NEW DELHI: Two very clear narratives emerged in the Rajya Sabha during a discussion on the current situation in Kashmir. The BJP government was clearly isolated on the issue as the entire Opposition united in questioning the use of force against the Kashmiris, and pointed to the agenda being followed by the centre in the Valley as a major reason for the growing alienation within.

The government policy, was, however stoutly defended by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley who laid the blame at Pakistan’s door in a skilfully woven speech where he made it clear that the youth of Kashmir would be dealt with sternly until and unless they moved away from what he said was Pakistan instigated violence.

In the process two crystal clear narratives have emerged, the same narratives that are being pitted against each other by an aggressive media that was attacked by Opposition leaders for creating hate and divisiveness, and for contributing to growing alienation in the Valley. Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad in a passionate, stirring speech singled out the television media for disturbing the peace saying that in the name of prime time discussions, these channels were spewing venom and spreading hate. He said that the government was responsible for this.

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti who was, of course not represented in the discussion, now has two narratives to choose from. Or to be more accurate, since she is in alliance with the BJP, is part of the government narrative that goes like this as put together by Jaitley:

1. Pakistan has never accepted Kashmir as part of India

2. Pakistan waged three wars against India but when it saw that conventional war would not bring it victory it moved to the war of terrorism against India that it continues to wage;

3. Now there is a new kind of terrorism (reference to Burhan Wani without naming him) where terrorists are turned into cyber heroes on the social media;

4. When the police doing its duty kills them in an encounter, there is opposition, and so when masses attack police stations with stones what are security forces supposed to do?

5. Do not delude yourselves, this violence was in support of the terrorist, not for all those reasons that you (opposition) have been giving such as provocative remarks by some Ministers and senior BJP leaders;

6. Our fight is against the terrorists and if the people of Kashmir stand with us that is good;

7. Battle in Jammu and Kashmir is between country and the separatists;

8. We should all speak in one voice and ensure that the Kashmiri youth stay away from this agitation so that the security forces do not need to take action against them.

In other words, for the government Kashmir violence is being instigated by Pakistan and there are no other reasons for the protests and the agitation. And that if the youth do not disassociate themselves from the Pakistan motivated agitation they will be dealt with by the security forces. And of course the government does not want innocent persons to be hurt but then when masses attack police stations with stones, what are security forces expected to do?

The Opposition narrative stated forcefully this time by all the other political parties went like this, to use just some quotes from the MPs participating in the discussion including Ghulam Nabi Azad (Congress), Sitaram Yechury (CPI(M)), Derek O’Brien (TMC), Naresh Agarwal (SP), Sharad Yadav (JD(U)) and others. The points made clearly and forcefully created a united second narrative that went like this:

1.If you view this situation as a war, you will not solve the problem

2.Linking every problem with Pakistan is not the solution. You have diplomacy to deal with Pakistan. As far as diplomacy is concerned, you get off a plane many times to have biriyani with the Pakistani PM;

3.There must be a conspiracy being hatched by Pakistan. But you have to look at the measures you are taking to counter it;

4. The people of Kashmir don't need more security personnel. They need doctors;

5. The kind of excessive force used and the way in which youth were killed and the environment of violence which is being created needs to be controlled;

6.The way in which police attacked a nine-year-old child shocked me. Why was no action taken?

7. Along with security measures, there needs to be a political process and dialogue.What is Kashmir? Land? Soil? The people of Kashmir. it is the soul of Kashmir;

8. Your own state cabinet has admitted to disproportionate use of force. You used the same bullet for the terrorist, as you did for the young child, the woman, and the old man;

9. You have dispensed with the healing touch policy. You treat the militants and the Kashmiris in the same way;

10. Factors other than Pakistan are responsible for the peoples response in Kashmir, look at these, analyse them, bring in the healing touch, start a dialogue;

11. Pakistan is a big contributory factor, but the reasons are different now. The BJP will not be acceptable to Kashmir for years to come.

The media was attacked by several speakers with Ghulam Nabi Azad taking a lead to point towards the damage the television channels are doing to secularism and healthy debate. He spoke of prime time debates whose contribution to secularism is to get a few Maulanas and RSS men to scream at each other; or to bring persons like Taslima Nasreen in exile from Bangladesh and one Tarek Fatah now a Canadian national to spew venom against Islam; and wondered whether there was any limit now for these channels. He congratulated the Hindus and Muslims of India for not falling prey to the communal poison being spread by television, and for keeping their sanity in the face of such a media blitz.

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, in alliance with the BJP, will in all probability be left with little option in the coming days but to declare what narrative she has selected for governing Kashmir. As Jaitley pointed out, the PDP represents the Valley largely just as BJP represents the Jammu region and both were compelled to form a government as no other combination had the majority to form a viable government in the state. It was clear from his intervention that the central policy supported by the state was operating in Kashmir currently, with not a word by the Minister about the use of pellet guns that have left almost 100 youth blinded and 1800 injured. As Azad pointed out all the hospitals were full to capacity dealing with the grievous injuries. Interestingly Jaitley’s remarks carried not a word of remorse for the disproportionate use of force, maintaining that indirectly that this was necessary to deal with the mobs attacking the police and CrPF. He gave no assurance, in fact to the contrary, that the government would look into the other factors alienating the youth making it clear that in his view it was all being instigated by Pakistan and its supporters in the Valley.

CM Mehbooba Mufti by the sheer virtue of her position will have to take a pick of a debate that is becoming highly polarised and is leaving no real room for political fence sitters. The first question that she and her government perhaps needs to answer as it will provide the bedrock for immediate strategy: are all protesting Kashmiri youth pro-Pakistan, hence anti national, hence terrorists? Or is this explanation determining hard state response too simplistic, sweeping, and unjust?