Protests in Srinagar. Time for the Centre to reiterate a few fundamental axioms.
By Harish Khare
A tiny section of the effete elite in New Delhi suddenly seems to have lost its nerve. So mightily impressed are these Bloomsbury-fied “intellectuals” with the Hurriyat’s capacity to work up mobs and instigate violence in the Kashmir Valley that they have begun to wonder aloud whether the time had come for India to give in to the azadi-chanters. After 61 years of independence, there is no need for any confusion or doubt. All that is needed is to reiterate a few fundamental axioms.
The territorial integrity of India is non-negotiable in Kashmir, as in any other part of the Union. Bad politics, inept administration, and the occasional security heavy-handedness do not constitute sufficient ground for secession in Kashmir or in any other part of India. These infirmities, indeed, are not confined to the “periphery,” and can be easily discerned in large sections of the so-called “mainland.” But these lapses do not give anyone a licence to walk away from Mother India. This democracy provides sufficient institutional creativity to address grievances and alienation.
Let us also be clear about the nature of the “Kashmir problem.” A section, possibly about a quarter, of the Kashmiris was always in thrall of the Muslim League ideology and wanted merger with Pakistan. It is this section that has remained un-reconciled to the idea of secular India. It is this section of the Kashmiris that the Hurriyat factions represent; all the Hurriyat leaders also know that their constituency is a limited one and that they do not speak for the majority of the Kashmiris. Instead, the Hurriyat and other separatist leaders have cleverly used the mosques and the militants to crank up dissent and dissatisfaction.
It needs to be understood clearly that the Inter-Services Intelligence of Pakistan (ISI) and its guns have used the Amarnath Yatra controversy to try and retrieve the situation for the hardliners and the militants, who had been pushed off centre-stage. The mobs of self-styled “nationalists” in Jammu created precedence for the Hurriyat to whip up crowds in Srinagar, Anantnag, Baramulla, and Sopore. A stand-off between mobs and the security forces anywhere is an unpredictable affair; and the Kashmiri separatists are experienced agents provocateurs. In the current phase the turning point was the killing of the Hurriyat leader, Sheikh Aziz. But it remains far from clear as to whose bullet it was that killed him.
With Pakistan being internally distracted, the ISI once again has a free hand in Kashmir. It does not require great foresight to suggest that the ISI strategy now is to force a postponement of the October 2008 elections to the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly by creating violence and chaos in the Valley. This strategy is predicated on continued foolishness in the Jammu region. Those in the separatist camp will be relieved to have been spared the onus of having to prove once again how much — or rather, how little — affection and support they enjoy among the people they claim to represent. Those who are talking of deferring elections are playing into the separatists’ hands. It is time to have a fundamentalist belief in the curative power of Indian democracy.
Under assault in the troubled State is not just the territorial integrity of India but also the idea of India, from the separatists as well as from the Hindutva brigade. The mere fact that the agitators in Jammu carry the Indian Tricolour does not mean that their agenda is in conformity with India’s constitutional design. Democratic authenticity does not accrue to mobs and crowds ipso facto; nor does the Praveen Togadias’ invocation of the “100 crore Hindus” make the Jammu violence any more legitimate or acceptable than the Hurriyat warlords’ incendiary tactics. Those who talk of the “Jammu psyche” are essentially parroting the Hindutva catechism.
Need for cautious force
It is obvious that in the next few weeks the Indian state will have to exert itself to make up for the many recent follies by the politicians. No one should be allowed to entertain any doubts about New Delhi’s will and capacity to stay put in Kashmir. In the immediate context it means the willingness to use, if necessary, cautious force — caution not borne out of the European Union type of pusillanimity but out of respect for the ISI-Geelani faction’s capacity to manufacture trouble. Particular care will need to be taken to ensure that the hardcore separatists do not take advantage of the chaos to eliminate moderate Hurriyat leaders, a la Abdul Gani Lone.
Second, it will be sobering to remember not to repeat in Kashmir the mistakes New Delhi made in Punjab in the 1980s and 1990s. Clarity of command and instructions from New Delhi to Srinagar should be ensured. The Governor and his colleagues cannot be made to feel as if they are answerable to many masters.
Third, the Congress leadership owes it to itself and the country to be unequivocally clear as to what is at stake in Jammu and Kashmir. The Congress leaders need to realise that as the ruling party they have to decide what is right for the country, irrespective of its political and electoral consequences. It was this internal confusion that in the first place escalated a minor political problem into a major national crisis.
As the ruling party, the Congress also needs to educate the country on the BJP’s divisive politics in Jammu and Kashmir. The BJP’s talk and practice of an “economic blockade” was an anti-national activity and ought to be exposed as such. Despite its secular protestations, the Congress leadership remains mortally unsure of the country’s mood. Without a renewed fundamentalist faith in the idea of secular India, the Congress will find it difficult to communicate the difficult choices in Jammu and Kashmir.
Lastly, it is time to take maximum use of the richness of our civil society — particularly the peace-constituency, conflict-resolution-wallahs, and the reconciliation crowd — to wean Kashmiri society away from the prolonged habits and traditions of violence, distrust and suspicion. Kashmir has been the theatre of intrigue and conflict for so long that there is very little capacity for reconstruction and reconciliation. This vacuum has to be filled.
It is a combination of India’s hard and soft powers within the overall democratic design that will carry the day in Jammu and Kashmir in the difficult weeks ahead. We need not overreact to provocations and slogans at Lal Chowk, but we also need not be apologetic about our democratic values and practices.
Source: The Hindu, New Delhi