The good thing about me is that I’m not Omar Abdullah. So with that distinct advantage, I can pick up where the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister left off. Abdullah ‘compared’ the Tamil Nadu assembly’s demand for the killers of Rajiv Gandhi to be saved from the noose with that of the request that Afzal Guru be not hanged for being a plotter in the December 13, 2001 attack on Parliament on Twitter. I don’t know whether the Government of India actually accepts a tweet as an official statement. But in such dire times, even a smoke signal that veers from officialspeak can be dodgy for one’s career path.
Now, I’m not against the death sentence. Once the evidence is on the table that proves beyond legal doubt that a man’s done something for which he should hang, that’s good enough for me to quench my need for communal vengeance. In any case, with all too many acquittals and inordinate delays in cases, and India’s idea of ‘rarest of rare cases’ model holding good, the death sentence isn’t the easy lottery that it may be in, say, the United States.
But Abdullah’s rather nifty point is about something different altogether. It’s about how different Kashmir can be for (the rest of) India. Take the media. Apart from the usual stenography, there are plenty of queries and doubts thrown up in the face of the official government versions when it comes to Maoist violence or other forms of ‘mainland’ insurgency. But when it comes to the state of Jammu and Kashmir — being a non-negotiable and integral part of India and all that — there isn’t much leg room given for disagreement or dissent.
The Abdullah tweet, coming a day after the Tamil Nadu assembly’s resolution, was a classic case in point. “If J&K Assembly had passed a resolution similar to the Tamil Nadu one for Afzal Guru would the reaction have been as muted? I think not.”
I also think not. Abdullah can correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think he was speaking from a position held by the likes of Arundhati ‘Anna is a fascist!’ Roy who believe that Afzal Guru got a raw deal in the judicial process. Like the three killers of Rajiv Gandhi, Guru is — for the lack of another word — toast. And Abdullah’s rhetorical point was about seeking clemency for a Kashmiri death-row prisoner rather than questioning his guilt.
But the moment we see Afzal Guru through the mirror of J&K (Guru is a Kashmiri), the politics flips. If anyone seeks that Afzal be spared the noose and be given life sentence — and if that someone happens to be a fellow Kashmiri —– suddenly there’s the smell of insurrection coming from the kitchen.
I hold no brief for Kashmiri separatists. (Why on earth would I want to go through the trouble of seeking out a visa if I want to travel to the Valley if I can go there without any hassles?) And these days, to talk about Kashmiri autonomy is akin to talking about Khalistani pride. But even the liberal media have been astonishing naive — or as they say non-naively, ‘loyal’ — when it comes to information about human rights violations, abuses and any theoretical discussion about greater autonomy for the state.
So for anyone to even suggest that Afzal Guru’s death sentence be converted into a life imprisonment is still seen as semi-sedition. Even as the demand for clemency for the Tamil killers of Rajiv Gandhi by at least a voluble number of Tamils is seen as parochial politics, not national taboo.
Abdullah is echoing what his rival and state opposition leader Mehbooba Mufti had stated in in 2005. Mufti had said that Afzal’s life should be spared if Pakistan provided clemency to Indian accused terrorist Sarabjit Singh (who happens to still be on death row). But by bringing Tamil Nadu and Kashmir together in the same sentence — as opposed to the old ‘parity-seeking’ between Kashmir and Pakistan — Abdullah has provided the non-Kashmiri like myself the opportunity to ask you: what is sauce for Tamil Nadu is sauce for Kashmir, right?
Unless, of course, even with the shikaras filling up with desi tourists and us fondly remembering Shammi Kapoor in Junglee, Kashmir’s not quite fully Indian yet.