Now I'm a great admirer of Pragati, so I sent in an entry.
In August 2007, the INI's Nitin Pai wrote to me to say I had won first prize in the competition. Needless to say, I was delighted.
Only, a year later my essay has still not appeared in the estimable Pragati.
Compounding that disappointment, my essay has also been removed from the INI site itself, even though Nitin's announcement says: "You can read his essay Free to Choose India over at The Indian National Interest."
Nope, that link no longer works and you can no longer read my essay there. Not in the estimable Pragati either.
It is appended below, though.
Postscript: In a comment on this post, as well as by email to me, Nitin explains: "all posts on the INI website dating before mid-December 2007 were lost when we had a bad server crash. There was no specific intention to make your essay "disappear". None of the posts and guest posts survived."
He also explained by email that luckily, none of the posts for the various subdomains on nationalinterest.in were lost.
Finally, Nitin says that the non-appearance of this essay in Pragati "was an editorial decision that I made."
Free to Choose India
A solution for Kashmir, you say? Bold, compelling, imaginative thinking? Well, how about a lesson drawn from a decade-and-a-half ago, when just such bold thinking bubbled up in this country?
By the early '90s, it was clear. Call it socialism, call it over-planning, call it hypocrisy, call it what you will -- but nearly 45 years of it had left this country still mired in widespread poverty, its economy a mess, its foreign exchange hoard down to an amount that you might have found in the retirement account of any given ambitious Western CEO. In a word, India was floundering. This was a country desperate for change, desperate for good news, desperate to find a way to unlock its vast potential. Where was the fresh thinking it so badly needed?
So what happened? The fresh thinking came along. Such words as "liberalization", "reform", "free markets" and "privatization" entered our lexicon. Some of them actually translated into real life. Since then, India has gone through convulsive changes that now have a momentum of their own, that can never be turned back. And they have addressed some of the very problems that prompted their introduction to begin with.
Indeed: Foreign exchange reserves are now at record highs. The country's economy is, we hear nearly every day, "booming". More and more Indian companies, keen and competitive like never before, are taking on the world. Our communications revolution is nothing short of breathtaking. This is no longer the country it was during its first 40-odd years, oh no. Given how many Indians are filled with optimism and new confidence, this is the new frontier of opportunity.
All because we allowed ourselves to think beyond old certainties.
Here's my feeling: in exactly the same way, Kashmir needs fresh thinking. Thinking beyond the old givens.
Think of where we are, with Kashmir. For 60 years, we have fought bitterly with our western neighbour over that gorgeous state. From the late '80s on, some three hundred thousand of its residents were persecuted and driven from the state, solely because of their religion. Terrorists killed many of them. The rest have spent close to two decades in squalid camps in Jammu and Delhi, truly the forgotten people of this country. In the state, terrorism has killed many more even though Indian security forces are everywhere.
You might say, this is a state desperate for change, desperate for good news, desperate for peace, desperate to find a way to unlock its great potential. How will Kashmiris find their own optimism and new confidence?
Fresh thinking, new ideas, that's how. I believe that we have held on to old baggage in Kashmir for just too long. It has left us the bloody stalemate that state has suffered for years now.
Time for a change. Time, I believe, for a simple thought that the singer Sting once expressed like this: "If you love someone, set them free." With Kashmir, put it this way: "If you want to keep Kashmir, set it free."
Less eloquent than Sting, but it works. Meaning, the way to keep Kashmir is to give Kashmiris the choice to leave.
Seems counterintuitive? Gets you angry, even? Well, hold on for a moment: don't shrink away! Don't recoil in horror! After all, you live in a newly confident India, where the fruits of fresh thinking are all around you. Right? So here's the true test of that confidence: do you believe in India enough to let people decide for themselves their future in this country?
Me, I do. I believe in India enough to make my life here. (Actually, that was true even before the reforms). In fact, that was a choice I consciously made -- to live my life here rather than elsewhere. Since I made it, I believe others will too, and for similar reasons. So somewhere deep inside me, I believe that if this India that I live in and have faith in can sincerely, transparently and fairly offer Kashmiris their future, Kashmiris will willingly choose India. As I did.
And I mean offer their future to all Kashmiris. Even the ones we have forgotten as they languish in those squalid camps.
So here's what I propose that India does.
First, announce to the world today -- not tomorrow, today -- and announce it prominently, that in exactly two years, India will hold a referendum to let Kashmir's people decide their future. I mean, put a date down in stone. Why two years? I think six months is too ambitious, and five years is too remote. Two years sounds about right to me. Still, this is a detail that can be discussed and worked out; the important thing is to announce a realistic date and demonstrate our resolve to stick to it.
Second, announce that the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir will vote in the referendum, meaning also what we Indians call Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. Announce too that it will be held among all the people who call that state home, including the three hundred thousand who were driven into camps in Jammu and Delhi.
Third, remind the world about the terms of the UN resolution that first urged such a referendum (47 of 1948). In particular, Clause 1, saying that Pakistani forces must withdraw from Kashmir as a first step towards holding the referendum. It could hardly be more explicit:
- "The Government of Pakistan should undertake to use its best endeavors:
a) To secure the withdrawal from the State of Jammu and Kashmir of tribesmen and Pakistani nationals not normally resident therein who have entered the State for the purposes of fighting, and to prevent any intrusion into the State of such elements and any furnishing of material aid to those fighting in the State."
Fifth, make sure the world pays attention to this process. Bring in teams of prominent international observers, allow journalists free access to the state and its people, let this continue all through the two years. Let the world see that this new India has nothing to hide, that it delivers on its promises. Let the world see just how we deliver.
Sixth, hold the referendum itself under the same gaze from the outside world. Observers, press, world leaders, whoever: let them see it happen for themselves, in every detail.
Seventh, and this is vital, report the result of the referendum fairly and fully. Then respect that result fairly and fully. Whatever it is.
The weak links? As I see them, points third and fourth above. What is the guarantee that Pakistan will withdraw its forces? And even if that happens, will Pakistan allow the referendum to happen in PoK? And what about terrorism and security concerns if our forces withdraw? There are no guarantees, of course; and Pakistan will similarly question our resolve and sincerity.
But there never are guarantees. Yet I believe that if the whole process is fair and clean, and is seen to be so, public opinion around the world will itself force Pakistan to play its part. The world's gaze will be the guarantee of security we need as we withdraw our forces. Ronald Reagan it was who once said, "Trust, but verify." I don't remember Reagan for much, but I do remember those words. We have to find ways to trust our neighbour, a difficult task after six decades of mutual hostility; but while we work at that, we use the weight of widespread public opinion to verify that they hold up their end of the bargain. We use that opinion as we never have before: as a skillfully wielded weapon to win hearts in Kashmir and around the world.
Again, I believe that such a process, carried out sincerely and transparently, will keep Kashmir Indian. For then the choice is dramatically clear. On one side, a fractious, fragile country with a history of regular lapses into military dictatorship; a poster-boy for the dangers of -- let's say it, the great hoax of -- religious nationalism. On the other, an optimistic, confident country that understands the meaning and profound promise of democracy in full measure; that has demonstrated such understanding in the way it has conducted this referendum.
Which would you choose? Go ahead, say it loud and with feeling: which would you choose?
Well, that's why I believe Kashmir would choose India.
Finally, a word about the national interest. Think again of the reforms. Why did this country set itself on that path one-and-a-half decades ago? Fundamentally, it was prompted by the need to better Indian lives -- and if you think about it, what clearer way is there to define the national interest?
That's the way to consider Kashmir. What is the national interest there? Is it thumbing our collective noses at Pakistan? Is it showing the world that, in the end, Pakistan is wrong and we are right? Is it the threat of nuclear assault on that country? Is it constant bloodshed?
Or is it, put simply, the promise to better Indian lives in that state? And thereby, better Indian lives across the country?
Look at it that way, and once again the path ahead is dramatically clear. Our national interest lies in allowing Kashmir to choose. Because that's the way to a better Kashmir for Kashmiris, a better India for us all.
So let's do it.