Do even Kashmiris know what they want ?
A Kashmiri family walks past paramilitary troopers standing guard during a curfew, in downtown Srinagar on July 15, 2016. PIC/AFP. (courtesy +ABP NEWS)
Resurfacing after his most recent – now famous and frequent – R&R break, when Rahul Gandhi thundered -“Lack of foresight & poor management has led to the escalation of violence in Kashmir” – a witty Twitter buddy quipped: “Is he referring to Nehru?”
It is actually ironical that, this statement could well be applied to any politician dealing with Kashmir – in the last 70 years. No doubt Jawaharlal Nehru made a massive political gaffe – that even the Nehru-Gandhi family and their apologists will find difficult to contest — on the referendum proposal.
But, looking at it counter-factually – would things have been any different in Jammu & Kashmir today if he had not capitulated then? Arguably, not.
But, a lot can be said and questioned about the handling of Jammu & Kashmir by successive Governments since Independence. It may be true that, without the shadow of the referendum faux pas, India could have been less apologetic or defensive in its Kashmir strategy. But, only so.
If it were Pakistan’s state policy to keep the Kashmir issue on the boil as an eternal bone of contention with India, it would not have relented on strategy just for the lack of a purported UN Resolution.
Equally, professional jihadists – whether sponsored from across the border or sons of the soil – would not have stayed idle waiting for the earlier editions of promised “acche din” to arrive.
There is little reason to believe that, in the absence of insurgency and internal strife, Jammu & Kashmir would have developed at a faster clip than the rest of India since Independence. Therefore, the much-flogged justification of separatism, unfulfilled ‘aspirations’ of Kashmiri youth, would have still been there either way.
In trying to tackle a seemingly insurmountable problem with knee-jerk, short sighted and, at times, ill-conceived solutions, the Indian state has progressively complicated the situation in Kashmir Valley. In the process, it has also created huge cesspools of vested interests not just in political circles but an entire ecosystem that thrives on “Kashmir war chests” on both sides of the LoC.
Although no real industrial development took place in Kashmir Valley, several ‘soft-skill’ enterprises flourished. These range from NGOs to media and, so-called, Track 2 “Kashmir Experts” (or call them the neo-KPs, Kashmiri ‘Pundits’ of a different kind) comprising politicians, journalists, retired bureaucrats, diplomats on sinecure, hibernating intelligence sleuths and even former Generals. They are like quacks to those patients with psychosomatic ailments keep running to.
Finally, there are the touts, brokers and middlemen coming in all forms and hues.
With each passing day these interest groups are growing deeper and wider roots. In trying to counter them, new ones are created and that becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.
The old Dogra Royalty may be on the wane but new political dynasties have emerged who want to rule Jammu & Kashmir — keeping their families and partners safely ensconced in Delhi or London. But, obviously the rewards of power are far too lucrative for them not to answer the call of the valley.
Against this backdrop, the BJP is the only national political party that has an ideological position on Jammu & Kashmir rather than just a political one. Retaining Jammu & Kashmir as an integral part of India for the BJP is part of its belief system – for which their leader Syama Prasad Mookerjee – the founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh — laid down his life.
The BJP and RSS are committed to the idea of Jammu & Kashmir being integral to India, which is not negotiable as far as they are concerned.
But, for Congress and others it is more a matter of political compulsion or geostrategic imperative. One may recall – from time to time – the Congress has in the past tried to soft-pedal a “let go” policy on Kashmir, especially through friendly journalists.
That makes the task of Narendra Modi’s Government all the more unenviable. Any signs of a pragmatic pact with a “Kashmiri” party like PDP immediately draws flak from the BJP’s core constituency of Jammu Hindus and Kashmiri Pandits.
On the other hand, the slightest offensive against militants immediately has the entire world – most notably the Lutyens’s Liberals — coming down upon them like a cloudburst in Srinagar and New Delhi.
One does not recall so much outrage on the decades of military action in the valley as over firing pellet guns in Srinagar (not that the former justifies the latter). The protests after Hizbul Mujahideen Commander Burhan Wani’s death received more prime time and front-page coverage in Indian media than what one can remember about the anti-Kashmiri Pandit pogrom in the valley in the 1980s.
Interestingly, if one cares to note, it is the Congress, the Left and their friends in the media who have been most vocal in attacking the Central Government on Kashmir. In comparison, one has not heard the voices of other political parties, especially the regional biggies at all. Is there a story in that too?
With BJP-PDP 2.0 in power – with the more strident Mehbooba Mufti following a protracted courtship – Jammu & Kashmir watchers assumed that the BJP had put on anklets that would deter New Delhi from taking a hard line against militants.
Suddenly realisation seems to have dawned that power sharing does not necessarily mean going soft on separatists. The Prime Minister’s silence and even Mehbooba’s muted reaction to the events of past week has further brought home this message. This has rattled the self-appointed conscience keepers of the Kashmiri cause.
The question one is inclined to ask these “neo KPs” is: can the Kashmiris be so counter-intuitive to believe that their lot would be better either under independent self-rule or in Pakistan?
How many of their youth who are being sacrificed in the self-styled jihad for ‘Azadi’ really understand what it entails for them. If unfulfilled ‘aspiration’ is really the cause for their taking up arms, as some intellectuals suggest, do they think their fellow Kashmiris across the border are any better off?
If the leaders and benefactors were really serious about their welfare and future of Kashmiris, they would negotiate with the Central Government on a specific agenda for development, health-care, skill-building and employment generation, rather than lead them to a mirage of jannat.
Sadly, ordinary Kashmiris do not seem to know what they really want.