Surviving Kashmir Violence
Kashmir continues to dominate the public discourse all over the country. The government, be it headed by Omar Abdullah in Srinagar or Manmohan Singh in Delhi, is not finding easy ways out. However, the chattering classes, particularly those who are regular invitees to the talk-shows hosted every day by various television channels and those veteran but retired gentlemen who dominate the coffee-shops in our metropolitan cities, appear to have ready-made “solutions”. Having listened to many such “solutions”, let me enumerate few of them.
One is that Omar must go. He has proved to be a huge disappointment. In fact, if he is removed from the post of chief ministership, “half of the problem will be over”. Let anybody else from the ruling National Conference become chief minister but he or she must not be a member of the Abdullah family, which is the root cause of the ills of Kashmir.
Second one is that the Congress did a huge blunder by ending the alliance with the PDP led by Mufti M Sayeed, “unarguably”, the best chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir in recent memory. Therefore, the party should realise its mistake and immediately revive the Congress-PDP alliance by ending ties with National Conference and request earnestly Mufti to become the chief minister again.
Third one is radically different from the second. And that is: Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi must invite Farooq Abdullah (now a central minister) and Mufti together and plead before them that they should forget their age-old differences and join hands and lead a PDP-National Conference. Thus, the Congress would render another “great sacrifice” for the nation by voluntarily giving up power that it shares with National Conference in Kashmir these days.
Fourth one is the most radical one. Its advocates want Manmohan Singh requesting the rabid separatist and fundamentalist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani to take over as the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and forcing other parties to support him in this grave hour of crisis. Effectively speaking, the so-called Geelani-led government will be like a “national government” to deal with national crises.
Fifth, the Kashmiris must be provided “dignity and justice”. All the stone-pelters and separatist leaders, if in detention, must be freed unconditionally and the government must start negotiating with them without any preconditions. Simultaneously, and this is equally important, the government must revoke all “draconian laws” like the Armed Forces Special Act and the Disturbed Areas Act and “punish ruthlessly” the security officials who have acted against the stone-pelters and separatist leaders.
Now just imagine what will happen if any of these suggestions gets implemented, even if one ignores the inherent contradictions in many of them. For instance, how will Geelani take oath as chief minister under Indian Constitution, which he does not believe in? Or for that matter, how can you punish officials if they did take some actions under existing laws and regulations? Similarly, how can there be a Congress-PDP government as there is no required number of this alliance to have a majority in the Assembly?
However, my point here is different. I am not going into the merits or demerits of the solutions suggested above. The pertinent question is whether any one of them is a solution at all of the Kashmir issue. I am afraid that as is the case most of the time our chattering classes are simply beating around the bush. Therefore it is time to reflect hard realties, which we as a nation will ignore at our peril.
Let us be extremely careful of the fact that in the name of buying peace with the separatists in the Kashmir Valley, we do not commit something that is not acceptable to the people in Jammu and Ladakh regions. Let us not allow the separatists hijacking the entire state the way they like. In fact, notwithstanding the ongoing impasse, it is extremely doubtful whether the separatists represent the majority populace of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. All told, a recently concluded opinion poll conducted by the prestigious London School of Economics has shown that while the separatist sentiments are relatively strong in the Kashmir Valley, the majority of the people overall in the state wants to stay with India. In fact, the agenda of the separatists has not many takers in other parts of the state. That being the case, any future talks with separatists cannot be held separately. The real meaning of political dialogue is that it is sensitive to all shades of opinion before arriving at any political consensus.
The nation must not overlook the tactics that the separatists are adopting. Experts analysing arsons and violence all over the world have pointed out a dangerous trend of the dominant political and media elites easily falling preys to the demands of the trouble-makers in finding virtues in their demands, howsoever unreasonable and illogical those may be. These elites simply do not have patience and perseverance to discover the truth that a trigger group of just 15 to 20 persons can always instigate a mob of thousands to violence. As a part of this tactic, these instigators often hire women and children during protests so as to ensure that today’s 24×7 media will highlight their pictures all over the world and create necessary commotions that can pressurise the government in taking decisions in their favour. No wonder why these days a section of mainstream media, including some noted TV channels, in India has become the greatest ally of the Kashmiri agitators in forcing India’s second partition.
We can no longer pretend to see virtues in the Article 370; any prolonged continuance of this Article will take the Kashmir away from the rest of the country, not the reverse. Minorities—Hindus and Sikhs—have been forced to flee the Valley or convert. But in the Hindu-majority Jammu and Buddhist-dominated Ladakh, the demographic compositions are systematically changing with more and more Muslim population and properties.
The message is obvious. No amount of concessions to the separatist leaders will ever appease them, their real goal being secession. They want the state to be exclusively for the Muslims and they will never reconcile with a secular India. As was pointed out in this column once, what we are seeing in Kashmir is nothing but “Islamisation”. The tussle there is between those believing in Kashmiriness and those loyal to Muslimness. Kashmiriness is an offshoot of the much talked about Kashmiriyat, a version of Sufism that talks of inclusive or composite identity, binding all groups together and not offending any section.
In contrast, Muslimness advocates the exclusive concepts in the Valley. Promoted by the Wahhabi and Ahl-i-Hadith sects, this school relies more on the authority of the Quran and Hadith and totally opposed to the concepts of saints and shrine worships. Needless to say that almost all the separatists and terrorists, including the so-called moderate separatist elements like Hurriyat Conference, belong to the school of Muslimness. They have nothing to do with India. They believe in the theory of “Kashmir for Muslims”. They would like to have a government that will ensure the rule by Sharia. Their essential argument is that they cannot coexist in a Hindu-dominated India. For them, Pakistan is a much better option.
This being the hard reality, it is doubtful if the so-called all-party delegation, which would have concluded a visit to the Valley by the time this column is read by most of our readers, could serve any meaningful purpose. More important now is the visits of delegations of secular Muslim leaders to various parts of the valley to impart the message that Muslims are more secure and prosperous in a secular India than in an Islamic Pakistan. That is the best way to fight the Islamisation of the Valley and the violence therein.
By Prakash Nanda