Navigate Kashmir’s choppy waters: Without a coherent Kashmir strategy, the only option left is security forces versus the rest

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October 9, New Delhi, 2017: To navigate choppy waters requires courage. The navigator must be astute enough to recognise the strength of the undercurrent. In Jammu & Kashmir choppy waters are getting turbulent and the undercurrent is gaining strength.

New Delhi is in denial, blaming our bête noire Pakistan for all disturbances in the Valley. The result: diminishing elbow room for negotiating a peaceful resolution to spiralling disenchantment with New Delhi’s policy or lack of it.

First, the undercurrent. It gained strength in the aftermath of Burhan Wani’s death on July 8, 2016. What followed was an upsurge of emotion manifesting itself in violent protests. Imposition of curfew fell by the wayside. Curbs on movement, internet bans and occasional suspension of mobile services did not help in dousing the flames.

Fuel for these protests was the result of pent up anger against a dysfunctional coalition, representing perhaps the most opportunistic alliance of two dissonant ideologies. What brought them together was lust for power and a charismatic leader who provided a tenuous link to an unstable marriage.

These two strange bedfellows know that a divorce is inevitable. People of the Valley knew they had been taken for a ride. No sincere attempt was made to implement the common minimum programme of the alliance. The pent up anger needed a catalyst to conflagrate. Wani’s death provided it.
Those who were ardent PDP supporters felt orphaned. There was no one to articulate their feelings. The forces of confrontation collaborated with the ‘enemy’.

Matters got much worse when security forces used previously unsuccessful crowd control measures. Bullets led to heavy casualties, especially in the south. Later, pellets from shotguns killed some but maimed and blinded hundreds for life. The alienation was complete.

New Delhi must realise that neither rhetoric nor mouthing platitudes is going to help. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s words that neither bullets nor abuse is going to resolve issues in Kashmir – when he addressed the nation in his 2017 Independence Day speech – are true. This sentiment lacked conviction. Bullets accompanied by abuse was evidenced in action in Kashmir through 2016.

The flourish of words must be accompanied by sincere action on the ground. In the eyes of protesters ‘Insaniyat’ (humanity) was dealt a deathly blow and ‘Jamhuriat’ (democracy) was betrayed. In the absence of Insaniyat and Jamhuriat, Kashmiriyat was not given a chance.

It may well be that young protesters were misguided by divisive elements. But the art of politics is to manoeuvre acceptability, unless you wish confrontation. The all party delegation to Srinagar in August 2016 saw obdurate separatists refusing to meet them, and the delegation’s recommendation that government talk to all stakeholders in the Valley fell on deaf ears.

In fact, we have seen no attempt by the Modi government, since it came to power in 2014, to give the people of Kashmir space to move towards political engagement. Calling for a beef ban, doing away with a separate flag, floating concepts like a separate Sainik colony, a separate colony for Kashmiri Pandits, may well evoke nationalist sentiments, but it made the Kashmiris insecure.

BJP also jettisoned an essential element of the agenda of alliance with PDP which was committed to a sustained dialogue with both Hurriyat and Pakistan. This along with the controversy over Article 370 and targeting sloganeering Kashmiri students in the rest of India has vitiated the atmosphere.

Chief minister Mehbooba Mufti’s utterances have also not helped matters. That only 5% of Kashmiris foment trouble and the rest wish to embrace is a statement far removed from reality. The somewhat weak suggestion at withdrawal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 on an experimental basis, has also not fructified. PDP is now going through an existential crisis with its fast waning popularity. Disconnect with the people of Kashmir is palpable.

The latest controversy, through a public interest litigation, regarding attempts to abrogate Article 35A of the Indian Constitution has drawn battle lines. Both PDP and National Conference see this as an attempt to attack the unique identity of Kashmir, the antithesis of Kashmiriyat. It is viewed as an attempt to change the demographics of Kashmir. Both people in the Valley and political analysts view New Delhi’s sincerity with scepticism.

There is no cohesive policy of the Union qua Kashmir. There is a complete disconnect between PMO, ministry of home affairs, RSS with its embedded network, and the views of security forces.
That the credibility of New Delhi is at its nadir is reflected by the turnout of voters in the recent by-election to the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat. A bare turnout of 6% is in stark contrast to the substantial voter turnout of 66% in 2014 assembly elections. The voter has spoken through the ballot. The graph of confidence in democracy is on a constant descent in the Valley. That should worry us.

In the 90s militants disturbed life in the Valley; in 2017 large crowds along with the young, including girls, took to the streets. The home minister’s September visit to Srinagar was an exercise in futility.

Talk of a ‘political’ or a ‘permanent’ solution without a roadmap is meaningless. New Delhi has hardly any options left. Hurriyat itself is marginalised. The upsurge in Kashmir is leaderless. PDP is part of the establishment. Other mainstream political parties are viewed with suspicion.

There is hardly any space left for a meaningful dialogue. The undercurrent continues to gain strength. The other option is: security forces versus the rest. That is a truly worrisome option.

DISCLAIMER : The author is a member of the Rajya Sabha, and a senior Indian National Congress leader. Views expressed are personal.

Courtesy: This Article is published in Times Of India on dated 9th October 2017.

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