SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir
Muslims, who constitute 70% of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state, had been disempowered politically and administratively even before the Indian government scrapped its residual autonomy Aug. 5, data and historical facts reveal.
Since 1954, out of a total of 30, only six Muslims of the state have been elevated to the post of the chief secretary, the highest-ranking civilian official.
At present, out of the 66 bureaucrats running the civilian administration, only 17 are Muslims from Jammu and Kashmir, including Shah Faesal, who resigned his post earlier this year and joined politics.
He is one of the dozens of politicians jailed by Indian authorities currently. His resignation from government services is yet to be accepted.
“These Muslim bureaucrats no doubt served the interests of the state as they are supposed to but a Muslim face in a predominantly Muslim region does instill confidence among the people,” said a former bureaucrat, who requested anonymity.
“Unlike Indian bureaucrats who looked at Kashmir only from the prism of Indian state’s interests, these Muslim officials were instinctively familiar with the place and hence nuanced, ” he added.
At present, out of the total 22 district civilian administrative heads, 11 are Muslims.
The 100,000-strong police force, which has been used as the most potent controlling mechanism since 1947, presents an interesting picture. Comprising mostly of Muslim foot soldiers, it has been largely managed by non-Muslim officers.
Since 1913, out of a total of 17, only two police chiefs have been Kashmiri Muslims.
Out of a total of 37, only four Muslims have headed the police’s intelligence wing, the CID.
Of the 25 police districts, Muslim officers from the state currently head only seven. Muslim officers head six of the 13 police districts in the Kashmir Valley, which is about 96% Muslim and is the epicenter of the anti-India insurgency.
At present, out of the 66 Indian Police Service officers who hold key positions in the police, only nine are Jammu and Kashmir Muslims.
Police and civilian officials apparently worked either under elected governments or, in their absence, a governor appointed by the government of India.
The governor of Jammu and Kashmir, unlike the rest of the Indian states, had powers to make laws.
None of the governors deputed to Jammu and Kashmir so far has been a Muslim or belonged to the region.
Since they wielded significant powers in a sensitive state, two were former army generals and another India’s former intelligence chief. Many have had their share of political troubles and political disempowerment of the state.
Satya Pal Malik, the last governor – Jammu and Kashmir is now a Union Territory that has a lieutenant governor instead of a governor --actually signed off on the special legislation Aug. 5 on behalf of the region’s Assembly.
That fateful day, the region was without an elected government because the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had withdrawn support to its coalition partner, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), a Kashmir-based party, and imposed governor rule in 2018.
In absence of an elected government, which means 87 lawmakers in case of Jammu and Kashmir, the governor functioned like one.
While the Indian parliament scrapped legislations, it was legally bound to seek consent from the region’s elected representatives.
However, the ruling BJP interpreted Malik as the equivalent in stature to an Assembly elected by 12 million people. It declared in the parliament that the governor’s consent to the scrapping of region’s autonomy has been received. But a day earlier, when asked whether all emergency measures, such as the deployment of 40,000 soldiers, was a prelude to the abrogation of special laws, Malik denied knowledge about any such move and “what might happen the next day.”
Thus a governor, who had hardly ever visited Kashmir before his posting in 2018 and who claimed no knowledge of a political development of far-reaching consequences hours before its unfolding, signed off on the fate of 12 million people, throwing the insurgency-wracked region, a nuclear flashpoint, into further uncertainty.
The governor not only consented to the abrogation of the laws but also stalled a move that could have saved them. Realizing the Indian government was adamant on doing away with special constitutional status of the state, three unionist parties, NC, PDP and Congress, having a sufficient number of lawmakers to form a coalition government, staked claim to the government in November 2018.
The governor promptly rejected it, paving the way for the BJP government to scrap the laws that, inter alia, prevented Indians from buying properties in Jammu and Kashmir.
A governor is assisted by a clutch of advisors, who assume the role of ministers in absence of an elected government. Out of Malik’s five advisors, only one was a Muslim from the state for the most part of his tenure.
Since the state has been downgraded to the status of a Union Territory, it will now be ruled by a lieutenant governor, whose sphere of influence outweighs that of elected representatives.
The BJP government in New Delhi plans to redraw Assembly constituencies in a way that gives the Hindu-majority Jammu region a marginal edge in elections.
Counting on an electoral sweep in Hindu constituencies and a few seats in the Muslim-majority Kashmir, the Hindu nationalist BJP could easily form a government.
“The BJP could sell an electoral victory at this stage as an endorsement of the abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35 (A),” said journalist. Moazum Bhat.
In this systematic disempowerment of Muslims in the region, Unionist Muslim politicians have played a key role.
This is because they were supposed to sell Indian sovereignty over the disputed region to a rebellious population.
But they only ended up destroying their own political legacies. Most of them are in jails.
For example, in 1953, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, the first prime minister of Jammu and Kashmir -- until 1974 Jammu and Kashmir had a prime minister, not chief minister -- was arrested by a low-ranking police official and jailed for 22 years. Between 1953 and 1974, while Abdullah’s party, National Conference, led a movement for the right to self-determination, the Indian state obliterated the semi-sovereign status of Jammu and Kashmir with the help of comprador governments led by Kashmiri Muslim politicians who were installed in power by rigging elections or subverting democracy.
After his release, Abdullah returned to power in 1974 after giving up the struggle for right to self-determination and reconciled to a downgraded status of chief minister.
In 1984, two years after Abdullah death, his son, Farooq Abdullah’s, government was overthrown in a coup that is believed to have New Delhi’s blessing. India was then ruled by the Congress.
Realizing that staying in the Indian government’s good books, not public support, was the key to power in Jammu and Kashmir, the younger Abdullah aligned with the same Congress during the infamously rigged election of 1987.
When the insurgency erupted in 1990, he quit and fled to London, returning to power in 1996 after the Indian government persuaded him to fight elections, promising him restoration of autonomy.
For the first time in history, his party lost power in 2002 to PDP. Autonomy was not restored.
His son, Omar Abdullah, led the party to success in the 2008 elections but again lost to PDP in 2014.
All these years, though it played second fiddle to successive Indian governments, NC’s seat tally kept falling and cadres diminishing.
Farooq Abdullah is a member of Indian parliament but currently in jail under an infamous law called the Public Safety Act, which allows authorities to detain a person without a trial.
* Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.