The erstwhile state and now the truncated Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir has witnessed an uninterrupted saga of political opportunism, where the principal reaction is directed outside of Jammu & Kashmir. All political dispensations without exception, regional parties and alliances have worked towards enriching their own boroughs or agendas, without the prism of the state in totality.
This fragmentation of political focus exposes the underlying faultlines for exploitation by enemy-nations and even vested interests, within. Blaming any particular dispensation (or the intermittent Governor’s Rule) is only a matter of convenience, marked by half-truths and blame- game, as no political dispensation can claim to have worked for the totality of the erstwhile state, without harbouring a personal or even a narrower partisan agenda.
The global winds of extremist-religiousity, ubernationalism and political chestthumping have further mutated the environment to deepen the societal ‘divides’, as the narrative has regressed to an all-time low. An honest introspection of the relationship of the local Kashmiri to the sovereign would yield disconcerting results.
While the genealogical missteps of Jammu & Kashmir are well-documented and frequently posited in the popular imagination, both creatively and unfailingly, the real issue is that the current situation (arguably, the lowest point of alienation) can be attributed less to history, and more to the recent executive decisions. Harping on the past, however true in parts, does not justify or match the negative impact of the recent actions, which are predicated on distractions, populism and feeding the worst subliminal instincts which are instinctively gratifying, but infinitely detrimental in the long term.
An essential component of the recent political philosophy has been the management of optics-and-sound of manufactured- fury that is either short, or often completely bereft of the corrective inputs to address regional disaffection. High on hyperbole, emotions and ostensible- muscularity, the narrative is driven by galvanising the mood of the cadres outside the Kashmir Valley, whilst knowingly sacrificing its resonation in the Kashmir Valley, which only sends three members out of the 542 (less than 1 per cent) seats in Parliament.
The policy premise has been based on rather simplistic and aggressive notions of ‘sorting out the issues ‘once for all’. This has immediate buy-in from a large base of the non-Valley electorate who are swayed by histrionics and believe almost naively, that Kashmir is only a security issue, and with the simple ‘wiping out’ of the militant ranks, the ‘lessons would be learnt’ and normality will return.
This is in sharp contrast to the more reconciliatory approach that had been deployed in earlier insurgencies as in Punjab, Mizoram, Assam etc. ~ which recognised the fact that the local angst had underpinnings which were also political, cultural, socio-economic, ethnic, historical or even psychological. No such governance empathy has been afforded in the case of Kashmir Valley, and it is relegated to the realm of a security concern.
Undoubtedly, the Kashmir Valley faces a Pakistan- supported terrorism (not just militancy), and thousands of gallant Indian soldiers and civilian lives have been lost. So, it is certainly a security issue, but it is also a political issue, a societal issue, a historical issue. And deny the existence of these layers, is to ensconce oneself in a smug, unconcerned or ingenuous space that can only wither away the emotions, further from India.
When it comes to choosing solutions between security and political imperatives, it need not be a matter ‘either/or’ choice but a ‘and’ choice. Indian history teaches us that both the security and political spheres can (and should) co-exist; that is how the ferment in Punjab and Mizoram was addressed. As in the Kashmir Valley, there was a foreign-supported movement in both Punjab and Mizoram; but a fine distinction was made between the militants and the common people, and local political platforms could exist.
Not so in the Kashmir Valley, where political opposition has been ridiculed, imprisoned and bludgeoned, leaving even those who had once been sworn in under the oath of India, to be forced-closeted with the ranks of terrorists! Regional political opponents who were once partners-inalliance were incredously incarcerated and a chimera of ‘end of corruption’, postulated for the rest of the country.
Demonetisation was said to have crippled insurgent ranks, GST was said to have ended corruption and the abrogation of Article 370 to have ‘relinked’ the region to the rest of the country. Today, there seems to be no letup in militancy, or the extremist sentiments, and our soldiers are attacked with impunity, with many of our finest martyred in these Pakistan-supported attacks. The ‘State’ has been psychologically diminished to a Union Territory and in hindsight, the murmurs of discontent have started in the Jammu and Ladakh region.
The head of the ruling party in Ladakh resigned, citing the vivisection of the state to be a political drama; and ironically even ‘Jammu’ joined the chorus against allowing supposed ‘outsiders’ from taking their jobs and land. As the entire state mulls over its net gains and losses after the tumultuous round of executive decisions, it faces an ugly truth, i.e. there are no winners in J&K.
The perpetuation of the ‘usversus- them’ storyline within J&K has to end, the security forces need to keep up the steel and guard as they have done so selflessly for decades ~ wherever AFSPA is required, so be it ~ but the government has to demonstrate empathy, compassion and creativity in reaching-out to the mainstream, politically and psychologically. Stifling a region by denying a political ‘voice’ is even more dangerous as it breeds further distance.
The government must display genuineness of purpose and rapprochement, beyond bluster and thundering announcements. We cannot allow a situation of no-return in a part of our own country, however misguided some may be. The history of the Valley is a continuing saga of petty politics and short-term initiatives. The day political parties truly demonstrate that the real weight of those three seats from J&K is worth 100 per cent to the ‘idea of India’, maybe the tide will finally turn.
(The writer IS Lt Gen PVSM, AVSM (Retd), Former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands & Puducherry)