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  Opinion   Oped  14 Apr 2017  Find a way out in J&K... Time is short

Find a way out in J&K... Time is short

The writer is Editor-in-Chief, Financial Chronicle; Visiting Fellow ORF and eminent author. He loves the space where politics and economics converge.
Published : Apr 14, 2017, 3:18 am IST
Updated : Apr 14, 2017, 3:18 am IST

The Valley’s recent flirtation with blood lust and violence have reached a heightened level, and it appears the Rubicon has been crossed.

CRPF personnel stand guard at a polling station during repoll in Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency in Budgam district of Kashmir. (Photo: PTI)
 CRPF personnel stand guard at a polling station during repoll in Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency in Budgam district of Kashmir. (Photo: PTI)

Take a murder weapon and wanton violence and call it deterrence — that is the undiluted view from the Kashmir Valley. People always seek a messianic saviour, and while it may not conform with Darwinian evolution, great leaders, specially those who head nations, qualify for this role. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a chance to provide a breakthrough after the tragic events of last year in Kashmir. Like others before him, he too spoke of reconciliation and settlement within the four walls of the Constitution, but alas appears to have failed to actualise his vision. The winter lull is when he should have got all stakeholders to the table and tried to resolve some key sticking points. On the other side of the Banihal Pass, the separatists are like weeds: pull one out, another grows! The dreaded Masarat Alam Bhat, ideological heir to Syed Ali Shah Geelani, may well be incarcerated, but a lowly Burhan Wani managed to unify and embolden the rival Hurriyat factions — headed by Syed Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik. People aren’t able to comprehend the Wani phenomenon: why he has become a symbol of war against the Indian State. He was a terrorist who took up arms and misguided or otherwise fought the security forces, and was killed. To romanticise him and turn him into a purported freedom fighter seems like the theatre of the absurd. And yet he has caught the imagination of Kashmiris, who have turned a terrorist into a hero. His funeral became the talking point of the Valley, while that of even late CM Mufti Muhammad Sayeed couldn’t pull in a tenth of the crowds.

The Valley’s recent flirtation with blood lust and violence have reached a heightened level, and it appears the Rubicon has been crossed. A deep subliminal sense of anger, hurt and alienation afflicts the Valley’s people, and particularly the unemployed youth. Long years of drilling a particular message by a handful of vengeful Svengalis secured by Indian forces and funded by both sides of the border, coupled with Wahabi political Islam overriding religious Islam slithering across the Internet, has changed the thought process of the citizenry. Syed Geelani’s long years of withering opposition with his theological identification has finally paid off. The mockery over the Srinagar Lok Sabha bypoll and the cold-blooded violence to terrorise one and all is seminal. Not even in 1999 and 2004, when polling dropped to 12 and 18 per cent respectively, had one seen a complete boycott of the rule of law. The violence was orchestrated of course to ensure people didn’t set foot outside their homes, but the Valley has undergone a dangerous shift in 2017 — the mood is indignant, the drift painful and India has once again become a foreign country. The sense of victimhood has scarred and brutalised psyches, with the violent and bloody summer of 2016 a watershed.

If chief minister Mehbooba Mufti cannot guarantee polling in what was her own constituency Anantnag (where her brother Tassaduq Hussain is standing, but the polling has been put off till May 25), what does it tell you about the situation on the ground? It means either the state administration has lost complete control or is virtually a part of what is now an armed struggle.

There have been many flashpoints in Kashmir, each time one has waited for the scars to heal and for people to return to the mainstream, but these past six-eight months have changed many who inhabit the Valley. The Sunni majority has won the war of babble, its shrill voice drowning out the saner minority, which believes in rationality and India. The Shias reduced to enclaves, except in Budgam, where they are in a majority but have lost their voice in the noisy azadi din. The 293-km Jammu-Srinagar distance is now interminable. Kashmir, it seems, has opted to not return to the mainstream, but chosen soft separatism and mainstreamed violence itself. A zero-sun game that is costing both sides — India and Kashmir. While India retains territorial sovereignty, the byproduct of a controversial accession, it hasn’t been able to reach out to the people of the Valley.

Rhetoric must give way to dialogue, there is no alternative. Yes, Kashmir is an integral part of India. Yes, the Hurriyat is up to mischief, obsessed as it is with azadi. Yes, Pakistan wants India’s vivisection and is waging war through proxies. All these facts are true, but what is an inescapable reality is the constant friction has put Kashmiris in a bitter blue funk. Obviously there is no question of azadi, a handful of people living in a Valley 135 km by 32 km long and wide. The PDP had initially coined the narrative “Goli se nahi, bholi se masla hal hoga”, which was bang on, for that’s the only way to deal with people with fissiparous tendencies, bring them to the negotiating table, set terms of reference and discuss things threadbare.

The table awaits a series of confidence-building steps, which will hopefully alleviate the pain and suffering of Kashmiris. India’s “deep state” must understand nuances of the Kashmir problem, and how complex it has become after last year’s unrest. Kashmiris’ preservation as a sub-national identity has to be guaranteed by New Delhi.

Investment in a capital asset or employment-generating project is a must. In the interregnum, the revival of HMT watch factories in Zainakote and Bari Brahmana (HMT Chinar Watches Ltd), both of which are shut, is possible.  Zainakote, for instance, on 400 kanals of land, now used by the CRPF, should be restarted post-haste. Send the signal that the government means business: Zainakote used to produce almost eight lakh watches a year. One doesn’t know if watches are still viable from this factory, but the Centre can use this factory as a CBM. Similarly, one of the largest producers of silk in the world, the famous Silk Factory at Ram Bagh, is in ruins due to the failure of successive governments and official apathy.

As a Kashmiri, I abhor this talk of “independence”, it is a fantasy that no Indian will ever allow. At the same time, constructive, all-pervasive confabulations about the future role of Kashmiris living and cohabiting in India is vital. If this means a level of autonomy, then so be it. Self-determination is unacceptable, but regulated self-rule can be considered. The bitter schism between Jammu and the Valley, now even more pronounced as a Hindu-Muslim divide, must be bridged swiftly. How the extreme right of the Indian polity (BJP) and the extreme right of Kashmiri politics (PDP) can meld is something that one has no prognosis for, but a resolution of some sort is absolutely vital. Time is of the essence.

Tags: narendra modi, burhan wani, srinagar lok sabha, mehbooba mufti