SRINAGAR: If the coalition government headed by Mehbooba Mufti continues to take refuge in ambiguity over sensitive issues, the civil society will keep asking the hard questions, especially in the context of the claims made by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that it believes in the idea of democracy and favours the “battle of ideas”.

Another matter that Yasin Malik has been booked under a nearly three-decade old case, Syed Ali Geelani continues to remain under house arrest and the Mirwaiz barred from his routine socio-political and religious activities. Do Maliks, Geelanis and the Mirwaizes represent a political view and ideology or lead millions of “sharpasand anaasir”, who are also known as Kashmiris by the way, towards the path of violence?

And how convenient for the IGP Kashmir Mr. Javid Mujtaba Gillani to say on record that the Hurriyat and JKLF leaders are “under preventive custody and won’t be allowed to disturb peace”? Which peace is the IGP referring to?

Rest in Peace (RIP), perhaps!

Shooting the Messenger

That said, the simple and democratic practice of asking questions and seeking clarifications on extremely vital issues that concern a common Kashmiri should in no way provoke Ms Mehbooba Mufti to loose her cool, that too inside the legislative assembly.

Her latest warning to “some sections of the media” that “Don’t set Kashmir on fire” is uncalled for. And her blame on the opposition National Conference (NC) and overt expression of anger only a poor reflection on her credentials as a political leader and CM.

Inside a week she has lost her temper on more than one occasion, that too on the floor of the House. This is exactly how the CM should not be conducting herself.

First, she made headlines with her erroneous and now infamous ‘Cat-Pigeon’ analogy in relation to the return of migrant Kashmiri Pandits followed by a heated exchange of words with the junior Abdullah over the contentious ‘Sainik Colony’ issue. And now she has tried to shoot the messenger: “some sections the media”.

Media can’t be blamed for reporting various facts, and presenting different versions and perspectives before the people. That is what the primary job of the media organisations is.

It is the government’s responsibility to allay fears and come clean on the issues, with transparency and without ambiguity. And also without veiled or direct threats!

Politicians of all hues must understand that a journalist can’t act as a stenographer for the government or the opposition. Neither can media function as a PR agency for the CM, the Leader of the Opposition or the Hurriyat & JKLF.

In fact, the media will continue to act as a ‘watchdog’ (Oops! Mehbooba Ji tried to use this word and then realised it could be seen as yet another analogy or perhaps misunderstood separately as Watch & Dog!) to present all possible sides of the story. It will try to present as many perspectives as possible before a reader to let him/her take a final call on any particular issue.

The problem with the current regime is that it has failed to appear transparent before the people on some extremely important issues like the Sainik Colony.

Though, to be fair, Mehbooba Mufti did speak in no uncertain terms about one particular issue, that is the return of migrant Pandits. She made it clear that Pandits can’t return to their original homes in their villages and would instead settle in “transit accommodations” in the initial phase until the situation improves further.

She unsuccessfully tried to ‘put to rest’ the debate over the controversial construction of Sainik Colonies for ex-soldiers in Jammu and Kashmir, saying that the government has informed the Army that “there is no land available in Srinagar”.

This in no way means the issue is settled once for all because what if the land is available and identified tomorrow? She should have been as forthright and transparent about this particular issue as she was on the return of Pandits for instance.

You can’t just put something to rest because you want to put it to rest without adequately satisfying the people you claim to govern. Using strong words and phrases like “dishing out inflammatory reports on Sainik Colonies’ to put the blame on the media won’t settle the matter either.

People will ask why the Army has issued a statement so late in the day. Why didn’t the government inform the people beforehand that the flats at Old Airfield are meant for military station soldiers under Married Accommodation Project as claimed by the Army?

The Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) has also sought clarification by asking “whether the land sought by RSB [Rajya Sainik Board] at Old Air Field was allotted or rejected. If the demand had been rejected, the government must come up with the official document. Unless this question is answered transparently, the suspicion regarding the creation of Sainik colony under the garb of Sainik Quarters will remain.”

People of Jammu and Kashmir want to know what’s cooking inside the hidden kitchen of the PDP-BJP coalition government which the majority refers to as unholy alliance. And people are entitled to ask. It is their land. It is their right.

Cosmetic Symbols of Peace

Coming to the government’s so-called “movement for change and peace” and the IGP’s statement that “separatists won’t be allowed to disturb peace”, what is being essentially conveyed is that everything is hunky-dory in the Kashmir Valley except for a few “sharpasand anaasir” like the Hurriyat and JKLF who want to disturb the government-sponsored ‘peace’.

Earlier, we had government-sponsored gunmen known as ‘Ikhwanis’ (renegades) and now we have government-sponsored symbols of peace, and superficial peace of cafes and food courts.

It is fundamentally problematic to sell activities like enthusiastic crowds thronging the cafes, food courts, and tourist resorts as a peace symbol in Kashmir. It is also wrong to assume that the number of tourists visiting the Kashmir Valley or the number of Kashmiris cracking civil service exams will automatically resolve the Kashmir dispute. It ain’t so simple.

While the opening of new cafes, restaurants, and other public places is a welcome development and these may provide spaces for social and intellectual debates in Kashmir society, but the big elephant in the room [Kashmir dispute] has to be addressed and resolved politically. Denial modes are dangerous for any version of peace.

Zulm rahe aur aman bhi ho
Kya mumkin hai tumhee kaho
(Habib Jalib)

Snatching Peace to Sell ‘Peace’

You can’t sell artificial symbols of peace by snatching the real peace of those espousing a dominant ideology and representing a popular sentiment. That is not peace. That is oppression.

You have to talk to the dissenting voices and initiate a time-bound dialogue with them as stakeholders, not as a group of “sharpasand anaasir”. You have to treat them with respect and dignity.

What is presently happening in Kashmir, especially in context of selling cosmetic peace symbols, reminds one of a poem ‘Musheer’ (Adviser) by the famous Pakistani poet Habib Jalib in which the poet tells us how advisers (mis)represent the reality on ground.

Bolte jo chand hain/ Sab yeh sharpasand hain
Inn ki khench le zabaan/ Inn ka ghont de gala
Maine uss se yeh kaha / Maine uss se ye kaha
Jin ko tha zabaan pe naaz / Chup hai woh zabaan daraaz
Chain hai samaj main / Bemisaal farq hai
Kal main aur aaj main / Apne kharch par hain qaid
Loag tere raaj main / Maine uss se ye kaha

(Photograph by Basit Zargar)