Monday, September 25, 2017
NEW DELHI: It is interesting to see Kashmiris argue on the social media about what can or should be done to stem the tide of violence that seems to be engulfing the Valley. There are comments about what Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti should do to make her ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party toe the line; where the Hurriyat leadership has failed the Kashmiris; and now what all need to do to restore calm in Kashmir.
There is still little recognition of the fact that there is going to be no effort whatsoever by Delhi to retract from its virtual face off with the people of Kashmir, and pave the way for a dialogue. And the policy on Kashmir has been formulated with ingredients from the RSS/BJP’s committment to akhand bharat, where the Valley does not enjoy a space of the kind negotiated between Maharaja Hari Singh and the Indian state so many decades ago. The process in motion today is to denude the special privileges of the state.
The Peoples Democratic Party has little role except to provide the fig leaf that the BJP prefers to work under. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti is now so wedded to power, that she has decided to stay on in government despite the fact that her voice is not heard on important policy decisions. And she has even less clout than when she was in Opposition, in that she can no longer even visit the families of those killed in the current cycle of violence without drawing flak from her ally in government.
The BJP/RSS is not keen to come to power as a single party in Jammu and Kashmir. At least not at this instance, as it is easier for it to move ahead on its agenda ,with a Kashmiri regional party in the lead as it were. However, the RSS has used the occasion to expand dramatically in Jammu where not only have the number of shakhas touched new records, but where arms training is being given to both male and female recruits in what locals say constitutes a more intense program than in other parts of India.
There have been two right wing approaches to Jammu and Kashmir, shared at different levels of course by the Congress party. One at least temporarily was a proposed trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir along sectarian lines, outlined in great detail by the Kashmir Study Group that comprised senior experts from the US and India. This report that saw a solution to the longstanding problem in a division of the state into the Muslim, and non Muslim parts---to put it simplistically for the purpose of this article---was not welcomed by all sections of the RSS. The organisation was split between the division of the state, and the old policy of an akhand bharat where all special privileges for Kashmir were withdrawn in the first instance.
Today, the push seems to be for the latter, with the current dispensation in Delhi looking not for a division of the state but for amalgamating the Valley with the rest of India. There are several indicators of this, and it is important to remember that the BJP/RSS implement controversial policy not a step at a time, but by taking a big jump, assessing the impact of the landing, and then taking as many steps back as required to ensure acceptability. Or moving ahead if the response is easily handled. This has been the approach towards the implementation of its agendas, not just in Kashmir but in the rest of India where a strong outcry momentarily halts divisive actions, but only after fear and terror has been embedded in targeted sections of the populace.
A pattern that is not recognised, perhaps deliberately so by informed sections in Kashmir and the country, has emerged ever since the BJP-PDP government came to power in the sensitive border state. The pattern has been interpersed with a hiatus that is strategic, and basically allows the agenda to move on to the next plane.
1. Provocation: Article 370; Kashmiris beaten up in other parts of India; Kashmiris described as terrorists as pro-Pakistan by leading lights of the government; segregated colonies, first for the Kashmiri Pandits then for the soldiers; and so on. There was an endless stream of such statements that drew sharp responses from the Kashmiris, particularly the separatists and the youth. The situation worsened, and a Valley that had rejected Pakistan found itself being pushed on that side of the fence.
Impact: The youth, always more passionate and desperate than the older generations, emerged to fight back the state; and oppose it on what was projected through sufficient propaganda by all sides as an attempt to take away the unique character of the state. The young people picked up stones to voice their protests, and violence emerged in a far more sustained and organised manner on the streets of Kashmir.
2. Strong action: The encounter that killed Burhan Wani was the game changer here with Mufti drawing huge flak. Stone pelting was resisted with pellet guns, deliberately and for weeks on end until a global hue and cry made the government take a few steps back after having entered a new space of violence altogether. And in the process ensured that the pellet guns remained part of the security forces armoury, but the slightly reduced use of these allowed the government to claim the exercise of ‘restraint’.
Impact: The youth were further provoked, and the numbers of protestors in Kashmir spiked. Clashes were reported from different parts of the state, between the young stone pelters and the armed forces. Shut downs, clamp downs gave the state an upper hand, with the Kashmiri in his or her resistance, feeling the brunt of curfew and restrictions with the internet services snapped, movement severely restricted, and an acute shortage as a result of the long hartals, of food and essential commodities. Schools were closed.
3. Stronger action: The paramilitary returned to all parts of the state in larger numbers. The Army followed, and after a gap of several years is back in action now, directly confronting the people in all the areas it had been moved out from. The Army chief spelt it out: we are not a friendly army, we are here to inspire fear. As the protests grew in numbers, so did the encounters. Locals were identified and hunted down by the security forces. The presence of Pakistanis and foreign mercenaries seems to be limited.. Currently the fire fight is between the men in uniform and the locals, with every encounter bringing tears and sorrow into a Kashmiri home. The numbers are growing, and the deaths are increasing. The Army is also losing its soldiers.
Impact: School children came out to lead protests. Masses pour out of their homes to stop encounters, and save the locals in which civilians often die. Men and women both. The Army has started combing and flushing out operations in Kashmir. More and more encounters are being reported. Huge crowds of Kashmiris are not just attending funerals, but actually stepping in to prevent the encounters by directly tackling the security forces. But there is no let up. The government is clear it will move from pellets to bullets if it has to,but there will be no talks. Civilians are dying in these protests on an almost daily basis.
4. Political Action: Meanwhile the separatist leadership is being systematically targeted, and marginalised. All the leaders have been confined to their spaces, with intermittent periods in jail. In what constitutes a significant next step, several have now been arrested on the very serious charge of terror funding that will ensure long spells in jail, and never ending trials. The arrests have been of key persons in the respective organisations. The Hurriyat leadership responded by a strike call, but this is now virtually redundant in a Valley that is in a permanent state of shut down. New Delhi has made it very clear that it will not open a dialogue, and definitely not with the separatist leaders.
Impact: In the process of the uprising by Kashmiri masses, the political leaders of all other parties in the state have become irrelevant. The Congress, the National Conference and even the PDP have little room or space, with New Delhi now dominating. A vague effort by the Congress to intervene and call a conference on Kashmir recently came to nought, with the BJP being the only party that has an opinion and a course of action for Jammu and Kashmir. The others, apart from tweets, are irrelevant and unable to formulate an alternative policy. As is the separatist leadership that has failed to do little more than follow the masses.And for the first time since it came to power the BJP can say with some satisfaction that it has managed to overcome many of the political obstacles in its path in Kashmir.
The only resistance thus is coming from the people, unarmed fortunately, but more importantly without a leadership and hence without direction. It is an emotional outburst at best, in which the damage to the civilians is far higher than to the state. Pakistan’s intervention, despite the propaganda, has been neutered to a great extent, and unlike the 1990s the militancy this time is made up of callow local young people relying on their own limited wits than on intense training across the border, as was the case earlier.
The BJP/RSS is the only one with a plan, and an action plan as well that rests on determinedly pushing ahead, breaking down resistance and setting new goal posts to move towards a Hindu rashtra where the North East and Jammu and Kashmir become ‘integral’ parts. Terrorism in Kashmir is linked thus with the Indian Muslims, even as Pakistan acquires the overarching position through sustained propaganda, of the protector and supporter of India’s minorities. The others ---be it the people or the other political parties in Kashmir---have little or no idea of what they are countering, of what the next step if any should be, and what indeed they are opposing except a vague idea that their freedoms are under threat. When in actual fact it is a systematic breaking down of resistance, with new goal posts being set with every cycle of violence.
Against this, is no one in real terms except the Kashmiris themselves. Masses protesting, but the absence of a political directive complicates the response as without a strategy it can follow one of only two options. It can wear itself out, and crumble in the long run as a state has infinite staying power that people do not. Or it can turn to the gun in larger numbers than it has, something that the people have resisted, but what does become inevitable in prolonged struggles. And allows the state then to stem it with unbridled violence. Leadership with a vision alone can channelise a peoples response, but this is what Kashmir seriously lacks.
( Tomorrow: Can such a game plan succeed?)
(Cover Photograph SAMEER MUSHTAQ)