New Delhi, (Asian independent) As ‘The Kashmir Files’ continues to rock the nation, several accounts of the period have come to the fore leading to divergent debates. A veteran journalist, who has covered Jammu and Kashmir in and out for over five decades, has much to reveal. In a two-part series, 87-year-old doyen Brij Bhardwaj narrates the build-up to the rise of militancy in Kashmir, breakdown of the administration, political intrigues and the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits.
Bhardwaj, as a journalist of a leading national daily, was first posted in Kashmir in 1971 and closely watched the several ups and downs and the slide of the political and administrative pillars of democracy in the erstwhile state.
He says terrorism in the valley is the direct outcome of the sustained failure of the political and administrative set up at the Centre and the state.
“Rather than putting all the blame on Pakistan and the separatist elements in the valley, the internal failures of those in governance are more responsible,” the veteran journalist told IANS.
Reminiscing of the back-to-back political events that happened over the five decades, he says that the political class led the valley into an abyss.
“As a journalist, I saw events unfolding before my eyes. Twice the National Conference and the Congress entered into accord, once between Sheikh Abdullah and Indira Gandhi in 1975 and then between Farooq Abdullah and Rajiv Gandhi in 1986. But the fact is that there was never trust between the two,” says Bhardwaj.
“After Sheikh died, his son Farooq became the natural successor. However, a continued tussle within the clan of Sheikh saw Farooq and his brother-in-law Ghulam Mohammad Shah enter into a bitter power struggle and finally Shah became the Chief Minister in 1984 and held the reins for two years.
“Shah’s two years were tumultuous and he came to be known as the curfew Chief Minister. It was during his tenure that the first organised attacks were carried out against the Kashmiri Pandits in January 1986 in South Kashmir. Shah was dismissed by Governor Jagmohan (during his first tenure — April 26, 1984, to July 11, 1989).
“Then, there was Mufti Mohd Sayeed, who’s political career spanned different parties — from splinter groups to Congress, the Janata Dal, and back to the Congress and finally he formed the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). For some time Mufti was keeping tabs on Sheikh Abdullah. This added to the rivalries in Kashmir.
“So much was happening behind the scenes and politically it was becoming muddied day by day. The leaders just wanted to be in power by whatever means. There was political uncertainty most of the time in the state. And the general people were getting affected by this. A kind of feeling was percolating down that they don’t have a choice; everything was done from the Centre. The leaders were saying one thing in Srinagar and another in Delhi, which was deepening the wedge,” he says.
Rigged Polls & Rise of Militancy
The elections in the valley were hardly fair, especially in the rural areas, says Bhardwaj.
“The elections in the valley were always perceived to be rigged. The common people knew that elections were hardly held freely, except those held when late Morarji Desai was the Prime Minister in 1977. The blow came in 1987 when the Muslim United Front (MUF) contested the elections. It was a coalition of Islamic Kashmiri Parties and was perceived to have a lot of public support, which unnerved the established and veteran politicians. The elections were badly rigged, and this time it happened in Srinagar also and that too massively. The people didn’t like it.
“I remember a relative of Farooq Abdullah beat up an MUF candidate, who later became a top militant leader and is in Pakistan today. All those MUF candidates who lost the election later became militants. And the rise of present day militancy in Kashmir started here after. I saw it all.
“The state governments continued to be regularly dismissed and reinstated. It was endless. During the V.P. Singh government, Mufti Mohd Sayeed became the Union Home Minister and Farooq Abdullah was the Chief Minister, the militancy actually began full throttled. Kidnappings became the order of the day and a lot of people were felled by the terrorists. Administration was dwindling.”
Bhardwaj says that if the political set up is always in dire straits, then the administrative setu-p gets affected badly.
“There was so much corruption in the state. All those who used to come on deputation here would leave with fortunes. The local administration was also deep in the corrupt net. There was no check anywhere.
“When hijacking of the Indian Airlines plane from Srinagar to Lahore took place in January 1971, which was the first militant act, they were helped by some personnel in the security forces. When many youths were crossing the LoC for arms training in PoK, who was turning a blind eye and why? It was corruption. Had the political class been firm such things would not have been initiated.
“Farooq Abdullah was not an able administrator and he faulted. He let everything on loose. But it was Jagmohan who gave the major blow to the set up. He changed the appointment rule in the sense that after considerable thought the Centre had a formula of 50 per cent cadre of IAS and IPS from the Centre and 50 per cent were promoted from the local officers’ network. But he changed it to 75-25 per cent ratio which weakened the whole system. Local representation was reduced. And when the militant movement began, there was a complete breakdown of administration. The police force was in place but there were no local officials, which meant that the connect was not there.
“Mirwaiz Farooq, an important religious leader for the Kashmiri Muslims, was shot dead on May 21, 1990 at his home… His body was brought to the police station for autopsy, but a huge crowd stormed the police station and took it away in a huge procession. A head constable who was unnerved by the crowd fired on the procession. Mirwaiz’s coffin was also riddled with bullets and then it was propagated by the vested interests that the Indian security officials killed Mirwaiz, which was not the case. Had the administration been in place and working systematically, a strong leadership would not have let this happen.
“But the administration and the political system, whether at the Centre or state, had completely collapsed in Jammu & Kashmir in late 1988s,” laments the veteran journalist.