Jammu and Kashmir is arguably the most ailing region, suffering as it does from political instability, financial crisis, and a deficit of the salient benchmarks of good governance. The ailment is not self-generated, it is ascribed; its sources lie beyond the borders of the state.

A victim of colonialism and nationalism, the state still carries the disabilities imposed upon it by British colonialism, which, to serve its colonial interests, deprived the state of its locational advantages by snapping the commercial and cultural ties that connected it with Central Asia and Russia.

In the 1950s, China closed the borders of eastern Turkistan and Tibet, resulting in the complete collapse of J&K’s trade with Central Asia, Tibet, and China. The Indian state maintained the status quo with respect to closure of borders/trade routes, for it served its “national interests”. Moreover, J&K became a bone of contention between the two dominion states, India and Pakistan, which emerged on its borders, resulting in the closure of the remaining age-old routes (Kashmir had been connected to the world through that part of the subcontinent which came to be called Pakistan) on the one hand, and, on the other, the creation of permanent instability in the state that adversely affected every sphere, including governance.

In fact, for anyone interested in studying governance in Kashmir, it is a prerequisite to bear in mind this sovereign influence on the pattern of rule in the state. Choices regarding how the state is to be ruled; whether to treat it like other states or not; how selective the government should be in following its own constitution or the Indian constitution in their respective areas of jurisdiction; which policies should be adopted in their pure form and what should be modified or left out; whether to adopt the parameters of good governance or not; if it becomes necessary to respond, then what set of parameters should be followed in letter and in spirit, what should be regarded simply as a paper tiger, and what might be overlooked altogether – all these subjective choices are determined by the quest to maintain/restore order.

Being politically a crisis state, the priority of all the governments of J&K has been to win normalcy amidst troubled conditions by following the policy of coercion and consent.

While coercion was and is being used against those who represent counter-voices challenging the dominant discourse, material development and socio-cultural policies have been deployed to create social consent and establish moral leadership, with the ultimate purpose of overcoming opposing political forces so as to establish hegemony.

Coercive measures have included the use of armed forces, police, courts, and prisons, and the denial of democracy and civil liberties to liquidate or dominate antagonistic groups. Besides the use of coercive apparatuses, the state has also made use of what the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu has called “symbolic violence”, by marginalising, discriminating against, and shaming “outsider” groups both for reproducing its authority as well as for imposing silence, even generating consent.

Realising that mere dependence on coercive and authoritarian means to enforce rule seriously compromises the credibility of the government besides producing a deceptive peace, it was thought by the policy pundits (the group associated with Kashmir policy, headed by Nehru himself during the critical one and a half decades, 1947-62) that both the centre and the state governments should in unison shore up rule in Kashmir through whatever ideological, economic, cultural, social, political, and legal resources they had at their disposal to resist/create social consent.

State-led developmentalism was also favoured by the international environment of the time. “Development” had become the major international concern since the emergence of the “Third World”. How to bring about speedy socio-economic changes to improve the quality of life of the people in the Third World assumed significance for the leaders of newly independent countries. Among these leaders, Nehru and Sukarno were at the forefront.

International donor agencies and the US were also concerned about the development of the new nations, as they were apprehensive about the communist influence in poor countries. Thus, they mobilised resources and offered the services of their development pundits to advise “underdeveloped” countries in their pursuit of planned change and development.

The earliest phase after decolonisation is, therefore, called “developmentalism”, connoting an emphasis on development as the essential means of modernising and improving the condition of people. Just as the development discourse of donor agencies and the US was informed by politics, India’s development policy towards Kashmir is also informed by politics. Development became a tool to manage the state.

Irrespective of the changes in the governments and ideologies that have ruled at the centre, there has been consistency in the political rhetoric of the Indian leadership that development will bring normalcy in Kashmir.

Parallel to the flow of aid and the fanning out of development pundits from the US and donor agencies to Third World countries, the J&K government was provided liberal aid as well as planners, technicians, and subject experts by the central government to guide the state government in its pursuit of planned change and development.

This policy received great impetus during the prime ministership of Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammad, to whom Nehru entrusted the job of restoring peace, parting ways with Sheikh Abdullah’s development discourse within the framework of autonomous status for J&K.


Notwithstanding the federal character of the Indian state, the parameters of governance at both the national and the state level flow from the Indian constitution and from dynamic national policies which change with the times, under endogenous as well as exogenous pressures. It is binding upon state governments to follow the centre’s imperatives at least in those spheres which are considered critical for the nation-state’s needs.

Although J&K has its own constitution, there is fundamental uniformity in the essentials of the two constitutions, besides the fact that most of the central laws now stand applied to J&K.

Up to the beginning of the 1980s, the model of governance adopted by India under the domineering influence of Nehru was informed by Indian socialism, characterised by a mixed economy, the “licence-permit-quota raj”, a maximalist state, paternalistic behaviour of the government, inward-looking policy, planned development, and a high degree of centralisation. The government in Kashmir also followed the same model even during autonomous rule (1948-53), evidently because the Naya Kashmir (New Kashmir) Programme drafted by National Conference during the freedom movement was also informed by a progressive ideology.

Indeed, J&K took a lead in implementing its predominantly socialist-oriented Naya Kashmir Programme. The abolition of feudalism, nationalisation of important industries, cooperative movement, the policy of license-permit-quota-raj (LPQRP), the promotion of public sector, and the policy of soft subsidies, soft taxation, soft credit and soft administrative prices, expanded service sector beyond requirements and other measures espoused by socialism and followed by the governments in Kashmir have to be understood as much in the context of the public policy guidelines of the central government and the financial support received from the latter for its implementations as in the context of J&K’s own constitution and public policy.

The state-centric approach to governance was also necessitated by the compulsions of a fragmented nation, where national unity was not organic but state-facilitated and “manufactured”. Kashmir being a mini-India with regard to its sub-national diversity, the state-centric approach to governance became a compulsion here too.

Moreover, both the Congress and the National Conference had identical ideological moorings, which, inter alia, favoured a centralised polity with the state as an overarching authority.

“The ideals of citizenship”, says Srirupa Roy “were also articulated in similar state-centred terms.” “Nehruvian India’s most frequently invoked figure was that of the ‘infantile’ citizen and his need for state tutelage and protection in order to realise the potentials to citizenship,” placing the state at the heart of individual and natural life. The Nehruvian policy remained vigorously in vogue until Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980. She introduced some pro-liberalisation and market-friendly economic reforms, alongside centralising the party structure around a personalised and increasingly populist mode of leadership.

The late 1970s and early 1980s saw a radical transformation in the role of government, propounded by neo-liberal theorists and promoted by capitalist democracies and their controlled global institutions. To overcome the fiscal crisis faced by advanced capitalist democracies, neoliberal theorists and management gurus conceived of the crisis and believed that the economic crisis would be overcome by changing the role of government from rowing to steering.

Thus, calls for a minimal state, a stateless state, rolling back the state, reinventing the state, more governance and less government, network governance, and the like became the dominant notes for neoliberal theorists, leading to the public sector reforms of the 1980s and 1990s. With this, “governance” came to be used as a specific term to describe the shift from a hierarchical bureaucracy towards a greater use of markets, quasi-markets, and networks,especially in the delivery of public services.

Experience has, however, shown that state and government continue to be central to the governance process. Even in those countries where neoliberal reforms have been quite intensive, the state has “scarcely rolled back at all”.

Emphasising the centrality of state in governance, Jon Pierre and Guy Peters argue that, “despite persistent rumours to the contrary, [the state] remains the key political actor in society and the predominant expression of collective interests”. Mark Bevir, who favours the post-1980s definition of “governance”, is however not averse to using it as a blanket term for all patterns of rule. He says:

“More generally still governance can be used to refer all patterns of rule, including the kind of hierarchical state that is often said to have existed before the public sector reforms of the 1980s and 1990s...

However, if we are to use governance in this general way, perhaps we need to describe the changes in the state since the 1980s using an alternative phrase such as ‘the new governance’.”

Apart from the arguments put forth by scholars supporting a state-centric, relational approach to governance, I have special reason to agree with this thesis because, in Kashmir, the hierarchical governance structure continues to hold its ground, and the state has maintained its position as the pivotal player in framing and implementing policies and strategies to respond to challenges.

In the difficult conditions of Kashmir, the state has assumed even more power, to the extent of forming part of the backdrop of everyday life. Governance through markets, associations, and community engagement is peripheral.

However, by a “state-centric, relational approach” to governance, I do not mean the centrality of the state in governance process to the exclusion of the environment in which the state functions. Indeed, it would be naïve to take this position.

Therefore, I have also taken note of the importance of situating the priorities and actions of governments within the context of their own respective environments, which in today’s world are constituted by a mix of endogenous and exogenous pressures and opportunities. This approach is informed by the state-in-society discourse, which maintains that while states are responsive to social interests, they also retain some capacity to act independently against powerful social actors.

True, the will of the state and the priorities of the government do not always capture the interests of the society, not least in cases where, like Kashmir, there is a struggle for hegemony between the opposing narratives represented by the state and other powerful social actors. Yet, in such cases too, forging alliances with different sections of society by using power and patronage to disarticulate and disempower their opponents fits into the state’s priorities.

For example, in the difficult situation of Kashmir, where the support of the Muslims has always been crucial for the legitimacy of Indian rule, the central government employed two main strategies to win over the Muslims.

One was to cultivate and make alliances with the ideologically favourable Muslim elite, and install some of them as heads of government to generate consent in the community, with the belief that it will somehow satisfy their psychological instinct of “self-rule”. This policy was also aimed to draw mainstream discourse closer to the people by co-opting political society in the localities through the Muslim governing class.

Further, to impoverish its opponents politically, the state, within the limits of its financial and other constraints, embarked on the policy of satisfying the “acceptable” aspirations of the society to isolate the rebellious instinct of the people from the basic priorities of life, to preclude this “instinct” from assuming violent expression.

It is also observed that the state uses culture and ideology, by imposing its own meanings on them to reinforce the state narrative and weaken the counter-narrative, thus perpetuating its hegemony. The political institutions, tools, strategies, and tactics employed by governments have been crucial in setting constraints on human subjectivity and ensuring the implementation of “official goals”; but at the same time, changing pressures from within and without have continuously modified (if not making structural changes in) the approach to governance.

Indeed, governance in Kashmir is underlined by change in the broader framework of continuity (political and military status quo) in response to shifting endogenous and exogenous pressures.

Excerpted with permission from What Happened To Governance In Kashmir, Aijaz Ashraf Wani, Oxford University Press.