-consuming, leaving behind a probable scope for errors to creep in. Stand Alone Computerized Ticketing and Reservation System was then rolled out, albeit phase-wise, starting in 1985 as a pilot project in New Delhi and concluding in 1989 with computerized ticketing system being initiated in Secunderabad. Fast forward to today, and there be no more manual tickets in sight.

The Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), a subsidiary arm of the Indian Railways, has under the present government taken on itself the primary responsibility of ensuring the process of digitalisation of the Railways- a far cry ahead from the days of mere computerization of reservation systems. Today, one can sit back in the comfort of his home and yet reserve tickets from the IRCTC portal. While travelling in train and en-route to some destination, a passenger may opt to purchase meals from the next station halt, via the process of e-catering that has been recently facilitated by the IRCTC. From its inception in 2002, the IRCTC has come a long way ahead: from twenty nine tickets booked in a day to thirteen lakh tickets booked in a single day. In 2016, tickets worth rupees 24,022 crores were purchased via the online platform. All these amenities have been made possible due to the untiring efforts of the Railway Board and the Ministry of Railways, which has continually strived to provide the best-in-class service to the passengers that, in all respects, remain unparalleled.
This razzmatazz around the keyword of digitalisation has proven useful on many counts. Industry major Google, in a bid to tap into the millions who commute by the Railways on a daily basis, had partnered with RailTel to provide free Wi-Fi services at a targeted four hundred stations. Such collaborations have given the Digital India campaign a solid momentum and have been a model example to further the Public-Private partnerships that are equitable for both parties involved. At present, this partnership has materialised brilliantly, with over a hundred stations being connected to the network. This joint effort has been christened the title “Project Nilgiri”. As per latest statistics made available by Google, over ten million Indians now have access to high-speed internet, with an average estimate of around fifteen thousand people connecting to the free networks for the first time every day. Internet penetration in India has thus been effectively catalysed by the Indian Railways, providing the platform for private ventures to provide internet access to millions of Indians.
One significant domain where the Railways have latched onto, is harnessing the power of social media. The Railways have developed an in-house analytics tool that processes complaints and suggestions on a real-time basis. The Indian Railways receives seven thousand tweets on a daily basis, out of which around a thousand are actionable. Through Facebook, it is said to receive around two hundred complaints per day. Honourable Railway Minister, Shri Suresh Prabhu, had recently highlighted the fact that the response time to complaints of actionable nature had been reduced to thirty minutes. Such prompt responses to suggestions, and/or feedback by the passengers, have ensured a substantial and appreciable increase in passenger satisfaction. In a recent survey that was launched by the government to let the people rate the services rendered by the government, the results of quick response and follow-up on individual complaints was understandably evident: the Railways had secured the highest possible five-star rating from 74% (seventy-four percent) of the people who participated in the survey.

To build on the noble initiative of Digital India, the Railways have not left any chord untouched. Continuous innovations and development, fuelled by imagination and an acute understanding of the demands of the day, have propelled the Indian Railways into bringing out several applications and services that can be accessed by having a phone. The launch of the UTS App- Unreserved Ticketing System has been a formidable success. On 10th of February, 2016, Shri Suresh Prabhu launched hand-held terminals for Travelling Ticket Examiners (TTEs), which relays information from a running train to the next immediate station. A facility for online booking of disposable linens on trains has also been established.

This expedition towards digitalisation has an inherent positive effect on the finances and economy of the Indian Railways. Digitalisation of essential services would reduce manual operational costs, and thus help to bring down the total expenses. Moreover, facilities such as online booking of tickets and related services have convenience surcharges attached to them that helps bring in additional revenue. Revenue earned through service charges doubled from Rs. 256.34 crore to Rs. 551.49 crore in fiscal 2016. This forms one-third of the entire revenue generated by the IRCTC, as per reports published by the Economic Times. Another matchless example of the unending benefits of digitalisation for the Railways was made clear during the e-auction of scrap materials. More than fifteen thousand wagons, twelve hundred coaches, and around a hundred locomotives are auctioned by the Railway every year. The mandatory e-auction helped to generate around Rs. 3000 crores in 2014-2015. In more ways than one, liberalisation of the Railway finances to accommodate online services will eventually help the Railway resuscitate from its financial woes at present.

This paradigm shift in adopting the digital and cashless as the preferred mode of transactions and services has improved transparency and accountability on the part of the Railways. This has, in turn, has had a chain effect on the common man’s image of the Railways. If passenger satisfaction is ensured, it would immediately convert into rising revenues and better service reviews, with fewer complaints and Grievance Redressal Workload.
As the largest commercial organisation in India, the Railways shoulder colossal social responsibilities. It is indeed heartening to learn that under the able guidance of the Minister of Railways, Shri Suresh Prabhu and the Railway Board, the gargantuan organisation is striving to its last breath to ensure the common man takes the jump towards digitalisation. The Railways is one of the pioneers of change; it wonderfully metamorphoses itself to acclimatise to the dynamic requirements. In this era of globalisation and technological advancement, the Digital Indian campaign has only reinforced the roots of this sesquicentennial organisation: making it better, secure, and ready for the leap towards greater heights of success in the upcoming years.

Illusory Nationalism and its woes

The year 2016 has almost neared its grave, with just a month left to start afresh another new year, bringing in new hopes and possibilities. Politics though would remain as taut as ever: the dynamics of change hardly affect its routine rhetoric. If there is anything that defined the sphere of Indian politics this year, it would undeniably and unquestionably be the contentious issue of patriotism and nationalism.

When ministers from India’s saffron brigade extort money from producers for casting Pakistani actors, it can be branded an act of pretentious nationalism. When innocent Muslims and people from oppressed classes become victims of merciless torture in the name of religion and Bharat Mata, that is deceptive nationalism. When politicians hail the Security Forces on the border for doing a commendable job but engage in nefarious activities behind the public eye, that is pseudo-nationalism. The question is, why should I (and the common man) spare a second for terms that sound intellectual from the very start? The answer is unambiguous and straightforward: the menace of playing with jingoistic sentiments have started producing evident cracks in the societal fabric, and this is serious enough a matter that we need to take up on an individual level.

When Modi was elected in the 2014 General Elections, a ripple of patriotic fervour ran across the length and breadth of the nation. Popularly termed the “Modi wave”, it had its own charisma. Modi was the perfect ambassador of nationalism, blending it with the diktats of the Rashtriya Syamsevak Sangh: strong, firm, intimidating and unrelenting. Right in the first year of his office, the PMO was challenged with the task of responding to inter-religion conflicts that spiralled exponentially everywhere in India. There even were incidents of violence against the Christians, when the holy altars were vandalised in churches, and the PM had to explicitly voice his cajoling message to the community to reassure them. In the wake of the Dadri lynching, Manohar Lal Khattar, a senior BJP member and the Haryana CM, remarked that Muslims would have to give up beef if they were to remain in India. Despite promises, not much has been achieved, and such happenings are becoming even more common by the day.

The government has found an effective weapon in the form of the archaic and demonic sedition law that still finds a mention in the Constitution of the world’s largest democracy. During the Raj, the sedition law was used to bring to book any person suspected of having links with revolutionary movements. Under Modi, section 124(A) of the Indian Penal Code breathes its life once again. It bluntly states:

Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government estab­lished by law in 103 [India], shall be punished with 104 [im­prisonment for life], to which fine may be added, or with impris­onment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.

Sedition charges are now being slapped at will without due consideration of the serious nature it beholds. People get labelled with a sedition charge for supporting a rival cricket team, inadvertently liking Facebook posts, and sketching cartoons. The very malice that our founding fathers tried to do away with has struck chords with the government. This provision has now metamorphosed into a tool of vendetta politics more than anything else. Sedition law is one such draconian law from the past that needs to be crushed into the garbage bin of legal archives.

The Supreme Court is considered the apex judicial body for more reasons than one. Over the course of years, it has earned the trust and acclaim of the general populace: some of its judgements have drastically changed India. From granting a clean chit to Narendra Modi over the 2002 Gujarat communal riots to formalising the entry of NOTA (None of the Above) in electoral machines, decisions made by the Supreme Court have mostly been revered. With all due respect to the Supreme Court, I express my sincerest concerns over an order passed by the SC bench yesterday that is outright unjustifiable and appears irrational: a mandatory fifty-two seconds worth of national anthem needs to be played before a movie starts in the theatres. I wonder why all of the “anti-nationals” and alleged traitors from the JNU campus were not subject to such devices of instilling patriotism before? Although I have my highest admiration reserved for the Supreme Court, this is something I cannot comprehend, or rather believe, to be coming from the highest Court of the land. How much of chauvinistic passions can we embed in a person by making him mandatorily sing the National Anthem? Pardon me for this sardonic contrast, but I cannot resist myself from asking how odd it would be to sing the National Anthem moments before a film like Mastizaade or Grand Masti, cheap as they are, starts playing.

Why is Bharat Mata Ki Jai such an important catchphrase for all right-wing elements in the nation? It can be easily deduced that this phrase gives the fustian, pompous ‘nationalistic’ people yet another excuse to justify their otherwise illogical arguments and actions. People who believe themselves as crusaders of “Indian-ness” need to re-evaluate their beliefs. India is an independent entity of 1.2 billion people, diversified by languages, culture, and practices, but united by a common identity of citizenship. The success recipe to great democracies lies in participatory politics and not repressive ones, engaging the masses and walking towards a common goal. There will always be disagreements, but that is a part and parcel of administration work.

To all those people who believe themselves to be agents of propagation of Indian culture and traditionalism, I play your card on your face: We have our security forces manning the borders, defending India with their zeal and vigour. We do not need you to define nationalism for us.