Darjeeling is deep inside India’s strategic “Chicken’s Neck”, which connects northeast India with the rest of the country.
The Darjeeling hills are burning, and so is Srinagar, in the Jhelum Valley of Kashmir. Both conflagrations are within India, separated by a distance of a thousand miles. Street violence and unrest have engulfed the once beautiful hill station of Darjeeling in the Dooars tea garden region of upper West Bengal, while Srinagar, another popular tourist destination, is being similarly devastated by mob violence engineered by jihadi terrorists.
Darjeeling is deep inside India’s strategic “Chicken’s Neck”, which connects northeast India with the rest of the country, and is contiguous with eastern Nepal, the Chumbi Valley region of Tibet and Bangladesh. Srinagar is an urban jungle whose downtown slums provide hideouts for separatists seeking azaadi from India, but now desperately on the run, attempting to evade the sustained manhunt by the Indian security forces.
The scorched earth in the Darjeeling Dooars has been ignited by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) demanding Gorkhaland as a separate state within the Indian Union, though the possibility of the movement fronting as a cat’s paw for hostile external interests to stir up separatism in eastern India at an appropriate time cannot be entirely overruled, and requires further investigation by the police and intelligence agencies.
In Kashmir, there is little to really differentiate between assorted jihadi organisations like the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Hizbul Mujahideen and Jaish-e-Muhammad. Internecine squabbles aside, they are all creatures of the Pakistan Army and the ISI, but a relatively recent phenomenon is the increasing evidence of the presence in Kashmir of the Islamic State (ISIS), aka Daesh, a pan-Islamic organisation with an agenda of creating an initial bridgehead in Kashmir as a “forward assembly area” in India for ultimate establishment of an Islamic Khilafat, or Caliphate, in the country. There are reports of the black flags of Daesh appearing on the streets downtown Srinagar after evening prayers.
The overall political environment in the country has been vitiated by the head-on collision between a conservative right-wing government at the Centre and vociferous Opposition parties in Parliament. The situation now resembles a flaming train wreck and is being stoked further by strident demagogues reflecting the intense personal antipathies on both sides. This has often resulted in widespread political mob violence and a mindless destruction of priceless World Heritage treasures, such as the famous toy train of Darjeeling.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, an uncompromising lady, has strongly opposed any bifurcation of the state and has clamped down on political violence in Darjeeling. But the situation appears to be dangerously incendiary because any ethnic divide between the hills and the plains regions in West Bengal can create an explosive tinderbox, which can be exploited by hostile foreign agencies, and has the potential to adversely impact the national security of the country. It is therefore imperative that all political parties, whether in Srinagar, Kolkata, or for that matter in New Delhi, keep a tight leash on their spokesmen and lumpen elements among the foot soldiers of their cadres.
That said, it is also true that the demand for Gorkhaland as a separate state within the country presents a constitutional conundrum, which cannot be kept on hold indefinitely, and calls for a sagacious adjudication at the earliest.
Elsewhere, in Jammu and Kashmir, the political and strategic compulsions of 1947 under which India introduced Article 370 into the Constitution of India governing the accession of the erstwhile princely state into the Indian Union must be revisited and set in its correct historical perspective. The provisions of the article have created a sharp political and emotive faultline between J&K and the rest of the country, which over time has become the Achilles’ heel of India’s national security. It is time now to revisit Article 370 and assess its further relevance in the context of the ongoing “1000-year war” launched by Pakistan. If required, Article 370 and its connected legislation should be repealed.
Jammu and Kashmir also carries the historical legacy of the Sikh empire established by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, out of which it was originally created. The state always was an artificial amalgamation of the diverse and ethnically disparate communities that inhabited the region, sometimes in mutual conflict, but overall subject to the dispensation of the Dogra rulers of the former Kashmir riyasat. These lapsed at Independence, when Pakistan was established as a contiguous entity. Now, after seven decades of almost continuous border conflicts and proxy wars with an endemically hostile neighbour, it may be time for a reappraisal of the internal structure of the state, and its makeover by a trifurcation into Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh as three separate entities within the Indian Union. There may perhaps be no time like the present to remove this basic flaw in the structure of the Indian Union itself, by the recreation of the three states, to better coordinate the security of the ultra-sensitive northwestern borders of India. Political opponents in Jammu and Srinagar, as well as New Delhi will, of course, fiercely contest this, but the problems of J&K demand a corrective surgery, which is already long overdue.
Also long overdue is the payback to Pakistan. The flow of body bags and coffins of Indian soldiers and the pain, grief and human suffering concomitant with it, is only one way from Pakistan to India at present. This requires to be reversed. Pakistan’s strategy of proxy war against India can be appropriately “reverse engineered” in India, and redirected back towards its original source.