Troubling Patronage

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Both nationalists and seperatists have crucially failed to empower Kashmiris

Prem Shankar JhaPrem Shankar Jha 
Senior Journalist

THERE IS a sickness in the air of Kashmir. Everything that goes wrong there is immediately blamed upon India. But when it comes to finding a remedy, no one knows what to do. The malaise was visible in a seminar titled “Kashmir: The way Forward”, organised in Srinagar last month. Agha Ashraf Ali, an eminent Islamic historian, stunned his audience with the statement that after what happened at Shopian, he was ashamed to be an Indian. Ashraf felt no hesitation in voicing this sentiment. Although everyone involved in the attempted cover-up of the rape and murder of two young girls, Asiya and Nilofer Jan, was a Kashmiri, and that the Special Investigation Team had established that a large number of people, including police officers, nomads and local Kashmiris, had been in the area where the murders took place, Ashraf had concluded that the rapists had to be members of the CRPF.

Photo: PIB/BM Meena

The sickness surfaced again only days later in Baramulla. According to detailed reports in Greater Kashmir, the valley’s premier English newspaper, two local Kashmiri men kidnapped a minor girl from a village near Baramulla on June 15. Based upon specific charges, and an identification by her parents, the police arrested the men and rescued the girl from a boatman’s colony in Srinagar. Whereupon, the wife of one of them went to the police station to demand her husband’s release. When her request was denied, she came out and accused the police of molestation. The police vigorously denied the accusation and pointed out that several persons who were present in the police station were prepared to vouch for the officer concerned. It also claimed that she had changed her story, having first claimed that the officer had asked for a bribe.

Within hours of the accusation, Baramulla Bar Association’s president condemned the behaviour of the police officer and demanded that an FIR be lodged against him. The association’s endorsement ignited mass protests in Baramulla. The police called in the CRPF. Both forces opened fire on the demonstrators; two youths were killed and the protests spread to the rest of the valley. The separatist groups had found another stick to beat India with. Curiously, neither the Bar association nor the separatists bothered to ask what had happened to the kidnapped girl, much less commend the police for their rescue.

There is an unmistakable pattern in these events. So long as there is no ‘settlement’ on the basic issue of the quantum of freedom for Kashmir, every government in Srinagar is branded by the dissident nationalists as New Delhi’s puppet. Anything it does (and some things that it does not do) automatically becomes another reminder of Kashmir’s slavery.

The Home Ministry has ensured that every attempt to fill the political middle ground in Kashmir fails

In these circumstances the plight of an elected government is unenviable. To retain the trust of the people it must show that it is capable of defending their interests and championing their aspirations in New Delhi. Discrediting it therefore becomes the separatists’ first objective. Any single delinquency by a state official or a policeman becomes grist to their mill. Hartals and mass protests follow. As police firings and human rights violations multiply, the government loses its Kashmiri identity and is identified as the ‘oppressor’.

Delhi, too, has done its bit to discredit elected governments in Kashmir. The Home Ministry, in particular, has regarded any Kashmiri chief minister who is not entirely docile, as a person of suspect loyalties and therefore a threat to India. In the end this attitude has boomeranged upon it. For it has ensured that every attempt to fill the political middle ground in Kashmir through elections under the present constitutional dispensation has failed.

One has to see, since 1996, how this has happened. In 1996, Farooq Abdullah fought the state election on a promise of autonomy and devolution. Delhi made sure that he was able to deliver neither. Instead, the increase in human rights violations that resulted from the Kashmir police’s response to the rise in jihadi attacks after the Kargil war once again destroyed the National Conference’s credentials to represent Kashmiri nationalism.

The separatists don’t realise that the discrediting of governments only weakens Kashmiris further

In 2002, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed faced the same dilemma with Delhi stalling his healing-touch programme. As his amendment of the Kashmir women’s rights bill was vetoed, and as every passing month brought its quota of over-reactions by the armed forces and police, he too began to lose his hold on the middle ground. What saved him was his championship of the border-softening process between the two parts of Kashmir, and his genuine attempts to curb high-handedness by the armed forces.

But in the end this, too, gave him only a temporary respite. Having lost the initiative on reuniting Kashmir, the separatists simmered quietly until they got the opportunity to attack the PDP for its alleged complicity in Ghulam Nabi Azad’s attempt to ‘change the demographic composition of Kashmir’ by transferring land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine board.

The Hurriyat’s assault on the PDP continued unabated into the December elections and ensured its defeat and the return of the National Conference in alliance with the Congress. But this combine is an even easier target for the separatists than the PDP was. For the National Conference has joined the UPA alliance in Delhi and Farooq Abdullah sits in the Indian cabinet. Omar Abdullah has done his best to retain a degree of control over the Kashmiri middle ground, by insisting that the due processes of the law be observed in the Shopian inquiry and asking the Centre to withdraw the CRPF from Baramulla. But New Delhi is still in two minds over his appeals to lift the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and restore civilian authority. In the meantime, the separatist opposition is taking advantage of the blunders of the Kashmir police and administration to brand him as a willing tool of the Indian oppressors.

The separatists do not realise that, in the end, even the discrediting of governments elected under the present dispensation only disempowers Kashmiris further. The sickness that afflicts Kashmir is that its intelligentsia has learned to revel in disempowerment. The origins of the disease go back to Partition. The First Kashmir war not only divided families but, by splitting the state took away the freedom to travel, live, study and trade anywhere in the sub-continent.

The continuing struggle over Kashmir ensured that they did not acquire democracy either. In Pakistan the question hardly arose. In Indian Kashmir, elections were regularly rigged till 1977. Even the autonomy inscribed in the Kashmir constitution was steadily whittled away till virtually nothing was left of Kashmir’s special status within India. In sum, as Indians in other parts of the country moved steadily towards greater empowerment, Kashmiris moved further away from it.

IF THE past 13 years have anything to teach us, it is that the Kashmir valley, at least, will not, freely and willingly, become a part of India, till New Delhi finds a way of reversing this process and re-empowering the Kashmiris. The first, essential step is to achieve closure with the Kashmiris on the lives that were lost during the insurgency. No Kashmiri political party that is willing to fight the elections under the existing dispensation can help it to do so, because in Kashmiri eyes its willingness to govern under Delhi without a closure has made it an accessory in those deaths. Only a political party or movement that can claim to represent the Kashmiri martyrs has the right to do so.

Delhi can only negotiate with groups that are prepared to accept a solution that, like the Musharraf- Manmohan agreement, leaves lines on the map basically unchanged. But over the past two decades first the ISI, and then the IB, have made sure that no moderate nationalist group, capable of negotiating with both India and Pakistan on behalf of the Kashmiris, ever takes shape.

To prevent this, the ISI has taken the short route of assassination. From Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq in 1990, through Kazi Nissar, Abdul Ahad Guru, Abdul Ghani Lone, Professor Abdul Ghani Butt’s brother, and most recently Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s uncle, a long line of Kashmiri nationalists have paid the supreme price for refusing to be its puppets.

New Delhi has taken a softer route. It has persuaded, sometimes paid, separatist leaders to enter into a dialogue, invited them to Delhi, encouraged them to make proposals, and then ignored them and sent them back to the valley to face accusations of having ‘sold out’. Between the two of them, therefore, the ISI and IB have splintered the Kashmiriyat movement till it has virtually ceased to exist. Today, by default Ali Shah Geelani has become the last Kashmiri nationalist.

premjha@airtelmail.in

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