Centre Must Make Some Hard Calls In Kashmir

by Tushar Gupta - Jun 3, 2022 04:34 PM +05:30 IST
Centre Must Make Some Hard Calls In Kashmir PM Narendra Modi
Snapshot
  • Given the events of the last few months of killings of Hindus in Kashmir, PM Modi must make some hard calls and clearly define some long-term objectives.

The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is attempting the unthinkable and almost impossible in Kashmir. For the state that has been served an aggressive diet of separatism for more than seven decades and where the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits, more than three decades ago, is mostly denied and often justified, the current pursuit of the Centre to ensure economic, cultural, and social integration with the rest of the country is being met with fierce resistance on the ground.

Put simply, Modi wants to shut down the entire industry that benefits from keeping Kashmir at a tipping point, both in India and abroad, and the stakeholders are fighting back.

The resistance can be attributed to the political class in the state, one that has taken the governments in the Centre for a toss by extorting endless benefits, monetary and political, on the pretext of ensuring peace in the valley, one that has been an active collaborator with the regimes across the border, promising to keep the separatist movement alive, and one that has cheated the citizens of Kashmir, mainly Muslims, by inciting generation after generation against the Indian state.

While this political class, now popularly known as the Gupkar alliance, has been rendered obsolete post-revocation of Article 370, their political tentacles are visible each time a non-Muslim is murdered in Kashmir. While choosing to keep mum about the Jihadist mindset that runs through the civil society, sponsored by radicals within the valley and from Pakistan, the political class twists the narrative to justify the murders as an answer to the Centre’s imaginary 'fascism' against minorities across India.

In Kashmir, the Muslim civil society can be categorised into two segments. One, the majority, that is silenced by the gun, and two, the collaborators, a significant number, that is instrumental in facilitating the targeted killings of minorities.

Beyond the radicalised young minds that pick up guns for the cause of Jihad against the Indian state, there are civilians, known as overground workers, working with terrorists in several capacities, like shielding them from the army, facilitating their logistics, enabling contact for them, procuring ration and other supplies, helping them with information and so on.

The magnitude of the civilian involvement can be gauged from the fact that the current administration in the Union Territory had to terminate several government employees because of their links with terrorist groups.

The objective of this resistance is two-fold. One, to disrupt the return and decimate any possibility of the rightful return of Kashmiri Pandits back to Kashmir. The government, attempting to relocate the Pandits back to the valley through employment, accommodation, and by restarting cases pertaining to the access of properties that were lost during the exodus, is trying to correct at least some of the sins of the genocide, but the pushback is strong, and on expected lines.

The second objective is to disrupt the normalcy that is returning to Kashmir. In the last year, since the pandemic restrictions have been lifted, tourism has boomed in the valley, thus furthering the idea of economic integration with the rest of India. While the influx of tourists or return of some Pandits for employment prospects may not be the complete normal the government is aiming for, nevertheless, it was an important start, one that is now threatened by this pushback.

The endgame is to keep the valley burning, without economic progress, to help the traditional political class and their friends in Pakistan to reap the benefits of a wretched state, and to convert Kashmir into an export unit of Jihadist ideology across India.

Even with the most well-intentioned policymakers at the helm, there appears to be a lack of clarity on key issues. No one can question the right of Kashmiri Pandits to return to the valley, and they must, but what must be the new normal under which they must return, for clearly, things cannot be as socially integrated as they were pre-1990, not even remotely.

Thus, what is the future of Kashmiri Pandits and other minorities in Kashmir when it comes to coexisting with a population that still suffers from an identity crisis and is still, largely, undecided if they are Kashmiris first or Indians first.

The government, as the governments before them, have flushed the State with monetary resources, hoping to win the minds and hearts of the Muslim population there. Post-2019, the government can hardly be blamed for without economic integration with the rest of India, the valley will only be a breeding ground for radicals and extremist groups, and by ushering development through infrastructure, investments, and rural upliftment, the government hopes it can curb the separatist agenda that was as good as flesh and blood to an average Kashmiri Muslim, even the ones in their teens.

However, hoping against hope, to what extent is the government willing to politically bleed itself before realising that a firm balance must be maintained between the carrot and the stick?

To say that the government did not anticipate the resistance or the pushback or that the security agencies and military were caught napping would be an incorrect assessment. However, the government, given the events of the last few months, must up the ante urgently. In Kashmir, Modi must make some hard calls and clearly define some long-term objectives.

One, the question of giving back statehood to Kashmir should be dismissed right away, at least for another ten years. Kashmir, not Jammu, is not ready to be a state. The political class in Kashmir cannot be trusted to run the State affairs, not with their unapologetic stance towards terrorism and their perpetual inclination towards having a separate identity that is closer to Pakistan than India.

Further, the decision to prolong the governor’s rule in Kashmir should act as a deterrent for the political class, including three former chief ministers, that advocates an anti-India agenda. They either toe the national line or the Centre must reduce them to sorry figures in the bloodied pages of history. Even amongst the young majority population, the traditional political class is losing popularity. The government must capitalise on this sentiment.

Two, it is high time that the identity of Jammu is separated from Kashmir. Since 1947, Jammu has been the distant second priority for policymakers in the centre. Going forward, the political, economic, infrastructural, social, and cultural agenda for Jammu must be distinct from Kashmir. With its own state assembly, the Hindu majority must be allowed to formulate new laws pertaining to land ownership, domicile, etc. to begin with.

The one argument against statehood for Jammu is that it will reduce Kashmir, a union territory, to a border state with a constant threat of radicalisation from Pakistan. However, as the events of the last 70 years indicate, extremism in Kashmir is independent of the constitutional stature of Jammu.

Three, in the larger calculus, it is imperative for Kashmiri Hindus to become economic and political stakeholders for their long-term prosperity and security. A two-fold approach is necessary. One, while ensuring Kashmir remains a union territory, it should be made mandatory for every District Development Council to be made up of at least one-third Hindus and other minorities, especially in Kashmir, even if their participation in the affairs is remotely done.

Two, government jobs in Kashmir, where recruitment has been plagued with corruption before 2019, must now have 50 per cent reservations for Hindus and other minorities. Businesses beyond a certain turnover threshold must be levied a cess that goes into the development and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits.

To have Kashmiri Pandits back in the valley, even for employment, makes them sitting ducks if the security situation goes downhill. If the Kashmiri Pandits, and Hindus overall, are to be settled back in Kashmir, it cannot be without them calling the shots politically and economically when Kashmir resumes to be a state.

Perhaps, the government can deliberate upon the idea of having a special economic zone on the outskirts of Srinagar reserved for displaced Hindus alone. The participation of Hindus at the panchayat level, in the long-term, may normalise relations between the two communities and usher a new generation of leaders focussed more on development rather than an anti-India agenda.

Four, the centre must have an honest, even though difficult, conversation with the representatives of the Kashmiri Pandit community about their rehabilitation. Already, legal processes are underway to return the lost houses of Pandits, but are they willing to go back to the very homes while accepting the prevailing threat from Jihadi elements that comes along with it, one that is applicable to any other minority or military person in the valley?

Can a new cantonment area, designated for Kashmiri Hindus, be created in Srinagar? The government must invite applications from Pandits willing to go back to Kashmir and other Hindus willing to relocate, and for the Pandits who do not wish to go back for their personal reasons, a one-time compensation must be awarded.

However, the first priority must be to bring them back but only when their well-being is assured. Arming civilians cannot be an option, and therefore, the security situation, factoring in the realities on the ground, must be discussed and then a rehabilitation process must be worked upon.

Five, the government, in collaboration with the military, local police, and other law enforcement agencies, must usher a merciless crackdown against terror groups and their collaborators in indoctrination. While the circulation of extremist literature and consequent radicalisation and indoctrination is virtual, led by radical groups in India and abroad, the attacks are lone-wolf, with some recruitments as recent as a few days.

Therefore, the government must extend the application of the PSA to the family members of the ones involved in such lone-wolf attacks. To impose punitive costs that impact the family is a much-needed deterrent against radicalisation of the youth. Unless the family members do not facilitate the surrender of the terrorist, a potential threat, impose PSA, cut them off from subsidies, and ensure zero employment prospects. A harsh call, but a needed deterrent.

To conclude, there is an expectation within the larger Kashmiri population from Modi, post-revocation of Article 370, for development and economic progress, and to accomplish this, the government has a narrow window of a few years post-pandemic. While it will take a generation, at least, to undo the radicalisation of seventy years, the teasers of economic prosperity must be visible in the next few years for the population to look beyond the separatist agendas they are routinely fed. At a macro level, it will also solve the identity problem many Kashmiri Muslims reckon with everyday.

Thus, the economic integration of Kashmir with the rest of India is a non-negotiable and must not be stalled through lone-wolf attacks. The youth, vulnerable as they are given the lack of employment opportunities thus far, will only gain with greater economic prosperity in the region, forcing them to look away from the radicalisation. For the ones who choose to embrace extremism, there shall always be a bullet or two, but the government's development efforts must go on.

Modi, however, has a greater duty towards the Hindus in Kashmir and Jammu, starting with the Pandits, and therefore some hard calls are necessary today to balance the carrot with the stick. The objective must not be to merely bring them back as a token service, but ensure that they become equal stakeholders in the politics and economy of Kashmir, as they were before the genocide of 1990.

Also Read: Pandits Cannot Be Cannon Fodder: Why Jammu Must Be Hived Off And Given Statehood First

Tushar is a senior-sub-editor at Swarajya. He tweets at @Tushar15_
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