The unanimous parliamentary resolution on Jammu & Kashmir, to try and restore trust through a process of dialogue, especially with the young, is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very far. Without understanding the real reason why things went so bad so soon we won’t get anywhere.
The unrest was apparently triggered by the killing of terrorist Burhan Wani last month, but the real reason has little to do with his killing or the use of pellet guns subsequently against teenage protestors, which has blinded some of them. It is something no one wants to admit: the origins of this bout of alienation stem from the shock delivered by the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Jammu & Kashmir as a partner in power in 2014. It suits the national opposition parties, which too have not reconciled themselves to the rise of the BJP, to pretend that somehow they had better answers to the Kashmir problem which the BJP doesn’t. This is what enables them to play holier-than-thou on the deteriorating situation in the valley.
Some recent history is worth recalling in brief. In May 2014, the BJP won three of J&K’s six Lok Sabha seats and became the largest party in terms of popular vote share; this was what gave the party its dream of Mission 44, of achieving a majority of its own in the state assembly elections due towards the end of 2014. But this dream was defeated by the Kashmir-based Muslim parties with the acquiescence of separatists, who wanted to keep the “Hindu” BJP out of the valley. Unlike previous elections, the separatists made no effort to thwart peaceful elections. But they could not prevent the BJP from becoming the strongest force in Jammu and the second-strongest force in the state. The BJP simply could not be excluded from sharing power.
P Chidambaram alluded to this in his interview to Karan Thapar last month, suggesting that the BJP was unacceptable in Kashmir. This is no different from saying that if the elections throw up a “wrong” result, they are worthless. This refusal to accept a democratic verdict is what lies at the root of Kashmiri anger, not Wani’s killing.
Part of the current turmoil is intended to reverse an electoral verdict by violence, and provoking counter-violence by a beleaguered security force, and to force the BJP out of power in J&K. This will have the net effect of Islamising the valley further, which does not seem to bother the BJP’s “secular” national opposition.
It has been clear for nearly a quarter century after the valley was ethnically cleansed of its minority Hindus that the cry of “azaadi” is not about Kashmiriyat, but Islamiyat. While some old timers may regret the exit of Pandits from Kashmir’s Sufi-Saivite culture through cleansing, the 15-20-somethings now heading the stone-pelting crowds have no recollection of the composite culture of Kashmiriyat. So when Narendra Modi recalls former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s references to “Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat“, it actually has no resonance among the young. Vajpayee’s phrase has no relevance to today’s alienation, which is being nurtured by jihadis and Islamists.
Regardless of what New Delhi does, young Kashmiris are being fed on a diet of blood and shahadat to oppose “Indian occupation”, especially in the valley. So the task of retrieving them from the path of narrow Islamism is tough. If one has noticed the recent bout of violence, it has been targeted at the police, police stations and symbols of Indian power.
Does this mean talks won’t work, or that the only options are to keep dealing with frequent bouts of violence in the valley with physical force?
Not quite. You must always talk, even with Pakistanis and separatists. At the very least they will know of our determination to not let Kashmir go. But we clearly need a strategy that is long-term in nature, a strategy with two legs – projection of power and repeated offers of olive branches to wean those willing to shed the path of separatism and Islamism. This means offering more opportunities for Kashmiris to study and work in the rest of India, so that they can see themselves as a part of a larger idea and not a narrow Islamism; it means starting a dialogue not between militants and government alone, but between Muslim Kashmiris and the Pandits; it also means making it clear that government will talk not only to the valley’s Kashmiris but also those outside in Jammu and Ladakh. The valley does not seem to think Kashmiris exist outside its well of militancy.
The valley’s militants are going against the tide of history by isolating themselves behind bigotry and protectionist cultural walls, afraid of losing what they think is Kashmir. But Kashmir, like the rest of India, did not become Kashmir by sealing itself off from the world; if that had been the case, Kashmir would never have become predominantly Muslim in the first place. The future is about opening yourself to the world and yet retaining your essential Kashmiriyat. But this is what its assorted jihadis and misled youth seem to be afraid of engaging with.
It is this walling in of Kashmir that makes it so difficult to accept that even the “Hindu” BJP can come to power in J&K. It is this mindset that only Muslims can run Kashmir that is destroying Kashmiriyat.
Pakistan is happy to fish in troubled waters as nothing pleases it more than getting Kashmiris to adopt a self-destructive xenophobia. Pakistan’s idea is the destruction of India and syncretic cultures. It is running against the tide of history. Kashmiris would do well not to side with a future loser. The idea of Kashmir for Kashmiri Muslims is another loser. True Kashmiriyat is closest to the ideas of India.
India is not about one idea, but many ideas existing together in one geography. Kashmir has more to learn from and contribute to the ideas of India. Pakistan and Islamism are the roads to hell. This must be obvious to the Kashmiris now forcing an endless war on themselves and destroying their paradise on earth.
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