New Delhi: Lamenting the "most recent happenings in that unfortunate land" in the wake of Jammu and Kashmir's special status being revoked, former Vice President Hamid Ansari cautioned against promoting "distrust and discord" and "seeking uniformity at the expense of diversity."
"The most recent happenings in that unfortunate land are in the public domain, selectively for the domestic market and on a wider scale for the global audience. They suggest an endeavour to induct democracy by undemocratic means; public trust through distrust and freedom through unfreedom. It remains to be seen if such 20th century devices would suffice (in today's day and age)," he said at the release of the book "Kashmir: Land of Regrets" by Moosa Raza, who was the Chief Secretary of the troubled state at the height of the militancy.
"As this audience knows very well, ours is a land of identities... 4,635 communities subscribe to the concept of a singular identity of Indian citizenship, irrespective of caste and creed. This exists alongside the need to recognise and accommodate this plurality of identities. The idea of difference and the principle of dignity go with it," he said.
Noting that the Constitution "depicts the diversity of the situations visualised and testifies to it explicitly," Ansari added: "This is what accommodation of diversity in our polity and culture is all about. On the other hand, a simplistic idea of unity, seeking uniformity at the expense of diversity and that too selectively and open to suggestions of factional motivation does not help the cause of national unity. It is contrary to our ethos and pursuing it can only promote distrust and discord. It should be eschewed."
Noting that the date of the book's release "is absolutely accidental but the imagery is not," Ansari said: "Yesterday was Muharram which was observed with piety and fervour...Muharram is the anniversary of the martyrdom of a tragic figure in the battle between justice and injustice. The image on the cover (of the book), that of a famous painting, tells the story of the aftermath. It is an eloquent commentary on the subject before us."
On his part, Raza made a forceful plea for restoring the special status of at least Jammu and Kashmir, even as he wondered who the Central government would now talk to, considering that the entire political and separatist leadership has been sidelined.
"Who's left? The militants," he said, adding: "Even the militants are not talking about Article 370. They are talking about (revocation of) AFSPA and issues like corruption," he said.
"You can't put the genie back into the bottle, but if the government is wise enough, it would promise to restore the status of the state. Which state would be happy to be brought down from a high level to a lower level," he asked.
Raza was appointed Chief Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir in 1988 - the brink of a tumultuous time in Indian history.
The previous year's state elections were suspected to have been rigged, and militants had found in them fresh ammunition for their call for ‘azadi'. Religious tensions threatened the social fabric of the state. Civil unrest was imminent as Srinagar and other major cities crumbled due to failing infrastructure.
As Raza took up the reins of the administration in the troubled state, he needed to first acquaint himself with the complex history that brought Kashmir to this impasse. The Kashmiri Pandit-Muslim conflict had deep roots fostered by one exploitative set of rulers after another, and the Shia-Sunni rift ran equally deep.
In the backdrop of growing discontentment against the state policies and the diktats of the Indian government, the kidnapping of Rubaiya Sayeed, daughter of the then Union Home Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, became a turning point that nobody could have predicted.
And yet, the paths to peace and progress too were there for the taking -- a comprehensive plan for rebuilding the major cities, a network of roads and railways to connect the state to the rest of India, proposals to recruit young Muslim men into the security forces, and modern schools to combat the agenda-driven learning in the religious centres.
Can the state and its administrators step up to the task of making real change, or will corruption and apathy continue to lay waste to one of the most beautiful states of India? "Kashmir: Land of Regrets" tries to answer these questions.