Mehbooba Mufti, chief minister of the troubled state of Jammu and Kashmir, finally met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday and urged him to start a dialogue, but there is no assurance that the Modi-led NDA government will pursue negotiations. Apart from posting a photograph of their meeting on Twitter, the PM has made no comment that offers any hope that he will walk the talk.
Last summer, the wounded Valley witnessed its worst summer after the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani and there are no signs that the cycle of violence will be broken soon. A district-level functionary of the ruling People’s Democratic Party was, in fact, killed within hours of the Mehbooba-Modi meeting.
The politics of silence will not break the cycle of violence that has the Valley in a vice-like grip. Both Modi and army chief General Bipin Rawat have been silent since the disturbing video of a Kashmiri man tied to the bonnet of an official jeep was made public last week. Some retired generals have made it clear that the image would haunt the Army but Gen. Rawat has not sent out an unambiguous message against the use of civilians as human shields.
A few days earlier, another video went viral of CRPF jawans being heckled and kicked by local Kashmiris. It is a no-brainer to condemn both but unfortunately reason has been drowned out in the ‘nationalistic’ cacophony that celebrates one while vociferously condemning the other.
What Mehbooba ought to have vociferously put across to the PM –we don’t know if she did – is the fact that a dialogue is necessary because Kashmir is essentially a political dialogue and no solution can ever flow from the might of a military gun.
The videos are stark reminders that the common Kashmiri and the men in uniform are tired of each other. Kashmiris bristle at the sight of uniform because for over two decades they have lived under a tight security blanket. The state has seen several elections but the alienation has not been addressed. The PDP and the BJP have an agenda of alliance that includes the need for a dialogue and the promise of re-looking at the armed forces special powers Act, but neither has been given any attention in the last over two years that they have been sharing power.
The army soldier and the paramilitary jawans do not deserve to be pelted with stones; Kashmiris too don’t deserve to be blinded by pellets or killed by bullets. The rupture between the two groups has brought the Valley to a dangerous tipping point. ‘India’ and its perceived apathy are riling the Kashmiris as much as the security forces are being riled by the stone pelters. ‘India’ is making its presence felt only through brute force and it would not be wrong to say that New Delhi is doing a great disservice to its own military and paramilitary by abandoning its own responsibility and making them the face of the Indian State.
The politicians, in fact, are guilty of using its security forces as human shields. They are the ones missing in action and it is important that they stand between stone pelters and pellet guns. The jingoistic narrative that favours those who wield the pellet guns is blurring the line between stone pelters and terrorists and the government – through its silence – is signalling that while it thinks Kashmir (the territory), it is not thinking, Kashmiri (the people).
Mehbooba wants Modi to be like former BJP prime minister, Atal Bihar Vajpayee, but forgets that her father, Mufti Mohammad Saeed died, asking for the same. Vajpayee made a serious difference when, on a visit to Srinagar, he promised a dialogue within the ambit of ‘insaniyat’ (humanity).
Modi must step in – with insaniyat – and reach out to the wounded Valley. His government cannot send out a message that it stands by an Army that is legally and morally wrong in using civilians as human shields. What will the Army or the CRPF do the next time when soldiers come face-to-face with an angry crowd?
That’s a reality it will face sooner rather than later.