Once upon a time it was a land of fairy-tale romance. However as of the past month, Kashmir is a zone of perpetual tension between young Kashmiris and the Indian armed personnel.
Surprisingly, the recent mass uprising has been dealt in an ahistorical context as if the crisis suddenly happened as an ‘accidental disaster’. Though the present crisis appears to be without a ‘road map’, it did not take place in a vacuum. In its background lies ill-treatment, poor governance, alienation and deprivation of the Kashmiri community as compared to other citizens of India.
While perusing Justice A.S. Anand&’s book Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir we find the quotes of Sir Albion Banerjee, the Prime Minister of Kashmir who resigned in 1929 on the state of affairs of Kashmir under Maharaja Hari Singh in following terms: “Jammu and Kashmir state is labouring under many disadvantages, with a large Mohammedan population, absolutely illiterate, labouring under poverty and very low economic conditions of living in the villages, practically governed like dumb driven cattle. There is no touch between the government and the people, no suitable opportunity for representing grievances.”
Sadly enough even after decades of Indian integration, both centre and state governments remained failed institutions to deliver on the front of governance, transparency, employment, poverty alleviation, education, and law and order that further fuels the already growing frustration. Even, the outreach initiatives recommended by the Rangarajan Committee are of no avail.
Nothing is possible without bribing, be it getting Identity card, social security benefits, contract, licenses, registering an FIR in Police Stations and so on. Employment is based on patron and client relationship rather than merit and fairness. Most of the benefits are appropriated by native party elites and their supporters.
With reports from Transparency International positioning the state among the top corrupt states it could safely be guessed that corruption is being fostered to keep the people bogged down morally and also under the radar lest they change loyalties.
Even Article 370, a major guarantee to check the call for plebiscite appeared meaningless for the Kashmiris as most of the autonomies have already been taken away in the subsequent Constitutional amendments under the garb of gradual integration with Indian Union. Does it not point to some larger game being played at the cost of lives of ordinary people?
On a serious note, the designs of the right-wing groups need to be questioned as they look at the whole crisis in terms of inherent antagonism between minoritarian and majoritarian nationalism to reap electoral dividends by arousing majoritarian sensibilities across India.
Similarly, Pakistan&’s strategy to gain Kashmir as a part of unfinished partition plan through the subtle use of ‘Islam in danger’ manoeuvring need urgent attention to check vertical expansion of violent clashes in urban centres of Kashmir valley. We also need to verify the charges against Indian Army as an institution to disturb theuneasy calm of five years (2002 to 2007) by engineering violent clashes in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2016 to justify its existential relevance as well as the inevitability of Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA).
The most problematic dimension is the draconian loyalty test mechanism through the use of anti-national yardstick against those who wish to look at the Kashmir problem from the angle of rationality and secularity. It perpetuates fear psychosis among secular nationalists and also create unbridgeable chasm between Indians and Kashmiris, Kashmiri Muslims and Indian Muslims, between Kashmiri Hindus and Kashmiri Muslims, between Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Buddhists, and Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Sikhs.
Strangely, attempts have also been made to vitiate the intra-social atmosphere by encouraging the ethnic cleavages between groups like Dogras, Gujjars, Paharis, Pathans as well as between rich landed and poor landless class.
Be that as it may, the recent uprising is different from earlier movements in multiple senses. First, this movement is led by the fourth generation youth who were born after 1989 having first-hand experience of militancy, humiliation, military rule.
Second, most of the youth taking part in processions are those who participated in the 2014 election campaigns for PDP to defeat right-wing forces as well as National Conference who later got frustrated with PDP&’s alliance with BJP and thus felt heavily cheated.
Third, the present crisis unlike the past is of uniform civil character spread both vertically and horizontally across the cities, towns and villages and thus most of the areas of the Jammu and Kashmir are radicalised. Fourth, there is an approximate defragmentation and manufactured convergence of separatists, civil society activists, pro-Indian workers including PDP, NCP and Congress, native political and business elites, contractors, liaison agents, Ulema and disgruntled adolescents either because of fear or their conscientious response.
Sixth, unlike the past, there is a greater defiance of curfew with new heroism of ‘do or die, as final situation’ and with a popular chant like ‘there is only one solution, gun solution, gun solution’. The protesters are more violent than previously. There also appears an involvement of secret agencies from across the border which not only provide huge funds to active agents but also recruit young villagers, street children, poorly educated and unemployed youth to the militant ‘club of Burhan’. The objectionable part of this crisis is the conspicuous absence of secular nationalism. The religious symbols are constantly deployed. It can be seen in the use of shrines, mosques and madrasas as mobilisation tools. These platforms are used for freedom-songs and Jihadi speeches by the Ulema, local Imams and youth leaders. Religious sloganeering is very much in use like ‘Naara-e-Takbeer, Allah-o-Akbar’ and jingles like ‘Aazadi ka Matlab, LaIlahaIllalaha’.
Does the solution to the Kashmir lie in Independence? In all probability, the demand for Azadi would be a total disaster. Kashmir as the largest among the 562 princely states that constituted the empire before 1947 would get multiple partitions with Independent Kashmir minus Jammu, Ladakh, Pakistan administered Kashmir and Chinese controlled Kashmir. It will also be left with minimal resources and additional internal conflicts based on demography, religious factionalism, culture, ethnicity, and language.
The ultimate solution to Kashmir lies in the recognition of “Nehruvian secular nationalism” and holding plebiscite but at a time when India would have performed on all developmental yardsticks in Jammu and Kashmir. There must be an announcement of unconditional dialogue by the Centre with the stakeholders, their proposals taken seriously and accommodated within the framework of ‘greater autonomous’ Kashmir. A serious promise of withdrawal of AFSPA should also be made.
On the development front, Jammu and Kashmir should be given special financial package to accelerate outreach programmes, social security schemes, poverty alleviation programmes, massive industrialisation, better transport and connectivity and better utilisation of natural resources for local benefits without discrimination and with great transparency.
The writer is Associate Professor & Head, Department of Political Science Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU), Hyderabad.