Views from Srinagar
There are no easy answers, but some trends are sharply discernible.
THE heaven of poets and politicians is aflame once again after the killing of Hizb Commander Burhan Wani on July 8. Thereafter, as rightly put forth by Pratap Bhanu Mehta, ‘in one fell swoop the legitimacy of the Indian state has been eroded’. After 2008 and 2010, this is the third such occasion when our youth are fiercely protesting in the blood stained streets of Kashmir valley. So far, fifty two people have died in a series of violent clashes and more than two thousand others suffered serious injuries mostly due to pellet guns. Why are the youth of Kashmir so much angry with the Indian state and also with the government of Jammu and Kashmir? There are no easy answers. But some trends are easily discernible from the ground.
The major cause is the unresolved political issue of Kashmir. Since the 1947, India and Pakistan have used different methods to resolve it. They dragged this issue to the UN, used military means in 1948, 1965 and 1999 and then the emphasis on bilateralism particularly since 2001. But both countries have adopted uncompromising attitudes in dealing with the problem.
The attitude of Indian side is particularly worrying. It has engaged Pakistan since 1997 through the Composite Dialogue process, where the issue of Jammu and Kashmir figures alongside seven other important bilateral issues. But whenever Kashmir erupts in protest, India blames Pakistan and asserts that Kashmir is its ‘integral part’ and an ‘internal affair’ to deal with. This clearly shows that India has no Kashmir policy and lacks a clear roadmap to engage Pakistan. The youth of Kashmir are worried with the flip-flops in India’s Pakistan policy.
Another important dimension of the present crisis is the PDP-BJP alliance in power in the state. Why are the youth of south Kashmir particularly angry with this dispensation? The region was comparatively less affected during the 2008 and 2010 unrest in Kashmir. It’s this region that gave birth to the PDP.
In early 2000’s, the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and his daughter Mehbooba Mufti expended lot of energy to reach out to the families of militants, tried to mend fences with the Jamaat-i-Islami, and thus the party came to be identified with ‘soft-separatism’. Fed up with the renegades like Ikhwan and dissatisfied with the comatose National Conference, PDP emerged as a party of choice.
In the absence of any prominent separatist leader from the region, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and his ‘healing touch’ policy captured the imagination of youth.
Of late, the party took a centre stage in the protest against hanging of Afzal Guru. Even the party leaders held meetings in the villages of south Kashmir, glorified Afzal as a martyr, and claimed that the Hurriyat Conference and PDP are on the same page. As the people of Kashmir were unnerved with the rise of BJP at the centre, PDP cashed in on this sentiment and promised to keep BJP at bay in the state. But after the assembly elections, it forged an alliance with the right wing party. Thereafter, raking up of issues like the ban on cow slaughter, abrogation of Article 370, and setting up of colonies for pandits and saniks contributed to people’s resentment. With the memory of Afzal still fresh in mind, a number of educated youth from south Kashmir took up arms.
So we’re presently witness to a vicious cycle of violence. All means of communication are suspended. The state government is off the scene. The union Home Minster meets few people in Srinagar and puts the blame on Pakistan rather than acknowledging the indigenous nature of present crisis. The Chief Minister silently and guardedly meets few of the relatives of dead youth at the district headquarters. I concede that Vajpayee Ji’s mantra of “Kashmiriyat, Jamhooriyat and Insaniyat” may still be a workable formula. But there is an urgent need to engage the pro-freedom leadership of Kashmir in a meaningful way.
They are important stakeholders in the Kashmir conflict. You can’t sell any solution to the people of Kashmir without the engagement of separatist camp. The main slogans in current protest demonstrations, that I could hear while writing this column are ‘Azadi’ and ‘election boycott’. With strenuous efforts from the state machinery, only 33 per cent votes were cast in the recently held elections for the Anantnag assembly constituency where Mehbooba Mufti won as a CM candidate. Time is running out fast.
[The writer did his PhD in Political Science from the University of Kashmir, Srinagar].