The India I grew up in had one thing in common — we loved discussing things. This applied to most of India’s problems as well. When I was growing up, I actually thought the job of grown-ups was to have meetings. Another classic problem to be discussed forever was Kashmir.
Committees, panels, commissions, conferences, symposiums, seminars, conventions, forums and retreats were held year after year. People made careers being Kashmir experts. That expertise, however, was limited to discussing the Kashmir issue, which to their credit, they did rather well. However, ‘solving’ the problem was never on their agenda. They received praise on their beautiful analysis, language and sensitivity to the issue. Where was the incentive to actually solve anything?
All this against the backdrop of a DUD (discuss-until-death) Indian culture, it became normal to never solve the Kashmir issue. Whenever someone suggested a solution (removing Article 370 for instance), they were attacked as naïve and dumb or even biased. Politics kept the issue alive, making a solution even harder.
India’s DUD culture would be amusing but for the costs we had to bear. This bill to pontificate and do nothing on Kashmir has been massive. Kashmir has bled, and we lost tens of thousands of innocent lives over the last 70 years. The second big loss has been the money. One can conservatively assume that a quarter of India’s defence budget is because of the Kashmir problem.
Go back the last 70 years, compound the money at current rates and see what a massive amount we spent on this. We could have used this money for development, not just in Kashmir, but around the country. There are several other costs. These include the loss of GDP the state could have created or the fear that was instilled in people due to terrorism.
The problem desperately needed a solution. Article 370 created an extra boundary between the state and India. The Article allowed a separate constitution for the state, and ability to make several separate laws. If the laws were used well by local leaders, it could have benefited the state. Given the extra autonomy, J&K could have aimed to become a hub of economic activity. While obviously not to that level, but J&K could have aspired to become a Dubai, Hong Kong or Singapore. Of course, none of this happened.
The local leaders were happy to incite differences, keep people backward, peddle a victimhood narrative and keep coming back to power. As a result, in 70 years, J&K became no Dubai or Singapore. It became worse than the rest of India, a terror-infested territory where nobody wanted to invest, visit or create jobs. There was a chance to be the land of hope and opportunity, but it became a land of despair and frustration instead. Blaming the people who did it is not the point (and experts do that sort of stuff anyway).
The point is we had to move forward — with a solution. And in life or politics, solutions do not come from discussion, they come from action. And action is what happened, when the government moved, secured the state for a while and passed the required amendments in Parliament and removed the albatross of Article 370 from the state.
It is important to note this has come at a time when India is changing. The New India likes the ‘discuss less, do more’ approach to running the country. I am not saying it is always a better approach. Discussions have their place in life, and can help avoid problems. But for an action-averse nation suffering from analysis-paralysis, it is a welcome change. Demonetisation, GST or now Article 370 — issues that could be discussed for ten more years, were acted upon. It doesn’t mean that everything went perfect (or will go perfect). It just means there is now a real chance of change, which would have never happened in yet another symposium or conference.
The work on Kashmir is not done. Winning the trust of the local population, especially after the harsh security measures of the past and rampant divisive politics will be difficult. Not everything will go according to the plan. That’s the point of an action-oriented approach. You do things and fix problems as they come. If you just sit in fear and pontificate for decades, no change will ever happen.
There’s a life lesson for all of us from the Article 370 move. Dwelling on your problems forever will lead you nowhere. Action does.
The new India is MALD (More Action, Less Discussion). It doesn’t just like to discuss, it acts. After all, the famous tagline isn’t “just discuss it”, it is “just do it”.