BJP Has Pushed the Kashmir Discourse from 'Azadi' to Article 370
SRINAGAR: For the last few months palpable anger has been precipitating in Kashmir and that defines a new phase of insecurity that has gripped people’s minds.
It has come with the slew of assertions about setting up something new in Kashmir – from separate townships for Kashmiri Pandits to Sainik Colonies to provisions for non-locals in new Industrial policy to spaces being created for those not in possessions of housing facilities.
This has led to a new churning in a place which has been grappling with so many challenges in past 26 years. The ‘colony’ has become a buzzword in the new discourse that is being shaped mainly by separatists, who were in disarray and have regrouped under a new but unnamed banner. Whosoever is behind these “new plans” in Delhi but this has given them a reason to get united. At the same time, it is interesting to note that now the separatists are fighting to protect Article 370 and resisting the moves that they believe are aimed at changing the demography of Jammu and Kashmir.
This state of insecurity in Kashmir has been an inalienable part of its political psyche since 1947. The perceived threat to change the political and social status has loomed large all through the period of nearly seven decades and that has resulted in the current, rather long, phase of strife in the state beginning in 1990.
History is replete with stories of deception and the gradual erosion of the special status that promised a unique status to the state. The letdown, observed with contempt, imbedded the seeds of discontent that led to acute disillusionment with Congress being the main player to leave behind a legacy that never could throw up a solution.
Continuous efforts by the Congress party to ensure state’s complete integration at its own will and conditions defied the concept of larger federation that would accommodate divergent views and respect people’s aspirations. They even adopted double standards in treating Kashmir and Tamil Nadu as sub-national identities. Thrusting governments of its choice and disrespecting the institutions of democracy in the state became the hallmark of its policies vis-a-vis Jammu and Kashmir.
Right from 1947 to 1987, Kashmiris reposed faith in the democratic system despite being wooed by the powers outside to do something different. Even in 1975 when Kashmir’s tallest leader Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah entered into an “unproductive” rather humiliating Accord, Kashmiris stood by him. But in turn it only continued to subvert the process that was to rekindle faith.
Today when Kashmir is going through a critical process of self-introspection, it needs a larger space to think. But that is not happening. Even today when Kashmir needs to be approached politically, institutions of different hues are being pushed to the wall, their spaces are being shrunk and an atmosphere of suffocation is being created.
As the Congress party put the last nail in the coffin of mistrust by hanging Afzal Guru in 2013, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in Delhi did nothing different. In fact it became more brazen in telling the people that “Kashmir has to be conquered” and the way these plans are being unfolded, it seems that New Delhi does not want peace and stability in Kashmir. On the one hand, it is projecting Kashmir as normal with a huge tourist rush, but on the other it is sending disturbing signals by projecting plans that are making people insecure.
In 2015 when the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed joined hands with the BJP amid strong reservations from his own supporters, it was expected that new bridges would be built, after all BJP had now a stake in smooth functioning of the affairs in the state. That did not happen and in the process the BJP demonstrated its miserable failure to understand Kashmir.
Its slogan to abrogate Article 370 did not reverberate as such, but the acts it did by moving the courts for a beef ban and separate flag for Jammu and Kashmir, belied the reasons for which Mufti had presumably taken the risk to ally with the BJP in government. The Agenda of Alliance that was worked between the two coalition partners—PDP and BJP – remained just a pamphlet as its spirit was defied.
The latest controversies revolving around Sainik Colony and separate colony for Kashmiri pandits is not helping the state to be stable. The BJP might not have directly touched upon Article 370 that remains its core agenda vis-a-vis the state, but slowly and steadily it has outsourced this job to others. Either it is RSS’s J & K Study Group or some other NGO that is stirring the nest and creating a fresh round of disturbance in the Valley.
Soon after the BJP came to power in Delhi in May 2014, Minister of State in Prime Minister’s Office and MP from Udhampur Dr Jitendra Singh announced that the process of repealing Article 370 had begun. “The process of repealing Article 370 has started. We are speaking to stakeholders to repeal the Act. The BJP has won more than half of the seats from Jammu and Kashmir, so will you interpret it as an endorsement of the BJP’s stand? Article 370 is more like a psychological barrier,” he had said inviting strong reactions from some of the stakeholders.
Omar Abdullah who was still a chief minister then had some sharp words to react with. “So the new MOS PMO says process/discussions to revoke Art 370 have started. Wow, that was a quick beginning. Not sure who is talking. Mark my words & save this tweet - long after Modi Govt is a distant memory either J&K won’t be part of India or Art 370 will still exist. Art 370 is the ONLY constitutional link between J&K & rest of India.” Same was the case from unexpected quarters – the separatists who vowed to fight against it.
New Delhi might have succeeded in reducing the level of debate from “Azadi” to Article 370 but it has not helped in any way in addressing the discontent and alienation.
Kashmir is seeing emergence of a new breed of militants, almost all of them locals, and the way people have been joining funerals of the slain militants also defines a new situation in Kashmir. Rather than making efforts to have a political engagement in Kashmir and truly follow the oft repeated assertion of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to emulate Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s doctrine based on “Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat”, all those forces who are promoted and patronized by New Delhi are adding fuel to the fire. And certainly not helping to bring Kashmir back to stability and peace.
Today’s Kashmir needs a political solution, and by pushing these projects through the barrel of gun or arrogance of power won’t help. Put these controversies at rest and address the real issues on the ground. Insecurity among Kashmiris is genuinely grounded in the past and only forward thinking can do away with it.
(Photo: Basit Zargar)
(Shujaat Bukhari is the Editor-in-Chief of Rising Kashmir)