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Jammu & Kashmir: Handle with care

  By Vijay Darda | 09-03-2015

For 68 years we have had a problem called Kashmir. It does not offer itself to any easy solution. In fact, a difficult one is also tough to discern on the horizon. We have fought wars across the border, and our armed forces maintain an eternal vigil within our own territory. Pakistan has played a major role in keeping the problem alive. But this has had domestic consequences as well. The state elections last year have thrown up a peculiar situation. There has been a split verdict in the Kashmir Valley and the Jammu region. With 28 seats from the Valley, the People’s Democratic Party is the single largest party, and is followed by the BJP that has 24 seats from the Jammu region. In a House of 87, a workable majority was possible only if these two parties joined hands. But this is something that is easier said than done. In a way, it is like expecting the North and South poles to come together. However, after some prolonged negotiations the coalition arrangement has been worked out. Now, there is a PDP led-BJP supported government in the state with the veteran Mufti Mohammad Sayeed as the chief minister. This by itself is quite a miracle. But such things do happen in our democracy. Strange bedfellows do come together to transact business. So, it is a historic alliance in that sense.

Let us get one thing straight right at the outset. The BJP-PDP coalition is not a power sharing agreement. It is more of a governance agenda. The two sides have their own separate agendas, and no one expects them to give up their core concerns away at any stage. The PDP has to convince its constituency that it is going to protect their political rights at all cost.The BJP wants to prove that it is the only vehicle of development for the region that has been neglected for the last almost seven decades. The beauty of this arrangement would be that they would continue to hang in there, and keep their differences on show for everyone to see.

We had a taste of this approach when the Mufti, within hours of coming to power, thanked the Pakistanis, the separatists and the militants for allowing peaceful conduct of elections in the state that had seen a high turnout in spite of boycott calls. A suitably outraged Prime Minister Narendra Modi simply disapproved these remarks, and gave the credit where it was due — to the people of Kashmir, the Election Commission and the security forces. Days later, Mufti came up with his plan to release political prisoners held captive in jails without any criminal charges pending against them. The first beneficiary was the 43-year-old Masarat Alam, popularly tipped as the successor to the separatist Hurriyat Conference leader Syed Shah Geelani. Alam has been in jail since the 2010 stone throwing agitation anchored by him, when he used to issue calendars for this protest across the state. A total 112 people had died in this protest and many more security persons were injured. Once again the BJP ministers made the pro forma noises and questioned the chief minister’s decision to order the release of political prisoners without getting the Cabinet’s permission.

However, behind this façade of a historic alliance, there is a reality that this coming together of the North-South poles does not carry much popular support. In the Kashmir Valley, the people are apprehensive about the real deal. They are a vulnerable lot, and they need proof that the coalition is not a sell-off. Similarly, even after joining hands with the devil (BJP), the Mufti has to cater to the separatists and the militants. He has to show that he is independent, and also a votary of human rights. So, while releasing Alam, he has also extolled the virtue of dissent in a democracy, and said that this is a battle of ideas that needs to be won at that level.

For the Indians in the rest of the country, it does come as an unpalatable truth, but the reality is that the Kashmiri alienation can be ignored only at our own peril. In Srinagar and Baramulla, when our cricket team played against Pakistan in the World Cup this time, I had a personal experience of this phenomena. The grief among the young lads at Pakistan’s defeat had to be seen to be believed. Our hotel manager advised us against any triumphant celebration of India’s victory and the security forces also suggested a subdued celebration. Dismayed at first, there was a lesson in it for me. Not to apply the cricket loyalty test as a measure of patriotism. The fact that almost an entire generation has lost out on education, and the things that all of us deem normal and treat as given in our lives are missing from theirs was then quite out in the open. There is an existence under the shadow of gun and the noise of bullets. Collectively and individually over the years, these young men and women have all lost much more than a cricket match. It is their accumulated frustration, angst and sorrow that do not find other outlet, as they know that they are hemmed in by a superior military force. So, they tie their hopes and aspirations to an India-Pakistan cricket match.

However, in the Valley there are signs of not just this frustration with India. There are ample telltale signs of their disgust with the Americans. Long perceived as a strategic ally of Pakistan, in the Kashmiri eyes, the US is seen as a power that has raised hopes of intervening on their behalf, only to back out at the crucial juncture. May be, it was a combination of all these factors that saw them turn to the ballot when the state elections were held this time. For once the Kashmiris have put their faith in democracy, and in the winter of 2014, come out and voted both in the quest of hope and also under fear. In the Valley, it was the fear of BJP domination that made them vote in large number. However, they also had hope that may be a BJP government would come good on its promise of development. For they are all crying aloud to be handled with much more care. Politics apart, their basic human rights demand that they should get elementary education, healthcare and the right to livelihood.

Also with regard to Kashmir, it is rather difficult to see the future course of events. At the India-Pakistan level, there have been many false starts to a solution, and there have been so many near misses that any optimism at this stage remains wildly unrealistic. But the PDP is a proponent of what some commentators call as ‘soft separatism’. It wants the two Kashmiris to have soft borders and with dual currency. A sustained dialogue with Pakistan is another plank of this approach. All this is stacked against the BJP’s hardline approach that rules out any dialogue with Pakistan unless cross border terrorism comes to an end. With Pakistan having adopted terror as an instrument of foreign policy, this it is quite a huge contradiction. Hence, Kashmir has ‘handle with care’ written all over, now that there is a BJP-PDP coalition in power.

Before I conclude…

In any democratic dispensation, bans are always counter-productive. The reflex action of the government in banning the BBC documentary; India’s Daughter based on the December 16, 2012 Delhi gang-rape incident once again proves this reality. More so with internet available so freely. Lakhs of people saw the documentary, and the ban only exposed the ham-handed approach of the Union government.


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Jammu & Kashmir: Handle with care


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