Kashmir Again

The situation in Kashmir is far from normal as yet, and nobody knows when it will be so. The situation on the day of the Id festival was calm and quiet, but as per the report of a leading English daily, "People appeared in no mood to celebrate. No bursting crackers could be heard. The only sound audible was that of helicopters hovering over the skies to monitor the situation" [ The Telegraph, 13 August] The day before, Reuter made public a picture showing women demonstrators protesting against the government. The move by the Modi government and its huge deployment of military and paramilitary forces are ostensibly not to save Kashmiri pandits from attacks by militants, but to turn the valley into a large prison house by suspending mobile, internet services etc. It is not a prison house of flowers; it is a prison house of nightmares. It is also clear that the sense of alienation of Kashmiris from the Indian state has intensified, despite the age-old and well-worn cliché that 'Kashmir is an inalienable part of India'. Those who go on repeating this phrase ad nauseum have in their mind the soil of Kashmir, not the people and Kashmiriyat, the common culture formed by Kashmiri Muslims and Hindus alike.

The dirty culture of the most vocal supporters of Narednra Modi's move became evident when they went to the extent of saying that now fair Kashmiri girls could be brought as brides. This infatuation for fairness is a manifestation of male chauvinism, or racialism, at its worst. It is a misfortune that this infatuation for fair-complexioned girls is still very much ingrained in the mindset of the bhadralok society, particularly the urban petty bourgeoisie, all over India and this is what the BJP leaders are trying to exploit. Of course, the Modi government may use the weapon of 'nationalism' and go on blaming Pakistan for the troubled situation, while trying to paint a rosy picture of integration of the people of Kashmir with India. Already there are those who try to argue that all the troubles in Kashmir are the handiwork of a handful of jihadis. These people do not, nor are willing to, understand that the actual situation in Kashmir is somewhat different; otherwise, why should the government send such a large number of troops to reinforce the already operating ones. If the jihadis constitute a miniscule force isolated from the people at large, there is obviously no need to deploy so many troops in Kashmir.

In any case, there is as yet little direct and indirect evidence that the recent move by the Modi government has been a popular act as far as Kashmiris are concerned. War brews in peacetime. The apparent calm is most probably the prelude to a new war, because a calm enforced by brute force can only anger those who have to live in perpetual fear and anxiety, and there is every possibility that this fear and anxiety my burst into open rebellion someday. This is not a war between India and Pakistan, but between the government of India and the Kashmiri people at large. Of course, foolish attempts will continue to be made to attribute all the disturbances to Pakistan. Amit Shah has already handed over a diplomatic advantage to Pakistan by saying that Pak-administered Kashmir, which Pakistan calls Azad Kashmir, is his next target, if he seriously means it, he will probably ask the Indian army to take over Pak-administered Kashmir. Does he expect the people of that region to welcome the Indian army? It is however true that a large section of Indian public opinion has no empathy with the people of Kashmir, although in order to maintain Kashmir as 'an inalienable part of India' a colossal amount of human and material resources has already been spent. But history will show that advocates of the proposition of inalienability will prove disastrously wrong in future. Narendra Modi now talks of development.

It should be pointed out that in terms of physical quality of life, his own state, Gujarat is only a middle-ranking one, Kerala occupying the highest position, and the continuous rule of Modi and his party has not been able to lift it to a higher position, despite investments worth trillions of rupees. Corporate-led development, as the general all-India experience has shown, cannot solve unemployment problems. In view of the increased inequality of income and entitlements—see the Oxfam report—talks of development (sabka sath, sabka vikas) sounds more like a piece of black humour than real intentions. Of course, earlier central governments, ever since the days of Nehru, must take their share of the blame. Mountbatten of Burma, when he was the Governor General, wrote to Hari Singh, who was a tyrannical ruler and faced the revolt of the people of the Punch district, on behalf of the central cabinet that the final question of accession would be decided 'with a reference to the people of Kashmir'. Nehru reiterated this position in his speeches and broadcasts, and hailed Sheikh Abdullah as a great leader. Before the UNO, he recognised the right of Kashmiris to shape their destiny through a referendum. But he went back on the promise. The article 370 did not contain any provision for referendum, but some special status only. Sheikh Abdullah, despite his opposition to Hari Singh, wanted Kashmir to be a part of India and hence agreed to this special status. He also implemented some limited land reform measures, which were bitterly opposed by the Hindu right. Concurrently, there went on a genocide of Muslims in Jammu, but those who perpetrated it got away with impunity. This probably emboldened Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, earlier the president of Hindu Mahasabha, a party of landlords and affluent Hindu professionals, and later the president of Jana Sangh. Shyamaprasad entered Kashmir with the demand for the abrogation of article 370 and was detained. His death in detention provided the Hindu right with an opportunity to hold Sheikh Abdullah responsible and with the aid of the Government of India, Abdullah was dislodged from his post and arrested, Karan Singh becoming the new chief minister. Karan Singh, still alive, has reportedly hailed Narendra Modi's move. Over time, particularly during the last two decades or so, the sense of alienation of the Kashmiris from India has grown. Of course, there are some Muslim communal elements trying to utilise it. But attributing the whole to Muslim fanatics is stupid. The real democrats and progressives all over India must devise ways and take up programmes for overcoming this alienation, without expecting anything positive from Narendra Modi and his acolytes. Otherwise, tremendous human and material costs will continue to be incurred.


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Vol. 52, No. 9, Sep 1 - 7, 2019