The Plan for Kashmir, And What Went Wrong
NEW DELHI: There was a plan for Kashmir. This is what many of India’s lawmakers in the Opposition believe. And the climbdown visible in the government’s attitude now, they said, is because the plan went awry. The following has been pieced together from conversations with at least three senior MPs who have been active participants in debates on Kashmir, and close watchers of the situation:
How do you know it was a plan?
Evident from the responses of the government after Hizbul commander Burhan Wani was killed. Everyone knew that the news of his death would spark off protests across the Valley. Even the Peoples Democratic Party in power in Jammu and Kashmir. And almost immediately New Delhi, armed with sections of the powerful media, stepped in to dub the protests as pro-Pakistan, and the protesters as terrorists. This campaign was viral on the social media, and as CPI(M) MP Mohammad Salim from the Lok Sabha said, the trolls came out in droves to attack all those who were urging restoration of peace at the time. That they disappeared later is also an indicator of when the exultation at the centre was replaced by worry, he said.
What was the plan?
It was an elaborate plan for an assertion of patriotism, nationalism, militarism, integrity and unity of India with the message, that only the BJP can save you, from the rooftop of Independence Day celebrations. This was evident in the preparations for the August 15 parade at Rajpath, the unprecedented display of the battle Tank Arjun, the Brahmos Missiles and other weapons systems in the Parliament complex to reportedly highlight India’s defence preparedness; the decision to send BJP women leaders to the borders to tie rakhis on the soldiers on Raksha Bandhan; and even Prime Ministers recent visit to the village of Chandrashekhar Azad in Madhya Pradesh have all been noted as steps towards this end. Kashmir was to feed into this larger picture with the Army being moved in if necessary to establish calm, and defeat the extremist forces at home and thereby send out the message that the govenment was fully seized of the security and integrity and unity of Bharat.
Congress MP Ghulam Nabi Azad in fact, towards the end of the debate in the Rajya Sabha, asked directly for an assurance from Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh about the Army. He said that there were reports circulating that the government was planning to bring Kashmir under the Army after the end of the Amarnath Yatra, and sought an immediate clarification. Singh in his reply later said that the question had not even entered the government’s mind.
What Went Wrong?
Kashmir went wrong. Just like the Americans, despite the destruction, are caught in a quagmire in West Asia because of a basic ignorance about the region, the BJP/RSS that were driving the above plan failed to gauge the deep anger within the young people in the Valley. There was almost no understanding about the sentiments within, the alienation and the anger with the death of Burhan Wani acting as a catalyst for a surge of protest, never before seen at these levels in the Valley.
The protest that the BJP/RSS thought it could contain went out of hand. Initial attempts to brand it as Pakistan and terror inspired were thwarted by reports being carried in the local newspapers----that were then banned for a short while amidst protests in Delhi as well----and on the social media where it became increasingly clear that the protests were spontaneous, and leaderless.
The use of pellet guns and the enormous scale of damage through these made headlines in other parts of India, and the adverse response from across the world and the country itself started placing the governments of both the centre and the state in the dock.
The protests, instead of petering out as had been hoped with the use of force, only intensified to cover, as Kashmir lawmakers pointed out, every mohalla and locality of the Valley. South Kashmir that had voted in large numbers for the PDP was most intense in its response with the protests larger, and more intense in that region.
Within the first week it was visible to Opposition leaders that the protests were different. Within two weeks the government started showing signs of some worry, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi falling into his usual silence, Home Minister Rajnath Singh rushing to Kashmir, and a high powered delegation set up by a think tank believed to be backed by the RSS being sent to the Valley to analyse the situation. The Army too made it clear that it had no wish to enter the picture, as any such move by the government would only increase the casualties. And compound the problem further, as the Kashmiri youth were not willing to step back. In what was a new sign of protest, the youth were prepared to die, was the message given to the government, and took on the security forces directly as and when they were confronted. That several protests ended peacefully were for two reasons- one, these were controlled by seniors who restrained the young people as in many of the Srinagar demonstrations and two, a directive was given to the forces in the last few days not to confront demonstrators as far as possible and let them pass.
Over the last week in particular the government started looking for solutions. It realised that the macho nationalist way was not working, and the situation in Kashmir was out of control. To contain it would amount to huge casualties, that the world would not accept, let alone the nation. Informal meetings were held with Opposition leaders, who were asked to give suggestions to diffuse the situation in the Valley.
As a senior MP said that while the idea of an all parliamentary delegation was raised several days ago, it has been postponed as the MPs realised, “no one would meet us and that will send out a very bad signal to the world.” This is one of the reasons why in his response Singh said that the Chief Minister would work out the modalities as to who would meet the delegation, and then dates for such a visit could be fixed.
It was apparent to all, as the MPs pointed out in the debate yesterday, that the protests had gone beyond even the control of the Hurriyat who had become the followers, and not the drivers of the movement.
The world response had also started worrying the government. Mohammad Salim spoke for many lawmakers when he told The Citizen that “instead of isolating Pakistan on the issue of terror, Pakistan has started trying to isolate us on the issue of Kashmir.” Diplomatically the ball had shifted again to the Pakistan court, a fact noted with concern by former diplomats and MPs. Congress leader and son of former Maharaja Hari Singh, Karan Singh, reminded the government during the Rajya Sabha debate of the ‘external dimension’ of the Kashmir issue, and the need to talk to Pakistan and even China that were holding almost 50 per cent of the original territory that was acceded to India. Interestingy from a no talk position Rajnath Singh in his response said that, even if talks were held, these would only be about Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.
Singh, however, mentioned the letter written by Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to the United Nations for a special session. This was noted by the MPs as significant, as it was indicative of a foreign policy worry here, that also fed into the need for restraint after the first devastating use of pellet guns, lest the injuries and large scale violence from the state evoke international comment and meetings.
The ability of the Kashmiris to keep the protests largely peaceful, and indigenous, has helped immensely, the Opposition lawmakers agreed. That the pilgrims of the Amarnath Yatra were able to move without fear is seen in New Delhi as a major plus, with the social media helping bring out videos of yatris speaking of the help and warmrth they had received en route from the local Kashmiris. This cut into an initial attempt by vested interests to spread false stories of ‘pilgrims scared and under threat'.
The narrative of Kashmiris being all terrorists and extremists has thus been punctured effectively with even PM Modi having to reach out now to the ‘youth’ as a larger entity and reduce the influence of Pakistan to just a “few”.
The Opposition claims it is determined to ensure that the political process is started, that the response to Kashmir is not militaristic, and that a beginning will be made with the all party meeting with the Prime Minister on Friday August 12, followed with an all party delegation. Given the consensus that was visible in the Rajya Sabha, the MPs were optimistic that a serious effort to resume dialogue with all stakeholders would begin soon,
(Photograph by Basit Zargar)