Until trust is rebuilt, Kashmir will not become the Union’s territory
New Delhi must forge an emotional bond with the Valley, and realise that it, too, is guilty on several counts
The fortunes of an entire state lie changed on a piece of paper. The President of India has signed off on it, and Parliament has endorsed it. Overnight, a state has been bifurcated; its history changed; its geography altered. Jammu and Kashmir is no longer the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the crown on India’s head. It has been cleaved into two neat union territories.
Or not so neat.
By defanging Article 370, which gave the state its special status, the government may have fulfilled a promise it made in its election manifesto, but it may just have ended up giving the Kashmir insurgency a new lease of life. The stealth with which the government went about its move, in fact, points to a festering fault line: it inherently does not trust Kashmiris.
It doesn’t trust the Kashmiris with common liberties. As far as the government is concerned, a Kashmiri with a phone and an Internet connection is a threat, more than four Kashmiris on the street are a threat and so the dramatic move to repeal the status came packaged with Section 144 that prohibits the assembly of people. It also doesn’t trust mainstream politicians; its own allies in the past, and so they must stay confined in a guest house.
The problem is that the Kashmiri does not trust New Delhi either. The trust on both sides has eroded over the years, and we saw how it reached breakpoint after the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani in 2016. Precious human lives were lost and hundreds were injured, and many blinded in clashes in which security forces fired pellets to quell enraged youth.
Fearing a repeat of 2016, the Centre has clamped down on Kashmir — even as Jammu and Ladakh rejoice — but the question really is, for how long will the Valley stay under a security blanket?
We don’t know what is happening on the ground in Kashmir. People are being allowed to breathe only within the walls of their homes. It would be safe to surmise that the Valley resembles a large open air prison with at least 35,000 more pair of boots. Edgy soldiers must be parading the streets of a place that has now been cleared of all tourists and yatris. The messaging, the signalling is all so anti-Kashmiri: the state has secured those it wanted out and the rest have simply been confined.
The confinement could come at a cost. It may swell the ranks of separatists; it may feed the rage and increase the distance between Srinagar and New Delhi. It may even push mainstream politicians such as Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti to speak a language they haven’t spoken before. The National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party — who have both allied with the BJP in the past — may now have been pushed so far into a corner they may no longer be the bridge between Kashmir and the Centre. Abdullah has already called the move to alter the special status an “act of aggression” and Mufti has repeated herself by saying that there will be no one to fly the tricolour.
The problem is that Delhi will not mind. A process of delimitation will change the contours of political power that will benefit it. It also believes — and home minister Amit Shah articulated as much — that Article 370 is at the root of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, and that its removal will end the bloodshed.
He may be wrong. Its repeal could lead to more bloodshed and encourage Pakistan to fish in muddied waters. Speaking in Parliament, Shah also said, “We are ready to die for Kashmir.” He and his government need to change not just their phraseology but their approach. It would have been better if he had tweaked his words, just a little, to say, “We are ready to die for Kashmiris.”
Shah believes development is the answer to the Kashmir problem. He may be off the mark here too. He and his government need to forge an emotional bond with the Valley and accept that like previous governments, they too are guilty on several counts. Guilty of believing that the military can solve the problem for them. Guilty of believing that economic packages can help them buy their way out of what is essentially a political problem that needs sustained dialogue. Guilty of believing that the cleaving of a state is a magic bullet that will rid the Valley of an insurgency that is being sustained by locals.
There are no short-cuts to the problem, and till real solutions are sought and trust rebuilt, Kashmir will not become the Union’s territory.