While the rest of India has been busy with news of scams, elections, civil rights activists and public demonstrations, Kashmir prepares for the summer ahead. ‘Khoon ka badla June main lenge’ is the new slogan. While the appointment of the three interlocutors, the visit of the all-party delegation of MPs to the state, the appointment of task forces to look into the special needs of the Jammu and Ladakh regions and the subsequent allocations in the Union budget to meet these requirements have all been initiatives to ensure that normalcy continues, these are not considered significant enough by many in the state.
It is just not the Valley that is unhappy; the residents of Jammu and the Ladakh regions are also dissatisfied. A disturbing factor, brushed under the carpet, is the divide among regions on communal lines. Jammu residents consider themselves ‘nationalist’, implying that the Muslims of the Valley are disloyal to India, and are often seen as Pakistani sympathisers. The feeling is that the government is soft on the Valley and development is skewed in favour of the Valley. Not all of this is untrue, and it seems fair to surmise that the tradition of secular Islam in Kashmir is waning and the local Kashmiri Muslim population has done little to gain the confidence of their Hindu brethren.
Historically, Kashmir has been enveloped by different faiths: Buddhism at the time of Ashoka, Shaivism in the 9th century, Islam introduced by Shah Mir, the Sikh rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the Dogras in 1846. No wonder then that Sufism found a base in this pool of different faiths and Kashmir became a land of mystics, music and Sufi quatrains.
But where did this inherently secular Kashmiri disappear over the past few decades? How did he permit the mass migration of his Hindu neighbours, people who had lived in harmony, singing, eating, celebrating and grieving together? Why did he not understand that Hindus in the Valley were going through the same trepidation and doubts that any minority undergoes, similar to what some Muslims went through in pre-Partition India. Whatever the cause — army atrocities, political machinations, Pakistan-backed terrorism — not enough has been done by the Muslims of the Valley to win back the confidence of the non-Muslims. It is time to address these issues and initiative must be taken by the main political parties in J&K. The other side of the coin is the issue of Kashmir, Kashmiris and Kashmiriat. After the exit of Sheikh Abdullah, the state has had a series of comprador governments who were more interested in continuing in power and keeping Delhi happy.
Sandwiched between self-serving politicians, the Indian Army and paramilitary forces, and the shadow of the Pakistan-backed terrorist, Kashmir has begotten a generation of ‘children of militancy’ imbued with a sense of hopelessness. The fact is that Pakistan is our neighbour, and although friendly voices emanate from time to time, it will remain an unreliable one. While we must strive to improve relations with Pakistan, India must seek a solution for Kashmir independent of Pakistan. To this end, the government must first restore Article 370 since that has steadily been eroded. This will be a huge confidence booster. Second, it must remove the dreaded Armed Forces Special Powers Act and set up a truth and reconciliation commission that will address human rights violations and will reassure the Kashmiris of our systems of justice.
The private and the public sectors must be nudged to accept educated and qualified Kashmiri youth in larger numbers. (When did one last see a young Kashmiri as a management trainee in any private sector company?). Once this ground work is done and a reconciliatory mood develops, India must work towards granting greater autonomy to Kashmir, within the framework of the Constitution.
The Kashmiri wishes to govern himself, not to be ruled from Delhi, as is the perception in the Valley. This feeling is hardly unjustified considering the number of times elections have been rigged and CM amenable to New Delhi have been foisted on the state. With the conduct of a successful panchayat election, it is time to focus on improving governance and give the ‘aam’ villager the confidence that there will be greater involvement in the development process.
Kashmiris today do not wish to be with Pakistan. The Hurriyat and sas Geelani may shout themselves hoarse but they will not meet with success on this count. But certainly, New Delhi must quickly work out modalities and initiate dialogue with all stakeholders in a move towards greater autonomy. This will involve a political process and participation at a senior political level.
India is on a path of rapid development. It stands to reason that Kashmir wants to be part of this story. But India has some obligations towards Kashmiris to provide economic development with justice. We have created a predatory system in Kashmir that benefits a political class that has little interest in change. Unless the economic benefits of India’s upward growth reach the Kashmiri masses, the sullenness will continue. Making choices on this is not a tall order for India. In fact, this may be the least difficult of all the choices.
Najeeb Jung, a former civil servant, is the Vice Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia. The views expressed by the author are personal