Amongst India’s foremost commentators on security issues, late K. Subrahmanyam (father of the current Minister for External Affairs, S. Jaishankar) once wrote presciently, “Unlike in many other countries of the world where militants and secessionists are invariably hunted to their extermination the Indian Republic has succeeded in winning over secessionists to accept the Indian Constitution which provides for adequate autonomy for religious, ethnic and linguistic minorities”.

K. Subrahmanyam, who is widely acknowledged as the father of India’s realpolitik and even a ‘policy hawk’, lauds the uniquely Indian way of handling insurgency movements, “Even while trying to counter the military offensive of the secessionists the Government of India held the door for negotiations open for secessionists to accept the Indian Constitution, join mainstream politics, fight elections and wield power”.

This is in stark contrast to the much bandied and even admired ‘muscularity’ of the Israeli approach (which has failed spectacularly on Palestine for ages), as it is only the Indian approach of inclusivity and co option that won it for India, be it in Mizoram, Nagaland or Punjab. Sadly the last two are again in a precarious position, yet again.

The wise man of letters on security affairs recognised the irreplaceable utility of ‘winning the hearts and minds’ of the people in insurgency prone areas and not just rely on optics of jingoism and chest-thumping that may galvanise emotions in the ‘rest of India’ but only serves to increase the proverbial distance with ‘Delhi’. K Subramanyam posited the critical ‘and’ approach of India’s militaristic steel and the equally important socio-psychological outreach of the disengaged populace, as necessary ingredients of its historically winning formula.

Insurgency in the Kashmir Valley has seen many ups and downs, but it persists doggedly and regrettably. While it might to be tempting to view the relative calm as having ‘broken’ the movement (with various partisan attributions to the abrogation of Article 370, removal of a democratically elected government, delimitation exercise or even demonetisation etc.), when viewed from the wholistic prism of societal ‘connect’ of the ordinary Kashmiri to the metaphorical ‘Delhi’ (as was achieved in the case of Punjab or Mizoram just before the signing of individual Peace Accords and the subsequent normalisation), there is clearly a considerable distance to go.

While the official statistics of the number of encounters, stone-pelting mobs or even the ‘number of militants’ still operating is always significant in the assessment of the security situation, the psychological bond and trust of the locals to the Constitutional ‘Idea of India’ is most significant as it can on a more reassuring note overcome many disconcerting statistics to end insurgency, or conversely, deny many ostensibly positive statistics to regress into a concerning situation.

Reading the silent groundswell and emotions of the local citizenry in insurgency affected areas, is paramount.

It has only been the security forces who have done yeoman service in the last few decades to keep the situation under control in the tense valley – else, all other necessary elements of the winning admixture (to be deployed in parallel) of the political, administrative, social and psychological dimension and outreach have been suboptimal, to say the least.

The Valley continues to see most non-Valley folks as ‘others’ and vice versa, while the former sentiment is given to any insurgency affected area, the later sentiment is usually avoided to ensure that the sovereign can successfully ‘win the hearts and minds’ of the disengaged back into India, as it happened in Punjab or Mizoram. However, the larger winds of extreme jingoism in the ‘rest of India’ have disallowed any meaningful societal co-option or exercise of participative democracy (since the imposition of Governor's Rule on 19th June 2018).

The Valley shoots into national imagination only due to the recurrence of terror induced incidents, Bollywood movies, thumping statements or with some civic actions that bolsters the ‘muscular’ image of governance but perhaps less on any positive news of inclusivity, outreach or even societal thaw that is not wrapped in some partisan, patronising, or condescending note.

The ‘rest of India’ and especially the government, national media and common citizenry must consciously try to seek positivity and hope during turmoil. It may not be gratifying electorally, but such outreach needs to be posited in public imagination and normalised instead of the constant barrage of ‘othering’.

There are enough vested interests across the Line-of-Control (LOC) or even misguided folks within the insurgency affected area to spread doom, hatred, and polarisation, and the same does not need any more ambassadors of hate mongering. Amplifying any glimmer or green shoots of hope in such times can go far in bridging the societal connect with ‘rest of India’, but rarely does any news of hope, possibilities or humanity ever leak out from the Valley.

However recently there was one such powerful ‘moment’ of hope that needed to be shown across the length and breadth of the country but was ignored.

Himachal Pradesh with its valourous soldering traditions of its Dogras (the last Ashoka Chakra awardee, the highest gallantry award in peace times was also given to a Dogra soldier, ASI Babu Ram) has had an unmatched record of sacrifice and gallantry for the nation for aeons, and the martyrs roll-of-honour who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for India is littered with its names. Recently yet another soldier from Himachal Pradesh, Sepoy Pawan Kumar, went down fighting in the finest traditions of his ancestors, at Pulwama in Kashmir.

In an emotion that can only come from proud military families, Pawan’s father stated bluntly, “If I had more sons, I would have sent them to join the Army”, as he was cremated with full military honours, in Rampur Bushahr.

What, however, went unnoticed was the unprecedented outpouring of grief and respect with residents of Padgampora village organising a candle march in memory of the fallen soldier. Kashmiri locals were recognising the nobility of the professional soldier who choose not to open fire in the direction of the mosque (as part of standard orders to uphold the sanctity of the holy place), during the operation in which the terrorists hiding inside the mosque harboured no such reciprocal dignity and killed him.

Hundreds of Kashmiri locals were seen shouting “Hindustan Zindabad”, “Pawan Kumar Amar Rahe” etc. Importantly this voluntary outpouring by Kashmiri locals against the cowardly act of terrorists happened in Pulwama – a place with much wounded resonation for the 2019 terror attack.

It was only left to the Indian Army to share, “Braving the rains, the residents of Potgampora turned up in large numbers to organise a candlelight march to register their strong protest against blatant & shameless use of holy precincts of Jamia Masjid to perpetrate terror activities as was witnessed recently,” and went on to note, “protest indicates a changed atmosphere wherein the locals are shunning violence and registering their protest against those inimical elements of the society, who for their benefit are disturbing the peaceful environment”.

In times when any little news that has the capability to polarise, demonise and normalise hate is immediately cherry picked and pitchforked onto prime times, it was telling that such an incident of hope was completely ignored and possibly, blanked. Keeping the cauldron of hate mongering may have political necessities and utilities but for the Kashmir insurgency to end, it is absolutely vital that the co- option of locals to turn against nefarious elements and terrorists who claimed the life of Sepoy Pawan Kumar, is sought and normalised.

Too many Pawan Kumar’s have sacrificed themselves and too many ordinary Kashmiris have been got caught up in the madness that insurgency breeds, and therefore a concerted effort to support those who seek to end insurgency at the cost of their lives, be it Sepoy Pawan Kumar or even the weary and tired Kashmiris are encouraged, lauded and recognised. That is how other places were won in the ‘hearts and minds’ of the locals, and that is only how the Kashmir insurgency will end.

Cover Photograph: Schools reopen. BASIT ZARGAR

Lt General Bhopinder Singh (Retd), is the Former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Puducherry. Views expressed are the writer’s own.