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Lal before the storm

For the first time, an important political leader has suggested that not just the terrorists but all the people of the Kashmir Valley are adversaries — foes of the Motherland, writes Rajmohan Gandhi.

india Updated: Aug 19, 2008 22:56 IST

In his letter to the Prime Minister on nationalism versus separatism, L.K. Advani has placed the people of Jammu, the national flag, the Motherland and the Indian Army in one column, and the people of the Kashmir Valley and separatism in a second, adversarial, column. Some will see this as fair. Can it be denied that the national flag and the Indian Army have many more admirers in Jammu than in the Valley? Don’t we hear of attacks on security forces and the raising of Pakistani flags in Kashmir? Does anything like that happen in Jammu town?

Advani’s divisive formulation has to be opposed not because it is entirely untrue but precisely because it is a half-truth, more dangerous than a lie for being believable.

A difficult reality can be dealt with in two ways. It can be admitted, deplored, and corrected. Or it can be welcomed with glee, presented as a fundamental and unchangeable truth, and used as a political springboard.

For the first time, an important political leader has suggested that not just the terrorists but all the people of the Kashmir Valley are adversaries — foes of the Motherland, of the national flag, and of the Army.

For the first time, a possible future Prime Minister of India has divided the people of Jammu and Kashmir into two sections, one with positive qualities and worthy of the Army’s protection, and the other with negative impulses, deserving of the Army’s suspicion.

Advani was careful not to use the word ‘Muslims’. But, of course, he is not implying that Kashmiri Pandits are separatists. He means Kashmiri Muslims. Everyone knows that, and Advani knows that everyone knows what he means.

He also knows — and this is even more serious than what he says about Kashmiri Muslims, grave as that is — that his remark about people with anti-Motherland, anti-flag and anti-Army sentiments will be understood as referring to India’s Muslims in general, and not just the Muslims of Kashmir. The tactic of dividing J&K, and by implicating India as a whole, into Hindu and Muslim is particularly dangerous at this juncture, when India and the rest of the subcontinent is facing the most serious challenge that extremists using Islam have ever posed. Advani is much too intelligent and experienced to believe that the way to meet this challenge is to unite all non-Muslims in confrontational solidarity against all Muslims.

He knows perfectly well that the vast majority of India’s Muslims oppose extremism and terrorism. As for Kashmiri Muslims, Advani is aware of their tradition, which equips Muslims of the Valley to lead a fight against bigotry. And he knows also that Pakistani Muslims in general not only oppose extremism but are the major targets of jehadist militancy today.

Above all, as a 1947 refugee from Sindh and as a former Home Minister, Advani has an idea of the incalculable costs of Hindu-Muslim conflict. He must, therefore, know, as do the rest of us, that the real clash in India, and within the subcontinent, is not between Hindus and Muslims, or between Indians and Pakistanis, or between nationalists and traitors, or even between the people of Jammu and the people of Kashmir. Instead, it is between all those (of every or no religion and of every region) who cherish life, with all its vagaries and, therefore, seek to solve problems through peaceful means, and a relatively small but dangerously dedicated number of those (Muslims, Hindus and others) who are willing to kill people, including the innocent and themselves, to achieve a goal. He knows this well. Yet, when he saw a political springboard, he just went for it.

Finally, Advani’s demand for a transfer of land in the Kashmir Valley to the Amarnath Shrine Board is also unwise. Something other than a transfer should be entirely acceptable.

No ‘title deed’ has ever been less necessary. Until the end of June, tourists from all over India were enjoying Kashmir and helping its economy along. Less offensively conspicuous than before, security forces were in complete control, and Kashmiris were looking back upon militancy as a curse (many blamed it for the 2005 earthquake).

The Amarnath pilgrimage was growing in numbers and convenience. Environmental aspects were receiving attention. There was no sense in taking away with the ‘religious’ or ‘pilgrimage’ hand, the autonomy promised by the political hand.

That India can retain Kashmir was not and is not in doubt. Size counts. Numbers count. Armies count. The economy counts. But anyone who thinks that coercion can be more effective in Kashmir than genuine respect and autonomy, or that the respect that India commands worldwide will grow with effective Indian coerciveness, does not understand the 21st century. And such a person has not thought of the effect on towns across India of coercing the people of Kashmir, or of using the religious card towards that end.

Let Advani say what he likes. The rest of us should appeal to the people of Jammu and the people of Kashmir to return to sobriety and calmness. They are not foes but much-needed allies for greater tasks, and are fully entitled to their dignity.

Rajmohan Gandhi is the author of Gandhi: The Man, His People, and the Empire.