When I ponder over the tragic events that have occurred in Kashmir during the last few days, the following beautiful verse of Lal Ded, the famous 14 century Kashmiri poetess, comes to my mind: Having cut the hide, you have pegged down yourself/what kind of seed had you sown to expect an abundant harvest?
Clearly, the turmoil in the Valley is the outcome of the poisonous seeds that were planted in the Kashmiri psyche long ago. What is worse, these seeds have been allowed, over the years, to be abundantly fertilised. And tragically, those whose obligation it was to prevent it, showed little awareness of the elementary lesson of history: ‘To compromise with evil is only to rear up greater evil’. Let me elaborate.
On October 2, 1988, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, his statue was to be installed in the new high court complex in Srinagar and the chief justice of India was to inaugurate it. But a few anti-India lawyers objected and threatened to disrupt the function. The chief minister gave in to their bullying tactics and the function was cancelled.
What were the implications of this incident? A secular Kashmir could not hold on to its secular principles. And who spearheaded the move against the installation? It was none other than an active member of the National Conference, who was later given a ticket for the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat in 1989.
At that time, there was a National Conference(F)-Congress(I) ministry in office. Such was its lack of adherence to principles that not even a little finger was raised when the function was cancelled. The bully’s appetite could not have been whetted better. The troublemakers couldn’t have perceived a more casual adversary. Was it not natural for them to nurture higher ambitions and think that spectacular results could be achieved by deploying a more aggressive and threatening strategy?
A few members of the civil services floated a cooperative society with the objective of meeting their bona fide requirements of housing. The society was registered in 1985 under the name of ‘Rajtarangini’. A fierce controversy ensued primarily on the ground that non-state subjects could not acquire residential plots even as members of a housing society. Some prominent members of the National Conference raised the issue in the assembly in 1988 and severely criticised the registration of the society. This was done despite the fact that the officers had to render life-long service in the state and their number was only 32. The members of the IAS and IPS were described as agents of colonial power. A conspiracy to upset the balance of population was alleged. The officers, in sheer disgust, dissolved the society. No one got any land. What was disconcerting was the fact that there was no technical fault in the registration, but the attitude displayed against the Union and its representatives and the notions that were instilled in the minds of Kashmiris.
There has always been a strong tendency on the part of Kashmiri politicians to project themselves as heroes fighting the ‘imperialists’. There was so much controversy around the case thanks to the National Conference leaders that it was lapped up by the Pakistani media. One leading journalist commented: “This smacked of the action of the Jews who settled in Palestine as ‘uprooted refugees’ and ultimately drove out the Arabs from their own lands”.
Just imagine a housing society of 32 officers raising a spectre of colonisation of Kashmir which had a population of eight million at that time. But who were responsible for this venomous propaganda? None but the leaders of National Conference, the senior coalition partner in the state and and an ally of the ruling party at the Centre.
The Centre enacted the Religious Institutions (Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1988. It was made applicable to all the states of the Union except J&K. Because of Article 370, the concurrence of the state government was needed for the extension of this law to the state. But the same was not accorded. Why? Because J&K is different; its personality and identity is different. What an argument for not having a law which aimed at the prevention of misuse of religious premises for political purposes.
Nowhere was this law more needed than in J&K. Nowhere were the seeds of fanaticism and fundamentalism sown more assiduously than from the pulpits of mosques here. Nowhere was it preached more regularly than here that Indian democracy was unIslamic. And yet, neither the state nor the Centre took the matter seriously. What was more intriguing was that the law, which was considered good for about 130 million Muslims in other parts of India, was not considered good for 5 million Muslims in Kashmir.
There has been a general tendency to always adopt a short-term approach and hope that the ills would disappear. But this is not to be. The ‘spirit of Munich’ has invariably trapped the leadership in a whirlpool of moral and political chaos, as is being seen in the Valley these days.
Unless New Delhi develops a strong will to address the issues of Kashmir and shows inflexible commitment to secularism and to the need for building a cohesive nation, the bitter harvest would continue to sprout from time to time and cause suffering. The solution to the present-day crisis does not lie in removing Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, as is being advocated in certain quarters, but in replacing the prevailing culture of compromise and confusion with the culture of commitment and clarity. The current approach, hesitant and hollow as it is, must end; or else a bigger disaster would strike not just the Valley but also the nation.
Jagmohan was Governor of Jammu & Kashmir from 1984 to 1989 and is a former Union minister. The views expressed by the author are personal