Will Kashmir change!
In the days leading up to the first anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir, we got to read all kinds of comments and opinions on what it has or has not achieved. Depending on which side of the spectrum writers stood, they either painted a bleak picture or one that is too rosy. The truth is: nobody knows yet, including those who manage Kashmir Valley for New Delhi.
But let us look at a few things, nevertheless. Nobody in the security grid in Kashmir was naïve to think that the abrogation will immediately lead to the end of terrorism. And it has not. There are over 200 terrorists, including foreign terrorists, still active in Kashmir Valley. About 35 Kashmiri youth have joined terrorist organisations this year; it is a significant drop from previous years, but it is still happening. They are barely trained, making their survivability very low.
In May this year, 21-year-old Nadeem Malik, a resident of South Kashmir’s Shopian district joined the terrorist organisation Hizbul Mujahideen and was killed in less than a month. Till July, 118 terror attacks took place. In the same period, security forces eliminated 138 terrorists, a majority of them locals.
In a new policy, the security forces no longer hand over the body of slain terrorists to their family. Earlier, terrorist funerals were a big headache for the government. It would attract thousands of people and also lead to an upsurge in popularity of terrorists, leading to a swell in recruitment as well.
Some mainstream leaders put under detention after the abrogation have been released and some are still away. But beyond symbolic statements and comments, there is hardly any political activity, leave alone any vibrant opposition to the Modi government. It is mainly because of fear of reprisal and also because mainstream politicians are no longer sure what message to come up with.
The critics of abrogation say that political vacuum created in the Valley is not good at all, and that in the past it has led to the rise of separatism and insurgency. But that is a selective analysis of the situation that ignores the genesis of Islamist extremism in Kashmir. The extremist element in Kashmir got emboldened only because successive governments in New Delhi encouraged soft separatism in the Valley. The Centre looked away as Valley leaders spoke one language in Delhi and another in Kashmir; it created a bipolarity of sorts in the minds of the Kashmiris as to where they stand.
All of it was done in the name of preserving Kashmiri identity.
What is this Kashmiri identity? And why is the nature of this identity different from, say, a Malayali or a Bengali identity? And why should it be at odds with the fact that Kashmir is a part of the union of India and that the academic fantasies of sub-nationalism is not going to change that geopolitical reality.
The continuation of Article 370 which was supposed to be a temporary feature should be seen in the same light of this mindless appeasement. For years, Kashmir’s mainstream politicians like Farooq Abdullah teased New Delhi, challenging them to remove it. And now that it has finally been done, the vacuum was bound to be created. It may not be a bad thing necessarily in the short term since it enables security forces to consolidate their gains against terrorists without any fear of interference. It is this interference from the Mufti Mohammed Saeed’s PDP during its unnatural alliance with the BJP that led to the mayhem in 2016 in the aftermath of terrorist Burhan Wani’s killing.
But having said that, the challenges remain. Security operations are continuing as they should, but Kashmir cannot be forever run on the shoulders of the security grid. A political process has to start. Even as the BJP-PDP alliance was in its honeymoon period, a senior BJP-RSS leader confided in me that ultimately their goal is to look for an alternative to both the PDP and the National Conference. The new political dispensation will not come from outside. In all likelihood, it will be among those who are now willing to play New Delhi’s tune.
But only this time there cannot be any adhocism to it. The Modi government needs to be careful because the same players who encouraged and became a part of separatism in Kashmir have played this game in the past. They will sing this tune temporarily and then return to the separatist rhetoric.
If the same game is repeated, it will be very difficult to salvage Kashmir.
With the abrogation, Jammu is happy, and so is Ladakh. But despite repeated promises by this government, the minority Kashmiri Hindus are still in exile. Looking at the evidence so far, the government seems to have no plan for them. As history would tell us, no permanent solution in Kashmir is possible till it remains home to only a homogenous population.
As one year of abrogation comes to an end, the Modi government must keep that into account.
Rahul Pandita is a deputy editor with the Open Magazine and the author of “Our Moon has Blood Clots: a memoir of a lost home in Kashmir”