The Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Satya Pal Malik, has blamed pro-India leaders of Kashmir for lying to people, and has warned Kashmiris that their “false dream” of Azaadi or greater autonomy “can never be fulfilled”. He said that now youth are being shown the dream of “paradise through radicalisation”. He went on to castigate unemployed youth for picking up guns, claiming that in India, the unemployed do not pick up guns, and said that “you have your own Constitution, you have a separate flag. Whatever more you want you will get it through democratic process and within the ambit of Indian Constitution”.
Let’s take a closer look at what this means for the country, keeping in mind that the Indian elite has a penchant for blaming everyone but themselves whenever things go wrong. This singling out of Kashmiris ignores the role of successive governments in causing the crisis by opting for the path of military suppression and studiously ignoring the need for a democratic resolution every time an opportunity was offered. Admittedly, pro-India political parties, which have dominated the state’s political space, have contributed to the crisis in J&K. But before rushing to blame them, it ought to be kept in mind that the government of India has used corruption as a way to win Kashmiris over to their side. None other than a former Army chief and a former chief of RAW (Research & Analysis Wing) have revealed this.
In addition, transferring the blame on Kashmiris also helps cocoon radical Hindutva groups in Jammu, whose campaign for “full merger” of J&K, accompanied by incendiary communal politics, has been in evidence since 2008. The flipside of this development is the side-lining and marginalisation of Kashmiris from top positions, be it in the police, civil administration and now J&K Bank, where all top posts have been taken over by non-Kashmiris and Muslims have a token presence in most decision-making posts. This when Muslims comprise 67% of J&K’s population. This level of mistrust exhibited towards Kashmiris is unprecedented.
The point is not that predominance of non-Muslims is bad in itself. Rather, the side-lining of Muslims reflects New Delhi’s mistrust of them. It strengthens the view that the Government of India is purposely marginalising them.
Be that as it may. When the Governor claimed that as of now neither Article 370 nor 35A is sought to be repealed and that J&K has its own Constitution and flag and more powers can be got within the ambit of Indian Constitution, he was dangling a carrot of conditional talks. The media even played up the story of the interlocutor-who-was-not, Dineshwar Sharma’s return to J&K after a break of seven months as a mark of the Narendra Modi government’s recently discovered “sincerity”. On the face of it, there is an appearance of a forward movement since even the mention of talks was considered taboo when elections were on. But there is another way of looking at it.
For the BJP to revoke Article 370 and 35A would require not just a majority in Lok Sabha, but more importantly, a majority in Rajya Sabha, which until 2020 will elude the party. Thus, for next six-eight months, there can be little movement in the direction of revocation. So, what better than make, in the meantime, a half-hearted gesture of talks which authorities know will go unheeded. Had the offer meant to be taken seriously, the Government would have taken some confidence boosting measures (release of political prisoners or halting operations) to lend their offer some credibility.
Besides, the hollowing out of the constitutionally-mandated autonomy for J&K has been a project which began decades ago. All that is left of autonomy in J&K is its own Constitution that provides for state subjecthood and its flag. In other words, when Constitutionally guaranteed autonomy has been hollowed out by past governments and only “shell” of the original remains now, why would any Kashmiri trust the Indian government when they claim that J&K can get more powers, provided talks are held within the ambit of the Indian Constitution? If autonomy promised by Instrument of Accession, Article 370 of the Constitution and Delhi Pact could be eroded, then why would anyone attach much value to acquiring more powers within the ambit of the Indian Constitution?
In the past, under direct rule by the Central government, J&K lost most of its autonomy. Right now, when the state remains “disturbed” and is ruled directly by New Delhi, why would Kashmiris take the Governor’s “offer” seriously? Indeed, was it meant as an offer or an ultimatum? Because an ideological and dogma-ridden party such as BJP does not give up its pet themes. Meaning, asking Kashmiri youth to come ahead for conditional talks is a perfunctory gesture to make it appear that the Government of India is softening its stance, whereas in reality it meant to create ground for J&K’s “full merger” knowing full well that no one will come forward for conditional talks.
Under a year-long central rule, Kashmiris have also experienced the most trying circumstances reminiscent of the early 1990s when shoot-to-kill was the rule and deaths of militants and civilians were commonplace. So scared is the Government of any discourse challenging its version of the J&K conflict that in an unprecedented move, it has decided to shun the UN Human Rights Committee and refused to allow Amnesty International to release its report on J&K’s preventive detention law and its lawless use in Srinagar. On April 4, the authorities in J&K closed the national highway from Baramulla-Udhampur twice a week for civilian traffic. Not a thought was spared over causing inconvenience to civilians. However, the authorities were quick to inform Indians that they had killed more than hundred militants (111 up to June 12, 2019). Indeed, army commanders were also vocal in claiming that militancy does not pose a threat, with recruitment by militants falling to 50 thus far. But this gung-ho attitude was soon replaced with grim warnings about the appearance of ISIS, which is a matter of concern.
However, the appearance of ISIS became not an occasion to have a more nuanced understanding of indigenous Hurriyat or Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), but to berate them for being fanatic and justifying a crackdown on their supporters. It was as though the authorities wanted to diminish the clout of those voices who, even in the most trying conditions from 2008-2017, did not allow fanatics to dominate the discourse. For instance, HM has been opposed to any disruption of the Amarnath Yatra, and indeed even the Nitish Sengupta Committee set after the 1996 disaster, when more than 200 yatris perished in the snowstorm, in its report praised the local militants for coming to the aid of the yatris. It has been organisations such as Lashkar i Taiyabba and Jaish i Mohammed which have been responsible for attacks on yatris. The point is that it suits the government of India to tar everyone with the same brush and treat the local and the foreign as one.
It’s only in the last two years that Al Qaeda and then ISIS made an appearance. Although how much of it is propaganda and how much poses real threat is difficult to know because even the Government of India sometimes dismissed stories of their existence and at other times, plays up their presence.
The government’s ‘forked’ tongue phenomena is not confined to just this. It is worth remembering that even Prime Minister Narendra Modi had claimed that the problem in Kashmir was confined to “two and half districts”. The panchayat and Lok Sabha polls were cited to claim success and were projected as a mark of Kashmiris “love for democracy”. As a matter of fact, the panchayat and Lok Sabha polls in Kashmir were remarkable for two reasons. First, for the very low turnout, and second, for the absence of any visible poll boycott campaign, unlike in the past. In other words, this shows that the people stayed away of their own volition. And at the same time, the authorities are tongue-tied over deferring Assembly polls.
Indeed, the credibility of the Indian government and its officers in J&K is low and its certain that no talks will ensue, as it is known full well that the ruling party can turn around and carry out their ideologically-driven design to assimilate Kashmir, which will keep the flames of militancy alive.
All this makes the so-called olive branch offer to Kashmiris even more of a vacuous exercise. It is all this which enhances the appeal of Azaadi and/or Greater Autonomy, rather than any concerted campaign by any Kashmiri group. If anything has to change, the government needs to move away from politics of suppression to politics of accommodation and reach out to Kashmiris with a credible and sincere offer. So long as this does not happen, the war of attrition will persist and our own people, military as well as local combatants and civilians, will continue to die.