Kashmir has been on tenterhooks since the killing of the 22-year old Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani. Has the state government erred in controlling the situation? Or, has it been the fault of the central government? Is Pakistan fishing in troubled waters in Kashmir? Answers in the public domain to all these questions appear to be conflicting. And the suggested solutions to overcome the crisis appear to be equally conflicting.
If one goes by the Twitter messages of former chief minister Omar Abdullah, he seems to suggest that the restoration of normalcy is beyond the capacity of the present coalition between the PDP and the BJP, that there cannot be any peace in the state unless Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti shuns the “communal” BJP and that the (Indian) security forces must be kept away from the state as it is not the militants but the security forces that are at the root of the problem. A former chief minister, during whose regime the Valley saw the stone-pelting crisis of 2010, arguing on these lines may appear strange, but that is what his politics is all about these days.
The Congress party, which was Omar’s coalition partner, agrees with him that the present coalition in the state does not know how to govern. In fact, at the national level, one often hears the Congress supporters saying that a “nationalist” Prime Minister Narendra Modi has proved to be a man of straw for allowing a chief minister to continue in office despite her known weakness for “soft terrorists.”
Then we have a powerful group of human rights activists, media experts and academia, who dominate India’s intellectual discourse and suggest (and we have been hearing this since ages) that the Kashmiris must be provided “dignity and justice”. All the trouble makers and separatist leaders, if in detention, must be freed unconditionally and the government must start negotiating with them without any preconditions. Simultaneously, and this is equally important, the government must revoke all “draconian laws” like the Armed Forces Special Act and the Disturbed Areas Act and “punish ruthlessly” the security officials who have acted against the protesters and separatist leaders.
However, my point here is different. I am not going into the merits or demerits of the solutions suggested above. The pertinent question is whether any one of them is a solution at all of the Kashmir issue. I am afraid that as is the case most of the time our chattering classes are simply beating around the bush. Therefore it is time to reflect hard realities, which we as a nation will ignore at our peril.
Let us be extremely careful of the fact that in the name of buying peace with the separatists in the Kashmir Valley, we do not commit something that is not acceptable to the people in Jammu and Ladakh regions. Let us not allow the separatists to hijack the entire state the way they like. In fact, notwithstanding the ongoing impasse, it is extremely doubtful whether the separatists represent the majority populace of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. All told, opinion polls conducted in recent years by international organisations (the prestigious London School of Economics and Chatham House, for instance) have shown that while the separatist sentiments are relatively strong in the Kashmir Valley, the majority of the people overall in the state wants to stay with India.
In fact, the agenda of the separatists has not many takers in other parts of the state. That being the case, any future talks with separatists cannot be held separately. The real meaning of political dialogue is that it is sensitive to all shades of opinion before arriving at any political consensus. The nation must not overlook the tactics that the separatists are adopting.
Experts analysing arson and violence all over the world have pointed out a dangerous trend of the dominant political and media elites easily falling preys to the demands of the trouble-makers in finding virtues in their demands, howsoever unreasonable and illogical those may be. These elites simply do not have patience and perseverance to discover the truth that a trigger group of just 15 to 20 persons can always instigate a mob of thousands to violence. As a part of this tactic, these instigators often hire women and children during protests so as to ensure that today’s 24×7 media will highlight their pictures all over the world and create necessary commotions that can pressurise the government in taking decisions in their favour. No wonder why these days a section of mainstream media, including some noted TV channels, in India has become the greatest ally of the Kashmiri agitators in forcing India’s second partition.
We can no longer close our eyes to the fact that the minorities in the state — Hindus and Sikhs — have been forced to flee the Valley or convert. But in the Hindu-majority Jammu and Buddhist-dominated Ladakh, the demographic compositions are systematically changing with more and more Muslim population and properties. In fact, the ongoing protests have seen systematic attacks on the properties and lives of the minorities in the valley.
The message is obvious. No amount of concessions to the separatist leaders will ever appease them, their real goal being secession. They want the state to be exclusively for the Muslims and they will never reconcile with a secular India. In fact, what we are seeing in Kashmir is nothing but “Islamisation”. And that, in turn, makes any negotiated settlement of the Kashmir issue almost impossible. An “Islamic Kashmir” will have nothing to do with India. Let me explain this point.
Over the years, Kashmir has been witnessing what Bangladeshi scholar Abu Taher Salahuddin Ahmed says three principal trends – Indianness, Kashmiriness and Muslimness. The Indianness has been propagated by the federal forces of the country, be it the central government or national parties like the Congress and BJP. However, the problem in the state is due to the tussle between those believing in Kashmiriness and those loyal to Muslimness. Kashmiriness is an offshoot of the much talked about Kashmiriyat, which, while coexisting with Indianness, talks of inclusive or composite identity, binding all groups together and not offending any section. No wonder why despite being a Muslim-majority area, beef-eating, until recently, was virtually non-existent in the Valley.
Of course, some scholars now point out that there were always differences between Muslims and Hindus (essentially Kashmiri Pundits) in their interpretations of the concept of Kashmiriyat. But those believing in the concept did promote coexistence. Majority of the Kashmiri Muslims, therefore, had no problems with the Hindus or for that matter with the Buddhists. And the important factor key to the success of the Kashmiriyat was the fact that overwhelming majority of the Kashmiri Muslims believed in Sufism or what is said the “Rishi tradition” that believed in saint and shrine worships. Of course, it was greatly facilitated by the fact that as was the case in other parts of the subcontinent, Muslims were essentially converts from the fold of Hinduism.
In contrast, the Muslimness always advocated the exclusive concepts in the Valley. Promoted by the Wahhabi and Ahl-i-Hadith sects, this school relies more on the authority of the Quran and Hadith and totally opposed to the concept saints and shrine worships. This tradition or school has always been in minority in Kashmir, but it has been there always. It was behind the organisations like Muslim Conference and Kashmir Jamaat (KJ).
Needless to say that almost all the separatists and terrorist, including the so-called moderate separatist elements like Huriyat Conference, belong to the school of Muslimness. They have nothing to do with India. They believe in the theory of “Kashmir for Muslims”. Their essential argument is that they cannot coexist in a Hindu-dominated India.
Interestingly, these elements became active in Kashmir only after the 1979 Iranian revolution. It was after 1979 that one heard more and more of “liberation of Kashmir” and “Islamic revolution”. These elements became more vocal in politics also and formed many small political outfits. In September 1985, 12 such outfits came together to form the Muslim United Front (MUF). Soon the MUF claimed to provide an alternative to the National Conference of Farooq Abdullah on the ground that he “sold out” Kashmiris’ interests in the Accord with the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Since then, the political Islam has made firmer roots in the Valley. The Pakistani support and assistance to the cause has greatly facilitated the cause. But what has really helped the Political Islam in the Valley is the virtual politics of appeasement on the part of the central and state governments to the separatists. But appeasement will never work with forces of “Muslimness”; it will rather embolden them and strengthen the cause of “Kashmir for Muslims”.
Fortunately, even today the majority of the people in the state would like to remain part of India. And the present coalition between the PDP and BJP, under Mehbooba is best placed (representing for the first time the will of the people belonging to all the regions of the state) to reach the ordinary people by ignoring and disciplining the separatists and their militant supporters, who, in reality, are in a minority. If they are imposing the so-called bandhs and people are listening to them it is mainly because of the fear they have generated in the people’s hearts.
The Prime Minister and the Chief Minister need to appeal directly to the people through good governance. And more important, our secular Muslim leaders from the mainstream must be encouraged to visit Kashmir more often to impart the message that Muslims are more secure in India than in Pakistan. That is the best way to fight the Islamisation of the Valley.