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Kashmir - People want to move on


As the Indian state grapples with the Kashmir issue, a recent poll shows that peace is possible
September 12, 2010 16:42
Tags : Kashmir |Pakistan |Ladakh |UN | |

 Kashmir - People want to move onYashwant Deshmukh

CVoter Foundation

Dr. Colin Irwin

Department of politics, University of Liverpool

Politicians spin realities to create myths about their people and their country in order to take them forward to a better life. This is called leadership, and when done with compassion and wisdom, peoples and nations can achieve great advances. But when such myths are spun out of self-interest, then, tragically, the result can be misery and death. Kashmir falls into the second category. The reality, according to the people of Kashmir, is that they want an end to the corruption that has blighted their society. They want to live in harmony with their fellow countrymen and women, they want a secular state, they want their children from different communities and faiths to go to school together, they want an end to all forms of discrimination, they want an end to the abuse of human rights and killings, they want India and Pakistan to stop using them for their own selfish reasons, they want to be masters of their own destinies and to this end they want negotiations in good faith. These were the major findings of the most extensive poll ever done in J & K two years ago to find out what solutions the people envisage as the way forward for Kashmir. And it stood in sharp contrast to the myths spun by their political leaders, then seemingly living in the past. Now, two years on, following months of renewed violence and bloodshed, have the views of the people changed and do their leaders speak for them? To this end the most critical constitutional questions asked in May 2008 were repeated again in the latest poll run in August this year.

 We see the continuation of the trends from our last peace poll. This one is, though much smaller in sample size (1200 altogether; while in 2008 we did 3000 plus), but the sentiments are crisp and clear. The overwhelming sentiment in the Valley is of “full independence” and in  Jammu and Ladakh of “join India”. Even though the anti India campaign is in full swing in the Valley, somehow it has not grown into “pro- Pakistan” sentiment. It is interesting to note here that the current unrest was piloted mostly by the hawkish section of Hurriyat led by Geelani who has clear stand of Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan. The softer side of Hurriyat is “pro-independence”. So, even though the current wave of protests are being led by pro-pakistani leaders, the Valley’s sentiment is not pro-pakistan– it remains “pro-azadi”. No one wanted to “join Pakistan” in May 2008. Even 69 per cent of those living in the Kashmir Valley considered this option “unacceptable” then (the result was the same for Muslims) and there is no significant change now at 71 per cent. Although Hindus and Buddhists go for the “join India” option, 64 per cent of those living in the Valley in 2008 and 58 per cent in 2010 would not. So, this option does not seem to work either as a solution to the Kashmir problem. The UN resolutions for a plebiscite are limited to these two options – India or Pakistan. Clearly, the people in the Valley who want this plebiscite either do not understand this issue or have been seriously misled. What they want is “full independence” at 63 per cent “essential” in 2008 and 65 per cent in 2010, but that is not presently on offer.

 A plebiscite, even if Pakistan, India and the UN agreed to it, would leave Kashmir divided and the people did not want that with 53 per cent terming the “disintegration” as “unacceptable” in 2008. However, there has been a significant change. Only 34 per cent reject “disintegration” now as “unacceptable”. Similarly, “regional integration and devolution” at 44 per cent now as compared to 20 per cent in 2008 is far more popular. 

The “no change” option is still strongly rejected in the Kashmir Valley at 58 per cent and 50 per cent “unacceptable” in 2008 and 2010 respectively. “Autonomy” was “unacceptable” to 61 per cent of Buddhists in 2008 and remains so. But the option of “full implementation of Article 370 and return to the status existing in J and K before 1953 with a parliament and prime minister leaving only defence, foreign policy and communications to India” was by far the “lesser of all the evils” at only 23 per cent “unacceptable” over all in 2008. Resistance to this option has also dropped significantly in the Kashmir Valley down from 35 per cent in 2008 to only 24 per cent. So, providing that the Buddhists can be persuaded that their minority rights and culture will be protected in an autonomous state, this option just might work. This can be done by leaving the responsibility for the rights of minorities with India and by implementing far reaching devolution to all levels of government. Coupled with all the other measures for reform dealt with in the 2008 poll, peace might be possible at the negotiating table. Critically all the compromise options are far more acceptable to the people of the Kashmir Valley now in 2010 than they were in 2008. The people of the Kashmir Valley want to move on.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017