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The return of the djinn to Kashmir

Anand Sahay is a senior journalist based in Delhi.
Published : May 8, 2017, 12:11 am IST
Updated : May 8, 2017, 12:11 am IST

The national anthem blares and bored entertainment-seekers must snap to attention

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti during a meeting in New Delhi. (Photo: PTI)
 Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti during a meeting in New Delhi. (Photo: PTI)

The djinn has returned to Kashmir Valley after a quarter-century — the guns are out, the blaze has started. But in New Delhi the discussion is not about how to wean the young away from the suicidal course of dancing to Pakistan’s martial tune at the expense of their own religious traditions and culture, or on communicating with people or taking on dissenters with words that persuade, not with guns.

The new formula seems to be “boli se naheen, goli sey” — forget about talks, our guns will lead us to glory; we have the resolve.

That’s why, in recent days, chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, whose credibility has been destroyed by her partner, the BJP, by making her appear its vassal, and governor N.N. Vohra have both been met with cold disregard in Delhi when they showed the gumption to suggest that delaying political engagement in the Valley may prove costly.

“Not now” is the impatient message RSS’ and BJP’s pointman for Kashmir, Ram Madhav, leaves behind in Srinagar on the issue of holding talks. He is silent on when, or in what conditions. Perhaps the BJP-RSS envisage that a solution can only be found when the protesting Kashmiri wears himself out.

In the Valley, they are calling this the “Doval doctrine”, after national security adviser Ajit Doval. They are wrong. A doctrine of such sweep, which places India’s democracy and national integration on the line, must be owned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself. The NSA is just a bureaucrat.

Instead of embedding India’s security in integrative democratic politics and policies, the discussion instigated by the ruling dispensation is on raising the propaganda pitch of Hindutva through “nationalism”, by which is certainly not meant the patriotic love of the land that emerged from the fight against British rule.

Phoney nationalistic fervour is being force-fed at cinemas. The national anthem blares and bored entertainment-seekers must snap to attention. At universities, there is a race to please the HRD ministry. Vice-chancellors scurry to find the tallest pole on which to hoist the national standard — in the making of which the kisan-mazdoor played the stellar role while Hindutvawadis played no part at all — so that the young may be encouraged to “breathe the spirit of nationalism”.

The young Delhi college girl Gurmehar Kaur, whose father died a hero’s death on the Pakistan front, is being pilloried by Union ministers because she wouldn’t heed the injunction to fall in line with drill-yard nationalism. Meanwhile, Kashmir conspicuously slips into strategic anarchy and violence which, going by the signs, can only presage tragedy. School and college girls are now filing out and hurling stones at the Army. This had not happened in the militancy of the late ’80s and early ’90s.

If we are not careful, there could be a lose-lose situation for all. As the flower of Kashmir’s youth is mowed down, India will lose its democratic shine — ironically, under a leader who commands a bigger majority in Parliament than any of his predecessors in a quarter-century. Or, is it the seemingly impregnable majority, which is leading this man into pathways of hubris, which clouds his reason?

It is evident there are four key differences between then — the first militancy, a quarter-century ago — and now. The first three concern the militants, the last the national political leadership. Together, they point to a worsened situation — one that will encourage Pakistan and its closest ally, China, to frame anti-India moves.

One, there is no more a fear factor in Kashmir. The weapons of men in uniform are today up for snatching, as happened in Anantnag last week with the CRPF. Earlier weapons of only the J&K police used to be snatched. When the security forces did a cordon and search in the past, the villagers would run away out of fear, but not now.

Two, in the earlier militancy, young men gathered up gumption to cross the Line of Control to go into PoK for training at ISI-designated camps. Nowadays, arms training, and to an extent arms caches, are home-delivered. This has happened in the last three years, on Mr Modi’s watch.

Three, there is now no pro-independence party or faction left in the Kashmir Valley in any effective, real sense although Yasin Malik is still around. He and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq are obliged to kowtow to separatist stalwart Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the grandfather of all pro-Pakistan elements, considering the situation on the ground.

Indeed, practically all-militant protest now is conducted by pro-Pakistan elements. In the earlier militancy, Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, which stood for independence and not merger with Pakistan, was a force to reckon with until it was decimated by Pakistan’s ISI so that the latter’s real proxy, the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), may gain total control, and it has. The HM carries the ideology of the Jamaat-e-Islami, although the Jamaat itself does not get involved in day-to-day operational politics, like Hindutva’s RSS.

Four, and crucially, the present national leadership has allowed its regional ally PDP of Ms Mufti to get discredited, step by step. But in an earlier period, Delhi tried to foster the regional Kashmiri partner, which was more in tune with local sensitivities. This gave elbow room to the Centre and the state government. That creative space, which afforded scope for governance ingenuity, has disappeared.

There is an unconnected and extremely important fifth factor, namely, that until only a few months ago, many even among the most rabid Islamic Right in the Valley desired a dialogue with the Centre. Non-official interlocutors would be sometimes asked: “Do you have access to the PM’s office and can you ask them to initiate talks? If you can’t, why are you wasting time talking to us? It has no meaning.”

Why is it necessary to have a continuous political conversation in the Kashmir context when Kashmir is an integral part of India? The answer is that this is a necessity flowing from a constitutional requirement.

The Maharaja of Kashmir (a Hindu, incidentally), who otherwise desired to remain independent, acceded to India in 1947 on the specific condition that J&K would enjoy a certain autonomy — which was defined — even after it joined India. Since this autonomy gets eroded in practice, continual conversations are needed to straighten out matters. An important cause of the present militancy is the Centre’s adamant refusal to engage in talks. Pakistan exploits this situation as J&K is a border state.

Tags: kashmir valley, mehbooba mufti, n.n. vohra