Kashmir's not for keeps

Between the lines

I had an interaction with some Kashmiri young men at Delhi this week. There was no doubting of their indignation and exasperation. The killings in the valley, more than 80 since the beginning of stone pelting in June, were very much on my mind and I wanted to know what could be done.

“Why don’t you leave us,” one said. Another was more specific: “We want azadi. Please include Muslim areas of Jammu and Ladakh.” This would come to about one crore or a little more. They said: “It is not the question of numbers but that of feeling. We just do not want to be part of India.” Yet another said: “We want to make it clear that we don’t want to be part of Pakistan either.” I vainly argued with them that how a country with one crore population would sustain itself without any help from India or Pakistan. “There is the entire Muslim world to help us,” they said.

This is what bothers me, I told them. The religion which you have brought to your protests shows clearly that you want to establish another Muslim state on India’s border.

What will be its repercussions in India which is trying its best to float above the waters of communalism and stay secular? All that they said in reply was: “We want azadi.”

I have not visited Kashmir for more than six months. Yet I have kept myself quite up to date by watching on television several incidents of stone pelting, burning of government buildings and firings by the security forces.

It looks as if the whole valley has come on to the streets, the angry young men leading the mob. Maybe, it is a particular group of people which is instigating them but whatever its number, it is a determined lot. And it would be foolhardy not to take into account their anguish, particularly of those who have lost their dear ones in the firings.

The government, particularly J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah, believes that the anger would be assuaged if the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA), which gives extraordinary powers to the military in a disturbed area, is amended suitably or abolished.

Prime minister Manmohan Singh’s remark — there was need to address issues of trust deficit and government performance — cannot remedy the situation. By shifting the responsibility of its follies to the ruling National Conference, the Centre is only proving that it has gone from one mistake to another, without realising that it would have to pay for them some day.

Every time the economic package or creation of youth employment is considered a panacea for all the troubles. The challenge from the days of Sheikh Abdullah to Omar Abdullah is how does New Delhi give Srinagar a sense of identity, without letting Kashmir to translate that status into independence?

Exploiting religion

That there is no alternative to the talks goes without saying. But the talks with the fundamentalists, who are in the forefront in the valley, will be difficult because they are the ones who excite the people in the name of religion. They have pushed the Kashmiriyat, into the background and brought fundamentalism to the fore. So much so, a fabricated news item saying that the Holy Quran was burnt in America cost 14 lives.

Yet New Delhi has to separate these elements from those who want to rule democratically and in a pluralistic way. But this does not mean that India has all the time to sort out who are fundamentalists but parade to be democratic. Ultimately, it depends on what New Delhi is willing to offer in terms of political power.

The prime minister is willing to go to any limits within the constitution. Good enough if there is a solution within the constitution. But if it is not possible, it should not matter if the terms of agreement go beyond the constitution. Delhi should be ready to give back whatever subjects it may have taken beyond defence, foreign affairs and communications, the three subjects which Srinagar gave New Delhi when the state acceded to the Union.

The BJP is the biggest impediment. It has politicised the issue and refurbished parochialism. At the back of its mind is Hindutva philosophy which, it believes, cannot cope with a Muslim-majority state.

Some argue that panacea for such problems is to concede the right of self-determination. No state can accede to this principle because it gives sanction to the centrifugal forces and fissiparous tendencies. Were the principle of self-determination to be applied in south east Asia, many states in the region would face the prospect of disintegration.

New Delhi’s mistake is that it has left the Kashmir problem hanging in fire for such a long period. It proves the charge that many elements have come to develop a vested interest in the status quo. The prime minister is quite right when he says that he was willing to talk to any party or group so long as it does not project or support violence.

Once New Delhi and Srinagar have come to terms, they should talk to Islamabad. Even otherwise, all the three can sit across the table. The participation of Pakistan is necessary because all the agreements, beginning with the one at Tashkent to the Shimla, mention Pakistan as one of the important parties.

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