Time to review kashmir valley status

The despatch of over 3,500 Central paramilitary, BSF and other troops to Handwara in the Kashmir Valley on April 16-17 after continuous stone-pelting on Indian Army personnel and pickets over a doubtful molestation charge of a minor girl by an army jawan, is an indicator that civilian unrest in the northern periphery state of Jammu & Kashmir is going from bad to worse.

A few days earlier, riots had broken out on the campus of the National Institute of Technology, Srinagar — the state’s showpiece engineering college — over the issue of raising the national flag on campus. This reasonable request of out-of-state students was vehemently opposed by Kashmiri-Muslim students of NIT and youth mobs in the vicinity of the institute. A protest staged on campus by non-Muslim and ‘outsider’ students, prompted a brutal attack on the protestors by the state police in which 115 students were injured, some severely.

These instances of student and civilian unrest are merely the latest in a series of continuous civil disturbances in J&K and the Kashmir Valley in particular, for the past 68 years since independence. Regrettably, even after J&K being accorded special status in the Constitution of India and receiving cumulatively higher per capita grants from the Central government than any other state of the Indian Union, the Muslim majority of the valley remains obstinately communal, and has refused to fall in line with other states and govern itself according to the secular Constitution of India.

On the contrary, communal hostility and violence drove over 200,000 Kashmiri pundits (Hindus) out of their homes in the valley into squalid refugee camps in Hindu-dominated Jammu and Delhi. Quite clearly, this permanently disgruntled and intolerant community is a strain on secular India, and should be given the azadi they demand, with the Kashmir Valley severed and its people expelled from the Indian Union.

Although hyper-nationalists deny it, in 1948 India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru promised a plebiscite in Kashmir to ascertain whether its people wanted accession to India or Pakistan, or full independence after the first Indo-Pak war over Kashmir. But subsequently, Nehru himself and successor political establishments in Delhi reneged on this promise on the ground that return of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to India is a precondition.

The plain truth is that apart from visa-free access to middle class tourists from India, the tiny Kashmir Valley has little to offer and is a huge drain on national resources because it has failed to attract industrial investment. In the circumstances, it’s time to call the bluff of communal Kashmiri and Pakistan leaders and hold a plebiscite in the valley and PoK under UN supervision. In the likely event of the populace voting for accession to Pakistan or azadi, this territory should be severed from the Indian Union and left to its own devices. India will be better for it.

No case for imposing liquor prohibition

Tragedy is likely to follow farce across the country as populist politicians with a dim, if any, knowledge of history are set to impose liquor manufacture and consumption prohibition in several states of the Indian Union.

Among the first state governments to recently impose prohibition is Kerala where a new liquor manufacture and consumption policy for a phased roll-out of total prohibition was introduced in 2014. Surprisingly, this new policy, which prohibits the sale and consumption of hard liquor in all licenced bars and establishments open to the public except certified five-star and upward hotels, and provides for the closing down of licenced liquor vending stores over a three-year period, was upheld by the Supreme Court in late December. This ill-advised initiative of the Congress-led UDF government of the state was purportedly introduced as a response to the overwhelming majority of women voters who reportedly believe that prohibition will curb the destructive alcoholism of their menfolk, which is financially and socially ruining households across the state.

The Kerala example has obviously inspired the Nitish Kumar-led JD(U) government of Bihar — India’s most backward state on almost every metric of development, including law and order — to impose statewide prohibition with effect from April 1.

Moreover in the southern state of Tamil Nadu which is scheduled to elect a new legislative assembly this month, both major parties — the ruling AIADMK and the DMK — have promised to introduce prohibition.

Curiously, this new mood swing in favour of prohibition has come despite a mountain of historical evidence that a forced ban on alcohol in the US in the 1930s and back home in Maharashtra in the 1960s, gravely damaged the law and order machinery and adversely impacted government budgets. The prohibition era in the US spurred the rise of the liquor mafia and gang warfare which necessitated massive investment in law and order machinery and eventually forced the lifting of prohibition in 1933.

Likewise the notorious criminal mafias which flourish in Maharashtra and Mumbai to this day were born in the prohibition era.

Moreover in Gujarat where prohibition has been in force since 1960, violent criminal gangs control the illicit liquor manufacture and distribution trade, making huge profits which often influence electoral outcomes in the state.

In current debates on the pros and cons of prohibition on television and the media, a forgotten factor is that while decreeing prohibition is easy, enforcing it requires boots on the ground and an efficient judicial system to quickly try and sentence offenders. In contemporary India with a police-people ratio of 118:100,000 as against the global average of 222 and 900 plus in Russia and Turkey, and a judges-people ratio of 15 per million cf. 55 and 105 per million in the US, prohibition is a non-starter.

In the circumstances introducing prohibition in any state of the Union is a prescription for the criminalisation and debasement of society.