The so-called reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has thrown the region into an era of prolonged political unrest and uncertainty. After Narendra Modi’s rise to power in 2014 and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s subsequent entry into the state’s ruling politics, have proved highly disastrous. The anger, alienation and unrest has only been exacerbated after the abrogation of J&K’s special status.
With restrictions and the communication gag still in place, a sharp communal polarisation has been created between Jammu and Kashmir, and within Jammu.
While routine life in Kashmir remains completely choked at the hands of the state apparatus, the BJP governments of Maharashtra and Karnataka, along with some corporate owner from Gujarat are already proposing to buy state land in Kashmir from the Governor-run administration. With this, the desire for the people of Kashmir has been completely replaced by the desire for the territory they inhabit.
This will only vitiate the atmosphere further. Common Kashmiris’ livelihoods are in danger, with rural Kashmir especially petrified by the scrapping of all land laws of the state. They fear that the popular land reforms undertaken during the 1950s—the bedrock of the existence of Kashmiri peasantry—are threatened. There is also an anxiety that this anger will be expressed in violent form since all democratic space has been squeezed out. This could well give rise to a new militancy which can potentially bring even more misery to the besieged state.
Notwithstanding the gloomy conditions, people in the Valley are yearning for peace and resolution to the political issue. The working class and the peasantry, who are the most repressed classes in Kashmir, desperately need this so that they can aspire for better conditions. It is for the ruling dispensation to make this desire come true.
Any government should listen to citizens and ameliorate suffering instead of imposing a muscular policy as the current BJP-led government at the Centre is doing. Chauvinistic Right-wing politicians, bellicose TV journalists and analysts who are vilifying Kashmiris as “terrorists” need to answer how those who trusted Indian democracy turned into “terrorists” after the 2014 national elections.
In 2002, 2008 and 2014, it was the same people who rushed to the polling booths to vote. They have now been battered and bruised through military repression. Why, in those years, did Pakistan fail to provoke these people, as the BJP and the National Security Adivser Ajit Doval now frequently allege. Why is Pakistan now succeeding in creating wide disorder, as the BJP alleges, while it turns a blind eye to its own decisions—not just in Kashmir but all of India?
Through its politics of hate, the BJP has ceded ground to fundamentalists and is pushing disenchanted Kashmiris into their lap. It has also deceitfully linked Kashmir to its spiteful and divisive brand of politics in the rest of India. It is again the BJP which has consistently presents the idea of India though its disparaging brand of nationalism and politics of hate. It also validates the viewpoint of those pro-Pakistan secessionists) who stand for the two-nation theory. However, it appears right now that the most ardent adherent of this theory in Kashmir is the BJP itself: Its muscular, jingoistic and communal policy on Kashmir is proof.
New Delhi has almost always been indifferent to the political issue of Kashmir; delivering its people only broken promises. There is a genuine aspiration for political autonomy in the region and that has also been guaranteed by the Constitution. Greater political autonomy to J&K as a state is still an idea with relevance because people here aspire for a change in the status quo.
Barring some sections there is also a recognition that the future falls within the premise of democracy and republicanism, but with safeguards for their distinct political identity.
Given the exceptional circumstances of 1947, today’s troubled geo-strategic circumstances, and the wide discontentment of the people of J&K towards the Indian state, only a middle ground can provide a durable solution. That, inevitably, is the restoration of greater autonomy and unified statehood to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.
In this phase of turmoil for Kashmir and Kashmiris, it is pertinent to address the essential political question of Kashmir, for the dignity and security of Kashmiris is attached to it. Iron fist policies, communal and chauvinistic approaches of any central dispensation will not work.
The issue needs comprehensive redressal, beginning with outlining the historical root causes of this problem which are precisely the broken republican promises and constant snatching of the political aspirations ever since the accession of the state with the union of India in the complex circumstances of 1947. The democratic and progressive circles in the rest of India need to stand up and make their voices stronger too.
Republican and democratic guarantees had brought Kashmir closer to India and to a rejection of the two-nation theory. These promises have not been fulfilled or trampled upon successively, leading ultimately to this state of terrible siege, misery and suffering for the people of the state. There is also a need for all stakeholders to shun extreme and rigid positions and find common middle ground to consider the genuine political aspirations of all involved.
Solutions like the UN Resolutions and the scrapping of Article 370, both of which have the potential to create problems in terms of communal polarisation and increased political repression, need to be abhorred. Dignified solutions can be found by taking into account the genuine political aspirations of the people and keeping in view the diverse, plural and secular identity of the state without taking recourse to a redrawing of geographical contours.
That begins by immediately revoking the so-called State Reorganisation Act. But first, there has to be an acknowledgement that the state of J&K acceded to India (and did not merge) in the most unique circumstances based on certain constitutional guarantees. Those constitutional promises have not been fulfilled and instead the state’s special status has been completely eroded. Political autonomy was promised to Kashmiris by the architects of the Indian nation and the Constitution. It is time to make good on it.
Basharat Shameem is a blogger and writer based in Kashmir. The views are personal.