India makes Kashmir poorer, not richer

Omair Ahmad
Omair AhmadJul 13, 2016 | 16:05

India makes Kashmir poorer, not richer

Every time protests erupt in Kashmir, some idiot muses on how Kashmiris enjoy higher development indicators than most other Indians, and how J&K receives massive subsidies.

The point is to show how much India gives to Kashmiris, and how ungrateful they are. The truth is exactly the opposite.

Indian governance has been the cause of the impoverishment of Kashmir, and the progress that Kashmiris have made has been despite Indian misgovernance rather than because of it.


Before Independence, Kashmir was one of the most benighted areas within the larger ambit of the Indian states paying obeisance to the British Empire.

Famines were the norm under Dogra rule, not merely because – as Mridu Rai has shown in her brilliant book Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects – the British encouraged the Dogras to see themselves as Hindu rulers.

One of the main reasons that the Kashmir Valley was carved out of the Sikh Empire and sold to the Dogras was so that a Hindu ruler would block the "Muslim corridor" that extended from Afghanistan.

The neglect and exploitation of the Muslim population of Kashmir was part and parcel of this, and led to impoverishment and starvation. And to complicate matters, the Dogras turn to some Kashmiri Pandit families as their main factotums in the Valley, poisoning inter-religious relations by seeding it with economic resentments.

Sheikh Abdullah.

It is little wonder that while Gandhi led the Quit India movement against British rule – similarly exploitative, racist and focussed on religious difference – Shiekh Abdullah was leading a Quit Kashmir movement against the British.


One of the successes of the movement was Sheikh Abdullah’s changing his Muslim Conference into a National Conference, and with the help of leading Kashmiri Pandit activists such as Prem Nath Bazaz, turning the anti-Dogra movement into a more inclusive movement, rather than representative of one community alone.

The other success was the great land reform that was the principle achievement of Sheikh Abdullah before he was jailed.

The land reform – more successful than anywhere else in India – allowed poor Kashmiris to finally own some agricultural land, ending the poverty, hunger and famine that had been endemic to the Valley under Dogra rule.

It also earned the Sheikh the undying enmity of Hindu supremacists such as Shyam Prasad Mookerjee, who died in jail protesting the land reforms.

It was these actors that turned Nehru against the Sheikh, as Bazaz documented, leading to the imprisonment of the man largely responsible for the integration of J&K into India, and whose National Conference held off the raiders from Pakistan before the Indian Army landed at the Srinagar airport.

This failure by Delhi could not turn back the great strides that Kashmiris made in development because of the land reform. Even now, the majority of the Valley is dependent on agriculture and horticulture for its well-being.


Indian subsidies barely touch this sector, and so it is their own hard work, and the work of its own leaders, that have given the health that Kashmiris enjoy. Not our handouts.

In fact, India has impoverished Kashmir. It has taken away most rights from Kashmir to exploit its hydropower resources under the Indus Waters Treaty. Most of the hydroelectric dams operated in J&K are run by the National Hydropower Corporation (NHPC).

About 50 per cent of the electricity produced by NHPC is from projects in J&K, and the state receives little of the benefits.

In fact, the papers related to the agreement of many of these projects are missing, leaving a black hole of legality when it comes to when the projects should have been returned to J&K.

And the subsidies? Well, the subsidies are largely for industries and urban areas, and that benefits Jammu far more than the Valley, so in the name of Kashmir, we spend on Jammu, and then ask, why are the Kashmiris so ungrateful?

In fact, another large part of the grants go into the upkeep of security forces – whose lack of accountability for their crimes is legion.

In the Patribhal case, members of the Indian Army murdered five labourers and tried to pass them off as militants, the military first argued in the Supreme Court that they were allowed to murder who they would like, without oversight.

When the Supreme Court objected, the Army gave itself a clean chit, even after the CBI had named the guilty men in the case.

These are the people whose upkeep we pay for, and for which we expect Kashmiris to feel grateful.

Beyond the hydropower, beyond the subsidies, there is the fact that the Kashmir Valley, connected for centuries to China, to Central Asia, is now a prison, with one access route – through Jammu.

India has delivered Kashmir right back to its former rulers, who block the one road that Kashmiris can trade through, and whose mobs can murder Kashmiri transporters at will.

Hell, even if they get past Jammu, the traders are forced to sell their produce only to a cartel of fruit buyers in Delhi.

Instead of azadi, we give Kashmiris Azadpur Mandi. What a joy.

We have failed Kashmiris at every step, stolen their resources, their rights, their economic freedom – and then we wonder why they do not love us.

Oh, I forget, yes, there are people who have become rich because of us – these are the politicians we bribe – as minister of state for external affairs VK Singh so helpfully told us.

Yeah, maybe the paid servants should be grateful to their masters. Maybe that is the subsidies that should gall us, and which we should say should be stopped.

Last updated: July 13, 2016 | 18:26
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