Views from Srinagar
Rajni Shaleen Chopra
ON April 3, newspapers in Kashmir carried photographs of students in Kashmir University marching with placards. The placards read: ‘We are Pakistan’s and Pakistan is Ours. Long Live Pakistan’, ‘No IIT, No NIT, only Freedom’ and ‘No AIIMS, No IIM, only Freedom’.
A few days earlier, on March 27, The Indian Express did a Sunday magazine cover story titled ‘Out of the Valley: A look at the lives of Kashmiri students’. The correspondents spoke to scores of Kashmiri youth studying in multiple Indian cities. The youth said their parents get scared by incidents in the Indian mainland. “They ask us to not expose our Kashmiri roots too much. But after coming here, we realize that things are not as bad,” reported a youngster.
The youth admitted that they faced prejudice at times, and were constantly asked by peers to prove their identity in terms of whether they feel Indian or not. Despite these challenges, most youngsters said that they were happy coming to mainland India. The standard of education here was far better than Kashmir, they felt, and they got enormous industry exposure and job opportunities.
Which of these Kashmiri youth is truly representative of their state? The ones carrying the rebellious placards in Kashmir University? Or the ones pursuing higher education and jobs in mainland India?
Both these groups represent their homeland. More and more Kashmiri youth integrating with the Indian mainstream is a welcome trend. At the same time, Delhi must not ignore incidents like the continued bursting of firecrackers in Kashmir at India’s loss in sports, and the anti-India rallies which profess great love for Pakistan.
The solution does not lie in identifying these ‘deluded’ youth as ‘anti-nationals’, and clamping down on them with the harsh security apparatus. The healing can come only with genuine outreach and compassionate hand-holding.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi shares visible camaraderie with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. India continues to have good diplomatic relations with China despite hiccups. The outreach of the Prime Minister and his government seems definite and positive towards those perceived as the enemies of the nation. Why can similar warmth and the need for dialogue not be initiated with those seen as antagonists on the domestic front? Some part of this warmth used on home adversaries will serve the nation as much as the outreach with the foreign powers.
No power in the world has succeeded in marching on jackboots to bulldoze its way into the hearts of its people. It is no different in Kashmir. The conflict-ridden Valley needs empathy, and a consistent building of trust.
A dialogue with the Kashmiri separatists will not diminish the authority of Delhi in Kashmir. It will rather enhance the stature of Delhi as a government which has the confidence to engage its domestic antagonists, win their trust, and build bridges with its people.
PDP may promise a healing touch to the people of Kashmir. But Kashmir’s true healing cannot flow from the office of the J&K Chief Minister. The Kashmir issue will be resolved solely by the office of the Prime Minister of India.
Some Kashmiri youth and even their elders may profess great love for the bleeding nation called Pakistan. It is not these deluded few who will steer the fate of their homeland.
The saffron party’s coalition with PDP to form the state government has been set rolling for governance. It will be enough if legislators of the two parties focus on coordinated, effective governance and rise above the acrimony that marked their relations earlier. It is not Mehbooba Mufti or her party that can soothe the pain of the Valley. Kashmir is scarred. It bears lacerations on its body from the battle between armed insurgency and the heavy hammer of the state. The healing touch for this traumatized land will come from the man who is the political face of the Indian Right, and occupies the Chair of the Prime Minister.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi heads a government elected with a thumping majority to the Lok Sabha. He enjoys the confidence of the nation. Mehbooba Mufti, on the other hand, faces multiple political and domestic challenges. She now wears the Crown of Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. I hope and pray that her crown carries more roses and fewer thorns. Jammu and Kashmir will greatly benefit from good administration and focused infrastructure development. But Kashmir’s deepest scars are emotional. They will be healed by a connect which is emotional and true. Financial grants and packages do not build bridges. Trust can be build only through political initiatives that are humane, and carry the stamp of honesty of purpose.
Speaking during Modi’s rally in Srinagar in November 2015, Mehbooba Mufti had said that Kashmiris have sealed their fate with India. This sealing of fate must be respected and honored by New Delhi. Armies are not known to retreat from a region where they have tasted victory. That is when politics must come into play, and build on military success. Eminent strategic analyst Shekhar Gupta warned in 2013 that the Army must be ordered to withdraw at least partially from Kashmir. Armies that stay on too long after fulfilling their immediate task tend to become lazy and complacent, even if not armies of occupation, he had cautioned.
Which Indian political leader has the mettle to take that huge political stride which will build bridges of trust and hope with Kashmir? Who else but Narendra Modi?
Modi is the consummate statesman taking bold, confident strides on the world stage. His boldness is being appreciated by world leaders. Modi ji, your similar boldness is needed on the domestic stage. Kashmir needs healing, and a graceful, compassionate reach-out.
[Author is a senior journalist and Director Lehar, a non-political NGO].