Don’t add Amarnath to our bag of worries
By Arun Nehru
We have a crisis situation in Jammu and Kashmir (though this is not the first time). And considering the global situation – elections due in the US; the fluid situation in Pakistan where democratic forces are trying to establish control over a system dominated by the Army and elements of the ISI, who have a direct interest in terrorist activities; the chaos and violence in Iraq; and activities of the Taliban and Al Qaeda on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border – these are all matters of grave concern. In these difficult times, it is necessary for all political parties to think of national interest.
The Amarnath land issue is no longer a bone of contention. It is common knowledge that the political response in all three regions of the state (the Valley, Jammu and Ladakh) are very different and it would be a serious error to try to score debating points over each other and will not go down well with the voting public in the country. The separatist language in the Valley, the disruption of essential supplies to almost all parts of the state and a campaign in other parts of India on religious lines make little sense when we are dealing with a national threat. Last month saw unprecedented firing across the border, the attempt to push across a thousand militants into the Valley, bomb attacks on our embassy in Kabul, and in Ahmedabad and Bengaluru – all these point to a chaotic situation in Pakistan where democratic forces, represented by Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, are trying to free the system from those, in the Army and the intelligence, with strong vested interests. There is no doubt that the global community is giving all the assistance it can under the circumstances and the Army and paramilitary forces are obviously on high-alert. This is not the time for partisan politics and negative thinking. We need a stable and democratic Pakistan and we need strong handling of our borders to eliminate terror elements that attack both governments. We don’t need local politics to interfere with national security issues. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called for an all-party meeting and hopefully we will see a greater degree of understanding of the situation at the national level.
We have fought three wars with Pakistan and on each occasion every trick was tried to create communal violence. Many decision-makers, used to a rigid regime, have little understanding of the democratic process and the inherent power of the ballot. But the situation this time is very different as a democratic government is taking root in Pakistan and trying to prevail over a system that is tuned to violence and subversion. We have the assistance of the global community to fight the war on terror. The current conflict is clearly with the global forces of terror that are threatened in their sanctuary on Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan. It is unfortunate that the Amarnath land issue should be allowed to be used to create further violence in India. The loss of life is tragic, both in Jammu and the Valley, and it is time for leaders to act like leaders and place national interest over their regional aspirations. It is very easy to find fault with individual leaders, but both, Mufti Syed (PDP) and Farooq Abdullah (NC) have acted and governed with maturity and understanding during their tenure. Both have a greater role to play at present and in the future and should be involved in all decisions.
We have important Assembly elections in four states. We have general elections in six to eight months. We have an uncertain coalition structure, with the UPA under pressure from its existing allies and the “new” friends necessary for winning the nuclear vote. And we have a resurgent Opposition trying to score debating points on every issue. The situation looks complicated and democratic functioning is “chaotic” at times. But there is an inherent strength in the system and if the security situation intensifies in the near future then the entire might of the nation will be behind the government and the security forces. Politics rarely takes a “vacation” and as we head into General Elections we will all have our election charts. In my initial calculations, I see the Congress-led UPA with 210-plus seats, followed by the BJP-led NDA with 175 seats and the UNPA, which includes the BSP and the Left (also the TDP, TRS, AGP, INLD and JD-S) with 115. Others will get 35-40 seats (this category includes the AIDMK, PMK, MDMK). The situation may change as we go along and after the elections there might just be the UPA and NDA. In that situation, the Congress will be in a better position to form the government.
We have several issues on hand. On the economic front we are having a good monsoon and food security is not likely to be an issue, and the 20 per cent drop in oil prices will help in curbing inflation. The global economic outlook is not very bright and we see a constant drop in productivity in the USA and now in Europe as well. Maintaining India’s GDP growth of 7-8 per cent will be a challenge in 2009 and much will depend on the global economic situation and the revival of the US economy. Security is also likely to be an issue and the Central government’s handling of the Kashmir crisis will be crucial. I think it would be a mistake for the Opposition to try to score debating points on this sensitive issue. The elections in USA will be a decisive event and I think every effort will be made to terminate the war in Iraq in stages and hopefully, with a democratic government in Pakistan, things will change for the better on the “border” as there is no future in violence and death.
Arun Nehru is a former Union minister
No medals for IOC’s silent diplomacy
By Minky Worden
While the world follows the exploits of the China Olympics, journalists and athletes in Beijing have only limited access to what the world is saying about China.
They can easily log on to any website covering the latest athletic feats, but may find their efforts thwarted if they try to read online commentary on the numerous human rights violations linked to Beijing’s acting as host of these Olympic Games.
In spite of pledges of media and Internet freedom made to the International Olympic Committee while bidding for the 2008 Olympics, the Chinese authorities are continuing to block access to websites of some international human rights organisations, press freedom groups and overseas Chinese-language news websites. Reneging on promises to allow peaceful public criticism, Beijing is cynically using designated protest zones as bait to snare any would-be critics.
Before the Games began this summer, the president of the Olympic committee, Jacques Rogge, asserted that the IOC “carried out the only kind of diplomacy that works in China – silent diplomacy.”
But what has this strategy achieved? The prelude to the Beijing Games was marred by a major crackdown on free speech and dissent, a massive sweep of “undesirables” from the host city, and increasing abuses of ethnic minority Tibetans and Uighurs. We’d likely know more if not for the government’s failure to fully implement its own temporary regulations giving foreign media much greater freedom to work in China.
“We obtained a new law on the media,” Rogge told Agence France-Presse in July. “For the first time, foreign media will be able to report freely and publish their work freely in China. There will be no censorship on the Internet.”
Yet over the last two years, Human Rights Watch and other press freedom organisations have documented hundreds of incidents of harassment, detentions and even death threats to foreign journalists in China. And, of course, conditions are much worse for Chinese reporters, with China still the world’s leading jailer of journalists.
An unnamed Olympic committee official admitted to the New York Times in July, “Had the IOC, and those vested with the decision to award the host city contract, known seven years ago that there would be severe restrictions on people being able to enter China simply to watch the Olympics, or that live broadcasting from Tiananmen Square would essentially be banned, or that reporters would be corralled at the whim of local security, then I seriously doubt whether Beijing would have been awarded the Olympics.”
So before the Beijing pageantry ends, the lesson is clear: Voluntary pledges cannot be enforced; there need to be permanent rights mechanisms in place to make sure Olympian promises match deeds.
The IOC is no stranger to creating new structures to deal with its failings. In the 1980s, major doping scandals led to negative headlines and the forced return of the Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson’s gold medal. To save the Olympic movement, the IOC helped set up the World Anti-Doping Agency.
The corruption scandal that tainted the awarding of the 2002 Winter Games to Salt Lake City led to the expulsions and sanctions of some 20 Olympic committee members. The IOC set up an ethics committee in the wake of the public outcry.
In view of China’s failure to follow through on its human rights pledges, Human Rights Watch has outlined to the IOC the need to create a committee charged with assessing the human rights records of bidding countries, particularly with respect to press freedom, an independent judiciary and labour rights. This body could then monitor the selected host country’s progress toward improving its human rights record, just as the IOC currently audits sports venue completion. Such periodic rights audits in China would certainly have saved Rogge a lot of headaches.
This reform is urgent. The 2014 Winter Games were awarded to the Russian city of Sochi – only 15 miles from Russia’s border with Georgia, where a deadly conflict with the future Olympic host erupted just as the Beijing Games began.
The Olympics-related rights violations well documented in China – forced evictions, abuse of migrant workers, repression of civil society – will almost certainly be replayed in Russia. But it could get even uglier: In Russia, journalists are not only harassed, they are sometimes murdered.
Before the final medal is awarded at the 2008 Games, the IOC could do itself a big favour by setting out clear and transparent human rights benchmarks for future Olympics.
Minky Worden is media director at Human Rights Watch and editor of China’s Great Leap: The Beijing Games and Olympian Human Rights Challenges
Kashmir burns again
By Khushwant Singh
The sudden explosion of violence in Jammu and Kashmir over the trivial matter of some 40 hectares of forest land clearly shows a deep communal divide that has its roots in history. The state, as we know it, comprises of three regions, which we have treated as one administered from Srinagar and Jammu. This is entirely because ever since the annexation of Punjab by the British in 1849 and its sale to Maharajah Gulab Singh, it has been treated by his descendants as a Dogra fiefdom till India attained its independence in 1947. It is time we took a good look at the ground realities, however unpalatable they be, and found a solution that will be acceptable to all three regions as well as to India and Pakistan.
The three regions are geographically divided into the Valley of Jhelum, Jammu and Ladakh. They are also distinct from each other in religion, language, and perception of their future. The people of the Valley are over 90 per cent Muslims, speak Kashmiri and demand azadi (freedom) without defining its full implications. The people of Jammu are predominantly Hindu, speak Dogri, Hindi or Punjabi. They definitely do not want the kind of azadi the people of the Valley clamour for. Nor do the Ladakhis, who are Buddhists and speak their own dialect. The core of the problem is the demand for azadi by the Muslims of the Valley. It can be met without upsetting their relationship with India. It is too small and landlocked to become a sovereign, independent state. Its economy is largely dependent on India which is the only outlet for its agricultural produce (fruit, saffron etc), its handicrafts, carpets and shawls. Most of its tourists come from or through India. There cannot be, nor need be, any break in its relations with India. India should and must give the Valley complete autonomy to manage its internal affairs without meddling with the administration of Jammu and Ladakh. India must continue its military presence but only to guard its borders against infiltrators from Pakistan and no more.
If the people of the Valley are agreeable to this kind of a settlement, I am sure Pakistan will accept it as well. We have had enough of ill will and violence – it has gone on for far too long. It must be put to an end, and the sooner the better.
Ramayanas, in a volume
Scholars of ancient Indian history are of the opinion that there are over 300 different versions of the epic in existence. However, they are agreed on the main episodes: the birth and upbringing of Sri Rama and Lakshmana in Ayodhya, Sri Rama’s marriage to Sita, their 14-year exile, abduction of Sita, her rescue and triumphal return to Ayodhya. This drama is enacted year after year as Dasara in every village, town and city across our subcontinent. It is also usually the first story that mothers and grandmothers narrate to children. It is deeply embedded in the Indian psyche. The version most widely accepted in northern India is the one narrated by Valmiki. In 1649, Rana Jagat Singh of Udaipur (Mewar) commissioned his court artists to paint a series of pictures depicting the entire story from beginning to end. The task took four years to be completed. It is our misfortune that the collection was sold to English connoisseurs and fragments are found in the British Library in London. It is also our good fortune that these fragments have been put together in collaboration with the British Library by Niyogi Books with a detailed introduction by the Indologist JP Lusty. So, we have a beautifully produced coffee-tabler: The Ramayana: Love & Valour in India’s Great Epic (Niyogi Books). I can’t think of a more suitable gift for growing children on their birthdays or on Diwali to make them aware of their heritage.
Songs on Trust Vote Prakash Karat: Dost dost na rahaa… Manmohan Singh: Merey dushman tu meri dosti ko tarsey… Sonia Gandhi: Aaj phir jeeney ki tamanna hai… Somnath Chatterjee: Jhoom, jhoom ke nacho/Aaj kis ki jeet hui hai/Aaj kis ki haar… Mulayam Singh Yadav: Na na kartey pyaar tumhi ko kar baithey… Lalu Prasad Yadav: Samajhneywale samajh gaye hain/Naa samajhey woh anari hai Amar Singh: Laaga chunri mein daag… Mayawati: Mera sundar sapna toot gaya… Sitaram Yechury: Merey tutey huey dilse koi to aaj yeh puchhey… A.B. Bardhan: Kasmein, vaade, pyaar wafaa sab/Baatein hain, baaton ka kya… Rahul Gandhi: Hoshiar! Hum hain yahaan ke Raj Kumar L.K. Advani: Raha gardishon mein har dam… Arun Jaitley: Yeh kya hua, kaise hua, kyon hua… Pranab Mukherjee: Duniya kee sair kar lo… Vayalar Ravi: Jo vadaa kiya woh nibhaana paadey ga… Shibu Soren: Jo tum ko ho pasand wahi baat karenge… Deve Gowda: Mujhe tum se kuch bhi naa chahiye/Mujhe mere haal pe chhod do Ajit Singh: Kora kagaz, kora hi reh gayaa… S.S. Dhindsa: Garibo ki suno, woh tumhari sunega… Raj Babbar: Ghungroo ki tarah bajta hi raha hoon main… Omar Abdullah: Begaani shaadi mein Abdullah deewana… Manmohan-Bush, over phone: Yeh dosti hum nahin chodenge… Aam Aadmi: Jinhein naaz hai Hind par, woh kahan hain?
(Contributed by K.J.S. Ahluwalia, Amritsar)
Rest your pen
By Paulo Coelho
All the energy of thinking is eventually shown in the nib of a pen. Periods of inactivity are necessary – a pen that is always writing ends up losing the awareness of what it is doing. So let it rest whenever possible, and concern yourself with living and meeting your friends. When you return to the business of writing, you will find a happy pen with all its strength intact. Pens have no conscience: They are an extension of the writer’s hand and desire. They serve to destroy reputations, make us dream, send news, trace pretty words of love. So, always be clear about your intentions.
The hand is where all the muscles of the body, all the intentions of the person writing, all the effort to share what he feels, are concentrated. It is not just a part of his arm but also an extension of his thought. Hold your pen with the same respect that a violinist has for his instrument.
The word: The word is the final intention of someone who wishes to share something with his neighbour. William Blake said: All that we write is the fruit of memory or the unknown. If I can make a suggestion, respect the unknown and look there for your source of inspiration. The stories and facts remain the same, but when you open a door in your unconscious and let yourself be led by inspiration you will see that the way to describe what you have lived or dreamt is always far richer when your unconscious is guiding the pen. Every word leaves a memory in your heart – and it the sum of these memories that form sentences, paragraphs, books. Sentences do not hesitate in changing course when they make a discovery, when they spot a better opportunity. Words have the same quality as water: they go around rocks and adapt to the riverbed, sometimes turning into a lake until the depression has filled up and they can continue their journey. Because when words are written with feelings and the soul, they do not forget that their destination is the ocean of a text, and that sooner or later they have to arrive there.
Translated by James Mulholland
A tale of two flags
By Balbir K. Punj
The contrast between the agitators in Jammu, holding the Tricolour and shouting “Bharat Mata Ki Jai,” and the separatists in Kashmir Valley, marching across the LoC to Pakistan, with the Pakistani flag, sums up the crisis in a way which will remain in the nation’s consciousness for years to come. The clash is not between two regions, but two value systems. The character of the two groups of agitators is defined by their respective flags: The Tricolour represents the spirit of India – respect for diversity in all its multitudes, be it faith or language; the Pakistani flag denotes an exclusivist character devoid of the right to dissent in all avenues of life. It’s not that the separatists merely wave the Pakistani flag. They have soaked in its spirit. Following in the footsteps of Pakistan, Kashmiri separatists had cleansed the Valley of all the Hindus (Kashmiri Pandits), kafirs in their parlance. In spite of India being a vibrant democracy and a secular state (biased against the majority community), the separatists hate India. Because its demography is Hindu? They love Pakistan. Because it is an Islamic state?
The “secular” camp in the rest of India has not condemned this brazen display of strength in the Valley against India. Of course, there have been subtle allegations against the BJP of politicising the Amarnath shrine board issue. To extend support to those hoisting the Tricolour is “communalism” and to find rationale for the ones seeking a theocratic state is serving the cause of “secularism”. Could there be a bigger irony?
The claim of the Valley agitators that they were only asking for the removal of the blockade on the highway from Srinagar to the rest of India flies in the face of facts. It was the separatists’ agitation, later joined by some other parties, against the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board that sparked the present situation. Agitation leaders were provoking the people of the Valley to join the anti-national stream that separatists have always fuelled in Srinagar and the Valley. The government, both in Srinagar and the Centre, capitulated without even an attempt to drive some reason into the general public already incited by anti-India and Islam-in-danger propaganda. For all the claims of Valley politician like Omar Abdullah, that local Muslims have been taking care of the pilgrims for ages, they have failed to take into account the fact that a sea change had taken place in the annual pilgrimage to the shrine. First, the number of pilgrims has increased manifold. The management of facilities for pilgrims could no longer be in a laissez faire manner, in the hands of private, small-time enthusiasts. Only a government-supported modernisation would have assured the pilgrims amenities they are entitled to, considering the terrain, weather conditions and the age-profile of the pilgrims.
Those opposing lease of the property to the board were, in fact, not interested in the land transfer itself. Their purpose was to send a message that wherever Muslims are in majority, people from other religions will not get a foothold. It is significant that the Jammu and Kashmir legislature had passed the law creating the Amarnath Board and the structure of administration for the Vaishno Devi shrine of Jammu, laying down specific duties for both the boards. Most political parties had supported the legislation. It is clear, therefore, that the anti-Amarnath Board agitation was a recent phenomenon and its link with separatists and militants cannot be ignored. The militants have always tried to disturb the pilgrimage, leading to deaths of many pilgrims.
Even if the demand of the fruit-growers and transporters of the Valley about their products rotting due to the blockade were true, the way out was not another agitation – clearly meant to provoke police firing. The Valley separatists were clearly giving warnings that any accommodation with the Jammu agitators would bring them back on Srinagar streets. At the drop of a hat, the separatists organise hartals in Srinagar but have no word of sympathy for the people of Jammu who too have the right to raise their demands.
The clear division of public opinion, between the Valley Muslims and the Jammu Hindus, is the result of mishandling of Jammu and Kashmir affairs for over five decades by the Congress and the National Conference (NC). For decades, the Congress allowed NC to dominate Valley politics without any hindrance. People of the state, as a result, watched helplessly as the government, led by a single party, the NC, became a hotbed of corruption. For a while, the NC leadership was sought to be built outside the influence of the Sheikh Abdullah family. But Indira Gandhi entered into an agreement with Sheikh Abdullah and handed the state back to the NC, and the Abdullah family, as if it was his jagir. The failure to build alternate leadership in Kashmir has cost the country dear. The uncontrolled dominance of one family over the resources of Kashmir, and growing public anger against this swelled the support base of separatists. The jihadi found a fertile ground and provided the Pakistani establishment yet another opportunity to pursue its agenda.
The Congress-led government in New Delhi cannot escape responsibility for what is happening in Jammu and Kashmir. In many ways, it is a result of the Congress’ continuing selfish and family-oriented approach to the Kashmir problem. And its myopic vote-bank politics in kowtowing to the irredentist demands of one community. The Central government remained unmoved when thousands of Pandits were driven out of their ancestral land and forced to take refuge in Delhi and elsewhere in India. It was only during the six-year rule of the BJP-led NDA that things began to change in the Valley. The first truly free general elections in 1999, and the goodwill it created for the Central government, even among some of the separatists; the determined peace initiative of the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee that split the separatists and narrowed the support base of militants – all this was bringing the state closer to a peaceful settlement. But the Central government changed and with it the momentum of earlier moves was lost. Now, the manner in which the government has handled the agitations in Jammu and Kashmir has enabled the two separatist factions to come together, that too with the injection of more pan-Islamic sentiments. The tipping point almost seems to have achieved.
The sins of omission and commission on the part of Congress in Jammu and Kashmir will cost the country dear.
– The writer can be contacted at email@example.com