The visit of the parliamentary delegation to Jammu and Kashmir gave to some of us a feel of the ground situation. The neglected regions of Jammu and Ladakh nurture a profound sense of discrimination. They feel that in terms of sharing of political power and economic resources they are the discriminated regions. Their emotions and arguments were hugely persuasive.
In the Kashmir Valley the situation is diametrically the opposite. Members of the mainstream political parties could see their space shrinking. This was not the position prior to 2010. In December, 2008, just 21 months ago, the electorate — even in the Kashmir Valley — participated overwhelmingly in the elections, ignoring the boycott call and threats of violence.
The acquisition of Kashmir is unquestionably a part of Pakistan’s unfinished agenda of Partition. Initially Pakistan succeeded in snatching away one part of our territory. It resorted to conventional war but realised its futility because of India’s superior strength. It then pursued two decades of armed insurgency and cross-border terrorism. That tactic did not succeed for two reasons.
First, there is a global distaste for terror and an unwillingness to allow its instigators to enjoy the political fruits of violence. Second, the capacity of the Indian State to confront terrorism has substantially increased. Consequently, the separatists and their handlers have now resorted to a new strategy: mob violence, stone pelting and arson.
Yet, amid the dark clouds in the Kashmir Valley there is a silver lining. Armed insurgency has been substantially eliminated. There is a hostile reaction from the population to even a slight suggestion that the
protestors are instigated by Pakistan. The youth and the students we met were extremely intelligent and articulate. One could see an apparent conflict between political anger and aspirational desires within the same individuals.
There was also a downside. The historical blunder of allowing a separate status gave rise to demands like grant of autonomy and self-rule. The 63-year-old journey of separate status has been in the direction of separatism. The dithering of the central government, the efforts of mainstream state parties to weaken the constitutional and political relationship between the nation and the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and the increased nervousness of a section of India’s political establishment to deal firmly with the protests has transformed the distant dream of azadi into a possible, realisable and romantic reality. At the same time, no one could explain to us the exact political content of azadi. Was it a sustainable proposition or a recipe for anarchy?
Violence is a key instrument of the separatists. In a peaceful Kashmir, the leaders of azadi are only Friday speakers. They, therefore, consciously instigated violence in the form of insurgency, stone pelting and arson — activities that inevitably attract a response from the security forces. These, in turn, prompt a larger security presence, security checks, searches, and obviously, harassment of the citizens.
The strategy of the separatists is clear. In a peaceful Kashmir, the separatist movement does not pick up. It is the anger, despair, frustration and harassment, which is caused by violence and the consequences of violence that give rise to a feeling of Kashmiri victimhood and adds to the support for azadi.
There are two factors that support separatism. First, a weak central government that dithers and can be pushed around adds strength to the separatists. Second, the violence of the separatist movement leads to the harassment of citizens and, consequently, adds to popular support for the protests. The demand for autonomy and self-rule weakens the constitutional and political relationship between India and the state of J&K.
Similarly, the demand for either the dilution or the de-notification in some areas of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) is only intended to stigmatise the security forces. Not one death has been caused by the bullets of the Indian Army. If the AFSPA were to be denotified, on the grounds that there is no Army present in some districts of the state, it still cannot be ignored that the AFSPA enables and shields “other armed forces of the Union” which include the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Border Security Force and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. Do we expect the CRPF to handle the sensitive areas of Srinagar, Badgam, Anantnag and Sopore without the protection of AFSPA so that prosecutions are filed against officers of these agencies every time there is a conflict?
There is a need to delegitimise the separatist leaders. When former Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee spoke of a settlement within the ambit of ‘Insaniyat’ — a principle which the separatists today accept, it did not include insurgency, stone pelting or even the need for police firing. The Constitution of India is a humane document which epitomises Insaniyat. Insaniyat is the converse of Haivaniyat and it is this message which needs to be squarely conveyed to the separatists.
Our national policy must clearly redefine the debate among the Kashmiris. Azadi is neither viable nor realisable; it’s an impossibility. No nation barters away a part of its territory.
Kashmir and the Kashmiri people belong to India. We must not allow them to be alienated from the mainstream; we must alienate them from the separatists. The deaths caused by police firing are unfortunate. It is the separatists who engineered a confrontation for which ordinary people paid the consequences. We must distinguish between the separatists and the commoners; we must never blink before the separatists; but the approach towards the common man must be humane. Effective steps to secure his trust and his future must be based on the tenets of ‘Insaniyat’.
Arun Jaitley is a BJP MP and Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. He was a member of the all-party delegation of MPs to Kashmir. The views expressed by the author are personal