Monday, July 4th, 2022 13:52:13

Over Seven Years of : Experiments in Kashmir

By Sushil Pandit
Updated: November 1, 2021 2:02 pm

On March 14, 2015, the present Sarkaryavaah of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha (RSS) who was then a Sah Sarkaryavaah, briefed the Press after the first day’s proceedings of the Pratinidhi Sabha of the RSS. He, without the provocation of any question from the assembled journalists, volunteered to assert that the Sangha continued to be steadfast on its stand for the total rejection of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.

This was an important announcement. Earlier, on the 1st of March, the BJP had shared the details of its partnership with the PDP, in pursuit of a coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir. Those details were innocuously called Agenda for Alliance (AoA). One such, not so innocuous, detail that necessitated the assertion by the Sah Sarkaryavaah on Article 370 was that the Coalition will uphold and protect all the “special provisions with respect to the J&K” in the Constitution of India. By making a public assertion on that day WRT Article 370, the Sah Sarkaryavaah was dissociating the RSS from a huge compromise by the BJP, on something that was a cardinal article of faith for the entire parivar.

But in the very next moment, he explained, that allwhat the BJP was attempting in Jammu & Kashmirwas a nutan prayog(new experiment).And then, he hastened to add that the BJP enjoyedan unequivocal support of the RSS in all such endeavours. It seemed,he was trying to protect the RSS from an imminent perception of having reneged on a solemn commitment and committing an unmistakable ideological perfidy. But,even while trying that, it was clear that he was willing to let the BJP do precisely what he was distancing the RSS from, all for a ‘new experiment’. It is another matter that it wasn’t just the issue of Article 370 in the AoA, or merely several other compromises in the AoA that were as huge. A lot had happenedeven outside the AoA during the fortnight that was summarily legitimised in the name of a new experiment.

First, let us address the AoA.

It was explicitly agreed by both the parties, the BJP and the PDP, that the Hurriyet Conference (HC) was a legitimate formation and must be engaged in a dialogue. For the uninitiated, HC is a conglomeration of those sundry separatist outfits that rejectboth, the accession of Jammu & Kashmir to the Indian Union and also the Constitution of India itself. As if that wasn’t enough, HC’s Chairman- Syed Ali Shah Geelani, always hailed the armed insurgency and the terror unleashed by it which led to the genocide of Hindus in Kashmir, as freedom struggle.

Both the Parties also agreed that the talks with Pakistan were essential to the restoration of peace in Jammu & Kashmir. It must be remembered that the dialogue between Pakistan and India was stalledfor over seven months- to be precise, since July 2014. India, under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi,had objected to the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, who was scheduled to visit India, insisting on meeting with the Hurriyet leadershipand express solidarity with their campaign for dismembering India. Onthe 23rd of February, 2015- a week prior to the swearing-in ceremony for the BJP-PDP coalition, Prime Minister Modi, through a telephone call to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif,initiated to resume the stalled dialogue. He did so to preempt the issue and stop itfrom showing up as an embarrassment in the AoA. No such luck. PDP insisted on including it. It was rare to see the foreign policy of the country playing subservient to the political compulsions of a provincialpower-sharing alliance. Worse still, it dented the halo of the new PM as someone who was going to be tough on Pakistan.

Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has always been the epitome of divide between the unalloyed patriots and the left-liberal sympathisers of jihad. BJP would often bristle at the suggestion of its removal. Their classic defense has been that AFSPA is a security imperative in Kashmir. Our armed forces are our last line of defense. Diluting or removing AFSPA will compromise their ability to defend India in Kashmir. They would also insist that such matters should not be politicised and left to the security experts. The AoA between the BJP & PDP, however, resolved to review and remove AFSPA in a phased manner.

There were many more shocking concessions by the BJP in the AoA that merit a mention but for the sake of brevity here, I suggest the readers catch hold of a copy from the net and see it for themselves how, for example, the BJP & PDP resolved to “absorb” Kashmiri Pandits in the milieu of the Valley or, for that matter, build a Shahr-e-Khas because Srinagar, perhaps, was too Hindu sounding for their liking. Whenever cornered over these issues, the leadership would justify it as a part of the ‘give n take’ for any coalition between the unlikely partners. However, for all these compromises by the BJP, there isn’t even a single concession by the PDP in the AoA. It was, strictly, only ‘give’ and no ‘take’ for the BJP. And if you thought,only ‘Give’ n no ‘Take’ confined to the AoA alone, take a deep breath and brace-up for more.

On the 1st of March, the day of the swearing-in ritual, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the new Chief Minister, in his speech delivered in the presence of the Prime Minister, publicly thanked Pakistan and Hurriyet, for ‘allowing a peaceful and orderly election’ that had witnessed an unprecedented turnout. He didn’t have a word for the people who braved the boycott call of the Hurriyet and dire threats to their life n limb, to vote for him. Or, for the security forces who ensured a violence-freeelection. While forming his cabinet or distributing the portfolios, the BJP+ block which had an identical strength as the PDP, were given short shrift by the CM. Out of the 16 Cabinet Ministers, Jammu region got only 4. Incidentally, BJP’s stated reason tojoin the PDP-ledcoalition was to ensure a fair representation and share for Jammu. All the key portfolios- Home, Finance, Revenue, Tourism, Education, Rural Development and more were cornered by the PDP. BJP and its allies had relatively inconsequential ones like Animal Husbandry, Science & Technology, etc.

In their very first budget, the PDP Finance Minister levied a tax on the Mata Vaishno Devi Yatra. The AIIMS declared for Jammu in the Central Budget, for which the Minister in the PMO publicly thanked the Finance Minister, was promptly claimed for the Valley by none other than the Dy CM himself who was, ironically, from the BJP and also elected from the Jammu region. Turning the coalition partners into veritable doormats is bizarre enough. But eager and willing doormats masquerading as the guardians of Jammu’s interests, was simply breathtaking.

Within the very first week, Masarrat Alam, a dreaded ring-leader of the stone-pelters, caught after months of vigorous pursuit and a bounty on his head, was let-off from the jail. His release caused such a nationwide furor that even the Prime Minister had to express anguish over his release, on the floor of the Parliament. That was on the 10th of March. But, on the 14th of March, the RSS was indulgently hailing the nutan prayog in Kashmir.  Incidentally, Masarrat Alam is presently the head of Hurriyet Conference.

On 23rd of March, 2015, Aasiya Andrabi with her flock of Dukhtaran e Millat, provoked an outrage when she celebrated Pakistan National Day in full public view, with a flag and anthem. Even worse was to happen on the 10th of April. The freshly released Masarrat Alam organised a reception procession from the Airport for Syed Ali Shah Geelani as he returned from his winter sojourn in Delhi. The procession comprising the Jamaat e Islami cadres and their separatist sympathisers culminated into a rally in front of the Police Head Quarters in Srinagar. For the first time ever, in the very red faces of the top brass of J&K police, flags of Pakistan and so-called Azad Kashmir were waved and seditious speeches delivered, openly and brazenly. The nation watched in horror. Successful elections, historic turnout of voters and the narrative of our triumphant democracy was allowed to be mocked at and trampled upon, as the Mufti, the incumbent CM of J&K propped-up by the BJP no less, waxed eloquentsaying our democracy must have a space for everybody. Even for those who wish to destroy us, was left unsaid but unambiguously implied.

This was followed by a clamour for ‘demilitarisation’. Winding-up the check-points, resenting the scrutiny of vehicles at the drop-gates, making the security forces invisible and ‘send them to the barracks or the borders’ became a growing rhetoric. Earlier incidents like the one in September 2014 when the Modi Govt forced the Northern Army CommanderLt. Gen DS Hooda to publicly apologise, even pending the enquiry for an incident at Budgam where a JCO and a Jawan had opened fire that had refused to stop and crashed through the barrier. They only followed the mandated SOP and yet faced a Court Marshal and were severely punished. Such incidents were chipping away at the morale of the security forces.

Videos of the helpless soldiers being mocked at and physically mistreated began to circulate in the social media. As the political bosses began to press for the thinning of the deployment of security forces keeping a vigil in South Kashmir, the hotbed of Jamaat e Islami separatists who are also the cadre and base of PDP, recruitment of the local jehadis began to grow.

Thinning of the security forces yielded space for the likes of Burhan Wani who emerged as a cult figure attracting young recruits to jihad. His brazen videos and pictures shot randomly in the orchards, showing him brandishing automatic rifles in army fatigues, posted on the social media, created a halo of daredevilry. Added to that were the frenzied public funerals for the slain terrorists, allowed by the BJP-PDP coalition. These were an incredible and unprecedented spectacle for the entire world. They were allowed, again in the name of democratic and religious freedom to mourn and dignity to the dead.

CM Mufti died in the beginning of January, 2016. In an anecdotal reference, personally narrated to me by a Param Veer Chakra awardee living in the state and subsequently corroborated by the octogenarian retired General about whom the incident was, summed up the CM that Mufti was. A delegation of the ex-servicemen of the state under the leadership of the retired General went to meet the CM Mufti. They were there in their formals, wearing their gallantry medals on their chest with pride, to plead for parity with how the other states looked after their ex-servicemen. Instead of lending them a sympathetic ear, he threw them out saying “you think I will be impressed with your medals you have earned by raping our women and killing our men.”

In an off-record conversation with a friendly journalist a few months before his death, in response to a question, he revealed himself even more astoundingly.When asked about the huge unpopularity and the ire of Kashmiri Muslims he had incurred by associating with the BJP, he responded in his characteristic triumphant tone, reflecting a deep antipathy for BJP in general and Modi in particular. He said, “I have destroyed his credibility by exposing what a pretentious hoax he is”. And he went on to say that “I’ve also proved to the world, that they can be tamed if you know how to do it.”

After his death Mehbooba played pricey. On one pretext or the other, she continued to humiliate the Centre by not taking over the reins. Governor’s rule had to be imposed. Security experts advised against handing over the state to her. Her proximity with the Hizbul Commanders in the past was a common lore. But a senior central minister and Kashmir handlerin the BJP, supposedly a specialist in statecraft, persisted despite growing uncertainty and embarrassment.

The day she finally deigned to take over, students at the NIT Srinagar were thrashed black and blue by the J&K police for carrying a tricolor in a peaceful march throughout their campus. Several of them ended up with multiple fractures in the Bones & Joints hospital at Barzula. The BJP’s points-man for J&K admonished the patriotic students for politicking instead of focusing on their careers. The campus emptied out. Next year, almost 40% of the Engineering seats in NIT Srinagar had no takers.

By now, there was no dearth of experiments going on in Kashmir. CM in J&K is the ex-officio Chief of the unified command battling the insurgency. Under Mehbooba Mufti’s command, the morale of the security forces was an all-time low. It hit the nadir with the Burhan Wani encounter. 34 of the 36 police stations in south Kashmir were abandoned by the force and gutted by the jehadis. The cops wouldn’t wear their uniforms in public and carried a fake ID to lie their way out of any sticky spot. The second-in-command in J&K Police, who sanctioned the encounter, was shunted out of the state and had to be accommodated in the PMO. The DGP too was replaced. The DySP who conducted the encounter was humiliated and shifted to run rural traffic. Kashmir burnt for several months. Over a hundred died. Thousands of crores worth of public property was turned to ashes. Mehbooba herself went to Muzaffar Wani, Burhan’s father, with a compensation of Rs.5 lakhs. Her MP from Srinagar, Tarek Hameed Karra, resigned from the Lok Sabha and the Party, alleging that India was committing genocide of Muslims in Kashmir.

The BJP-PDP coalition began booking Army officers with FIRs for doing their duty. The father of a serving Major thus booked, who himself was a retired Colonel, moved the Supreme Court for the quashing of the FIR, invoking the protection granted under AFSPA to all the serving officers and men of the Indian Army. The J&K State, understandably, opposed the petition and the Centre, even more understandably, sat on the fence. Similarly, the writ petition challenging the constitutional validity of the Article 35A was opposed tooth and nail by the BJP-PDP coalition and the Centre dragged its feet on taking a stand, by resorting to adjournments, for over three years. Later, the Center confessed, in an open court, that they didn’t have any stand on the issue of 35A.

Whenever you thought that the BJP had hit the rock-bottom in making concessions and compromises, they would earnestly begin to dig themselves deeper into that hole. On one occasion, they surpassed all their past records. Despite several restrictions and vacillating political signals, Operation All Out had started to deliver. Hurriyet and the so called mainstream parties of Kashmir weren’t too happy. On April 9, 2018, the mainstream led by Mehbooba called for a Ramzan ceasefire. It was a thinly disguised attempt to help the jihad with some respite to regroup and rearm. BJP, having exhausted most of it political capital kowtowing to the PDP, rejected the idea immediately. The Defense Minister Nirmala Seetharaman went public with the assertion that OpAllOut will not stop till its objectives are met. Within 48 hours, even before the nation, in sheer disbelief, could mobilise itself to congratulate the BJP, the Home Minister Raj Nath Singh declared a unilateral cessation of OpAllOut for the month of Ramzan. The immediate rejection of this offer, by Lashkar and United Jihad Council, vowing to carry on the jihad, did not dampen the zeal in the BJP to win their hearts & minds.

The growing unpopularity among the respective voter-base and resentment among the cadre was palpable. Crucial Assembly elections in the heartland were approaching, followed by the General elections. On the 19thof June, the BJP president called up Mehbooba to announce the withdrawal of support and she, like an obedient servant, headed towards the Raj Bhavan to resign. This was the most amicable falling out in a very long time, if at all, you could have seen between, supposedly, the two most bitterly opposed coalition partners. No angry allegations or name-calling, no  desperate attempts at finding numbers to stay afloat, no fuss, no mess. The smooth clockwork transition to the Governor’s rule and keeping the Assembly in a suspended animation had the hallmark of a prior, mutually agreed, arrangement. Almost another 20 months of life left after May 2019 made the revival of the Assembly, along with the coalition, a distinctly viable possibility.It is another matter that the mutual mistrust and impatience for power scuttled the cosy arrangement mid-November, in 2018 itself.

The die for the 5th of August, 2019, decisions to neuter Article 370 and carve two Union Territoriesout of J&K, was cast in 2018 itself. Coming together of NC, PDP and Congress to form a coalition not only precipitated the dissolution of the J&K Assembly, it underscored the need for dismantling of the edifice built on the foundations of Article 370. The electoral understanding between NC,PDP and Congress in the 2019 Lok Sabha, polls to corner the BJP, made it inevitable. With its back to the wall on the numbers, the BJP couldn’t have sustained this lopsided system without getting crushed under its weight.

But, the historic necessity of dismantling the Article 370 went far beyond the immediate or medium-term political comfort for the BJP. How Article 370 in our Constitution served the interests of Pakistan and China was evident in the immediate aftermath of the August 5 decisions. Pakistan expelled our High Commissioner within 48 hours. They banned all trade with India, including that of the essential drugs. China invoked UN Security Council (UNSC) within 10 days and twice more in less than five months. To their credit, the Modi government managed to keep the other P4 in UNSC and an overwhelming majority of the world firmly on our side. With the World opinion backing us, this was an opportunity to take this initiative to its logical conclusion. Having declared, unambiguously, a war on jihad, it was time to hammer it relentlessly. That, unfortunately, was not to happen.

The jihad was allowed to recover from the shock of August 5 and regroup. To its utterly pleasant surprise, jihad found its network and support system largely intact. Its nodes in politics, bureaucracy, police, judiciary, media, academia and civil society didn’t face the action they feared would follow post-370. A state of drift due to total cluelessness about the next steps defined the leadership. What made it worse was that the enemy also could see this. The rudderless drift reminded me of a two-frame cartoon I had seen in the late Eighties, in an entirely different context. The caption read- Time to take off the blinkers. The firstframe showed the PM Rajiv Gandhi wearing a pair of dark sun-glasses. The next frame showed him with the sun-glasses gone but no eyes on his face.

To those who tried to hector India over Kashmir, including the EU, Modi government resolutely reminded that it was our internal matter and none of their business. But, within weeks, we were trying to, clandestinely, put together a bunch of Members of European Parliament (MEPs) and took them on a conducted tour of Kashmir. We did this twice again with the foreign envoys based in New Delhi.

In the middle of an unprecedented lockdown, a gazette notification was issued to bring about a ‘Domicile Policy’ that re-privileges those who have lived in Kashmir for at least 15 years and recreates some of the barriers for the rest of Indians that were dismantled by the neutering of Article 370. It looked like atoning for the ‘crime’ of dismantling Article 370.

We see thePM and the HM, in August 2019, accuse Abdullahs& Muftis of serious crimes but take no action except keeping them under preventive detention, and then, within a few months release them unconditionally. As if that wasn’t enough, in June 2021, they are ceremoniously invited to proffer advice to the PM on how to rekindle democracy in Kashmir.

After a year of unprecedented peace and security in the Valley, all Cordon-And-Search-Operations (CASOs) are stopped. The Special Operations Group (SOG) which is the pivot of all encounters against jihad is left headless for almost a year. If this wasn’t a veritable invitation to jihad, to resume of blood-letting and mayhem that was let loose this month, what was it? More than negligenceit was a concession least expected under this government. After allModi government has a reputation for higher sensitivity towards security.

How could this government be content with dismantling the de jure system under Article 370 and happily let the de facto control remain with the enemy within? How could this government first smash all the barriers that obstructed the rest of India in Kashmir for 70 years and then, surreptitiously, raise a new one in the name of domicile? Why should this government ignore the on-ground vulnerability of its patriotic citizens in the Valley and push us in as sitting-ducks for the enemy to slaughter us at will?Are the lives of common ordinary Indians so expendable so as to be used as sandbags against the rising tide of violent jihad? Does all this qualify to be called anutan prayog?

All these are symptoms. The deeper malaise is the state of our State. Indian State refuses to acknowledgejihad that hemorrhages us in Kashmir. Our State is reluctant to acceptthat what jihad did to the Hindus in the Valley is genocide. For over three decades now, the Indian State is unwilling to deliver justice to the victims and survivors of this genocide. Any State committed to self-preservation fights its enemies. Our State, instead, looks committed to the preservation of its implacable enemies and is callously indifferent to the destruction of its loyal citizens. Preserving demographic leverages that protect the territorial integrity is a normal imperative of any State. Not of the Indian State. In its several geographies, the Indian State has allowed the native demography to be overrunby the alien and hostile population mass.

Such is the siege of the enemy within that much of the subversion we see is begins with aconstitutional mandate. We are a rare nation that affords superior rights to its minorities than its majority. This perversion is then carried on to the policy of the Statethat actively and massively discriminates against the majority. Look at the scholarships, the interest-free loans to the minority, free-coaching for the competitive exams only for the Muslims, state-funded minority institutions, salaries to the clergy and more. A terrorised majority living under the tyranny of an aggressive and violent minority is now a common sight in several clusters across the length and breadth of India.

Like the organs and institutions of the State, some of our powerful civil-society groups and voluntary organisations in the socio-cultural realm are also a target of Jihad that seeks to subvert.Some such institutions already betray signs of such subversion from within, at the very apex.

Then there is a war going on out there, of narratives. Our own civilisational narrative versus the narrative of those who wish to keep us colonised in myriad ways. The Indian State still weighs in on behalf of the alien colonisers. The reluctance to correct the gross distortions in our education system is the biggest evidence of a subverted State. Unwillingness to address the anomalous laws hurting the Hindus is another evidence of this subversion running deep. Now,it is left to the public spirited conscientious citizens who are fighting this war on their own time and resources. Two consecutive mandates of 2014 and 2019 were to correct these anomalies, in Jammu & Kashmir as well as in the rest of India. It is seven years and five months since, and counting.

 


By Sushil Pandit
(Views expressed are writer’s own.)

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