By Sanjay Jha
Prudent writing demands that you build a strong credible case before making your conclusive judgment; but as far as Kashmir is concerned, strangely enough, the reverse applies after several decades of flimsy, half-baked, wishy-washy failed endeavors. Let me be brutally honest, the only way we will actually move forward on the Kashmir problem after a gargantuan 63 years of wasted opportunities , mindless deaths, massive defense expenditure, three wars and a Kargil, and continuous tensions, is if India has a Prime Minister who has the honesty of his innermost convictions to state the obvious publicly, with an intrepid self-belief : “ There will be no Azaadi ; Kashmir is and will be under any and all circumstances a full and integral part of India. Now let us talk”. By choosing to postpone the inevitable over several years , the Indian government has actually cemented a false hope of nationhood amongst the Kashmiri people, which will inevitably lead to disastrous political consequences. It is already happening.
I personally thought the much-hyped all-political party meet yesterday was a monumental flop, a colossal failure. In tangible terms, what did it achieve? Absolutely nothing, other than a feel-good synthetic appearance of frail-unity whose expiry date was till 9 pm IST September 15th 2010. This naïve, preposterous, nebulous hogwash about “ autonomy within the Indian constitutional frame work” is such boring done-to-death cliché, its sounding hilarious. Syed Ali Shah Geelani was still raving and ranting , and one almost deciphered a mischievous arrogance in his demeanor, and of course, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed is as consistently ambiguous as they come. Frankly, who does PM Manmohan Singh want to talk to and what is his big magical prescription for a Kashmir “breakthrough”? If despite having a legitimate elected presence in the Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly and an apparently young-minded pragmatic member of the Abdullah family at the helm of affairs we have achieved a huge naught, other than a day of sunshine sight-seeing of the Dal Lake, what really is meeting the “ average Kashmiri in his own household” really going to achieve when the all-political party delegation descends on Srinagar ?
“ I have a huge double-storey mansion in Srinagar. It houses over 12-15 rooms, which is no big deal. We have not lived in it for two decades now . What do we go back for? No, the cops, security forces and militants are not occupying it. It is lying idle, depreciating away into nothingness. I visited it sometime back, and all I came back was with memories. Of a family and a home that was once ours”. This is a statement of a Kashmiri Pandit ( he spoke to me a few weeks ago ago) who fled the beautiful Valley when the restrained tolerance of once transformed into virulent hatred for the “minority community” . I write this because the divisive forces have since even threatened Sikhs into leaving their ancestral homes. And expectedly the acquisitive, two-faced Chinese are calculatedly adding fuel to fire. India largely through its extraordinarily unimaginative and uninspiring Kashmir policy and myopic reactionary attitude is creating a smoldering problem at its doorstep. It is time to act. Conflagration tends to spread rather rapidly, even to neighboring states.
Just why are we perennially prevaricating on Kashmir; is it really such an unmanageable complex puzzle or are we plain incompetent in handling a delicate situation which requires judicious, astute thinking singularly missing in our political leadership? Was the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh tactically thoughtless in succumbing to the good ole’ soft talk of “ limited autonomy under our constitutional framework ? ” to assuage stone-pelters and an assortment of disgruntled militant groups? Just why can’t the Indian government ever learn from its mistakes?
OUR BIGGEST DRAWBACK: NO CONSENSUS
The crucial difference between our difficult neighbor and us is that the Pakistani establishment has an uncomplicated united stand on Kashmir; there are no fractured internal differences of the kind we face. In India, we present an incoherent picture, pregnant with not just a confused stance, but worse, a politically divided fraternity. The opportunistic ultra-vocal “ Azad Kashmir “ proponents have been blatantly exploiting this wide crevasse over several decades. They know we have serious ideological conflicts within which provides them with sufficient fodder for political manipulation. The way-out , honestly, is an all-India national consensus on the practically obsolete yet strangely treated as a consecrated edifice; the Article 370. Our political leadership appears characteristically muddled, hence the insouciant ease with which multiple militant groups have dexterously incited Kashmiri anger at will, parading their inflammatory cries before international TV crews and human rights groups, exaggerating every minor incident , frequently faked, into a national calamity. There is an overt attempt to make Gulmarg into a Gaza , no matter how ridiculously stretched. When our house internally is not in order, we are highly susceptible to external incitement. And we have still done nothing.
IT IS UPTO THE BJP AND THE CONGRESS
The two principal parties of India , in particular the Congress and BJP , need to do a serious assessment on Kashmir devoid of vote-bank politics; for heaven’s sake, we are talking national security and geographical transgression by inimical neighbors here, aren’t we? . In simple brasstacks, we need to relook Article 370. The major political parties need to recognize that the need of the hour is Kashmir’s inevitable integration into India while simultaneously assuaging a natural resistance from a misled population, and not entertain impractical deliberations on a separate identity,
Article 370 has actually led to Kashmir’s isolation from mainland India and a creeping proximity to Pakistan on account of both contiguous borders and common religious faith. Frankly, this myopic policy ( hurriedly conceived ) engenders a perpetuation of the Kashmir problem. 63 years is ample testimony of a failed policy.
THE STORY OF TWO ABDULLAH”S
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’ s rather farcical solicitude for Abdullah Ahad Jan , the celebrity shoe-thrower revealed the synthetic forces in command operation in Kashmir. Omar considered that televised forgiveness his project of public reconciliation, when he should have been fully aware that such token symbolism is only a momentary distraction for hard-boiled diabolical anti-national forces operating from behind dark veils and dishing hate speeches using modern technology. A few hours later Ahad Jan was unabashedly showcasing his immoral, deceptive charade before cheering crowds, as the intrepid inspiring face of Azad Kashmir. In recent times, one of the most repugnant double-faced about-turns that I have seen.
Some legacies are an insurmountable baggage perhaps and maybe Farooq Abdullah’s motorcycle rides at Pahalgam with Bollywood heroines while Kashmir simmered is still etched deep in many minds. Farooq’s mystifying underestimation of the common man’s grievances has been often articulated. Omar needs to realize he is battling an elephantine negative “ family” perception, but being hamstrung by one’s own inner demons does not help. A leader who does not take risks is like a swimmer who does not kick his legs in water; certain drowning can be forecasted.
HUGS AND CUDDLES WILL NOT BE ENOUGH
All those over-excited Kashmir analysts who says a few body hugs, hospital visits, warm arm over- the- shoulder ex-pressions of compassion and semi-circle meetings will solve the Kashmir problem, miss the core essence of people engagement. Sure, one needs to show genuine concern, but a sympathy drive is a two-way street. Kashmir needs reciprocal ground-level understanding for both innocent victims and hapless security forces. We need to empathize with both our security personnel for their difficult day- to- day existence facing incessant treacherous attacks from well protected adversaries , and the ordinary Kashmiri who feels the state has become an impersonal leviathan , a cold military establishment . Empathy , like charity, though begins from home.
We need to rotate the Kashmiri defense postings at a higher frequency to reduce fatigue and job stress which can lead to serious lapses. The defense forces should also receive appropriate training to handle various forms of people-protest, after all every situation needs a different panacea. Can anyone guarantee peace if the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is even partially withdrawn? Are we perhaps playing into Pakistan’s hands, and those hard-line groups in the Valley?
THE DREADED CORRUPTION
A contemptible self-inflicted failure has been the alleged corruption in misusing local resources and government funds allocated for developmental and distributive purposes. I maintain that successive ruling formations have allowed their credibility to be eroded on account of disingenuous ham-handed governance. Kashmir needs a strong Lokayukta with wide-ranging powers for a pro-active intervention ; a trouble-shooter for attending to local grievances beyond the current administrative structure. Instilling confidence is an immediate and long-term requirement.
The Chief Minister’s entire schedule must be spent on touring the Valley and holding both pre-organised and impromptu meetings with the common man; good intentions need to be effectively practiced, or else the middling vacuum is conveniently occupied by militants. The latter are the new power-brokers whose black Kalashnikovs could surface the moment AFSPA is withdrawn..
EMPOWER THE CM
The Chief Minister should not be seen earning frequent flier points en route to Delhi ; this has been Kashmir’s perpetual grouse. In fact, it should be the other way round. If the Abdullah’s are seen as “Delhi’s agents” , let us truly accord reverential status and instead strengthen the hands of young Omar; let the Prime Minister visit Kashmir at least twice in a year and the Home Minister once every quarter. Delhi needs to strengthen Abdullah by being his guardian angel and not just a numbers-based political ally . Noted columnist Prem Shankar Jha’s suggestion to impose Governor’s Rule on Kashmir should teach us all a clear lesson; Kashmir is a tricky terrain and even veteran Kashmir experts are prone to a suicidal somersault over the precipice. I disagree with Jha: it would make a mockery of the democratically held state elections and push India into the same turbulence of the mid-1980s. It would be like walking into a lion’s den with full fanfare announcing imminent arrival.
MEDIA IS CRUCIAL STAKEHOLDER
The media was once blamed for only reporting government sponsored story. It has now ,unfortunately , swung to the other side of the pendulum. I think the security apparatus is continuously castigated for its occasional excesses, without fair trial.. Just because the BSF and CRPF holds a gun does not necessarily make him a deliberate violator instigating trouble. Let us be honest, for every incident of alleged indiscretion aren’t there several cases of calculated framed propaganda against the law enforcement personnel with damaging repercussions on their morale, like false rape claims? Are we presuming our defense teams guilty now by sheer default following an accusation ? To every supposed carnage, there are always two-sides, the provoked and the provocateur.
The Government must engage the private media channels through frequent dialogue to ensure transparent media dissemination to prevent disinformation and unwarranted panic.
CREATE A MINORITY MUSLIM TASK FORCE
What the government could do is to create a strong Muslim Task Force from all fields comprising of teachers, scholars and intellectuals , media-professionals, authors, religious leaders, businessmen, social activists, student leaders, sports stars, even Bollywood actors and well-respected politicians. I think the best emissary of a secular India is someone like an Aziz Premji, founder of Wipro, a shining manifestation of the country’s rising new graph.
This Task Force could embody assimilation through dialogue, discussion and debate and balance out the misguided message from militant’s wild rhetoric. The average Kashmiri is much better off than this Muslim counterpart elsewhere in any state on per capita income basis; is he even aware of it? Why are we so acutely defensive in promoting our secular qualifications ? .
THE VALLEY WILL ALWAYS BE INDIA”S
The truth is that Prime Minister’s Independence Day speech talking of limited autonomy once again revealed our tactlessness in handling Kashmir. The PM on the contrary must repeatedly reiterate at every potential opportunity that Kashmir is non-negotiable and that Azadi is nothing but a hollow cry by disaffected elements seeking narrow parochial gains in the most pampered state of our country. They are living in a fool’s paradise, needs to be unequivocally communicated. There is evident softness in our approach and thus multiple militant outfits outgun each other contemplating their own designs of a national flag at Srinagar one day. Kashmir needs a strategic overview from the highest levels in India , not just short- term tactical reactionary ploys.
PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTICIAPTION WILL HELP ECONOMY
Kashmir will benefit more from a public-private partnership model than merely state investments; it will facilitate greater inclusion. The net accretion to Kashmir’s growth can be enhanced manifolds if it benefits from India’s giant strides in the economic/commercial sphere. It is preposterous to believe that mere tourism and local crafts can sustain an economy; its youth need multiple new vistas for livelihood. I think the high-powered panel named to look into job creation is a correct step, but they must revert within defined timelines .
I asked my Kashmiri Pandit friend: Which Kashmiri restaurant do you recommend for a visit?
He scratched his head before saying: There is one. Just one, really, which is truly Kashmiri.
In the city of Mumbai, our great national melting pot there is just one Kashmiri restaurant in its crowded suburbs. In most parts of India, you will find none. And therein lies a tale.