By A.G. NOORANI
ANY thaw in relations between India and Pakistan is always warmly welcomed in Indian Kashmir. The people know that they suffer when differences between the governments of the two countries get out of hand. They realise also that their only hope for an end to the Kashmir dispute and, with it, the uncertainty about its future, lies in a settlement between them.
The joint statement issued on Dec 9 by Sartaj Aziz, the prime minister’s adviser on foreign affairs, and Sushma Swaraj, India’s foreign minister was welcomed by all in Indian Kashmir; but, with one difference. In the past, a thaw in Pakistan-India relations led to some easing of political tensions in Kashmir. There was no such effect now.
The coalition of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Peoples Democratic Party headed by Mufti Mohammed Sayeed has become a grave menace to all that Kashmiris cherish. It has facilitated the presence of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in Kashmir.
To whom can Kashmiris look up to for redress?
The centre’s men who deal with Kashmir have a past. Jitendra Singh, the minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office, is from Jammu and had organised an agitation against the Valley not long ago. Ram Madhav, the BJP general secretary, who negotiated the coalition deal, held the same position in the RSS which seconded him to its political front — the BJP.
Significantly, Mufti supported an RSS man’s election as speaker of the Srinagar legislative assembly. On Oct 5, the speaker Kavinder Gupta abruptly adjourned the assembly without transacting any business, after an uproar over the high court’s judgement on the beef ban. On Sept 8, a division bench of the high court at Jammu directed the police to enforce a law made in 1896 to ban the slaughter of cows. It was renewed in 1932 by the Maharaja Hari Singh who ran an avowedly “Hindu state, situated in Muslim surroundings” as Vallabhbhai Patel noted.
The high court’s order to the police to take “strict action” for the enforcement of an archaic law caused grave disquiet in the Valley. Bills were tabled in the assembly for repeal of the law. Before the assembly met, Gupta told the media he would not allow any discussion on them. When MLAs accused him of being an RSS man he said he was “a proud RSS man”. On Oct 25, he joined BJP MLAs in a march in Jammu. He was in the RSS uniform. Mufti dared not stop that march but unfailingly prevents the two Hurriyats from marching in processions.
July 13 has been an official holiday in Kashmir. On this day, 22 protesting Muslims were killed by Hari Singh’s troops. For the first time, a group of cabinet ministers boycotted it. A BJP leader Ravinder Raina explained that July 13 “is a black day in Kashmir’s history when some goons revolted against the rule of Maharaja Hari Singh”. They observed it as a black day. While unionists went to the Mazar-i-Shuhada (the martyrs’ graves) the separatist leaders were placed under home arrest or detained in prisons to prevent them from going.
This incident reveals the deep divide between the Kashmir Valley and Jammu. The unrelenting repression of separatists reflects a pathetic admission that it is they, not Mufti or the Abdullahs, who represent the people despite periodic elections.
In Kashmir, that unrepresentative majority is also a fractured majority. The Peoples Democratic Party is committed, in form, to Article 370 (the guarantee) of autonomy. On Sept 3 the deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh made it plain that his BJP was hostile to Article 370. “J&K’s special status has had a psychological impact. People feel that they are not fully part of the mainstream. This has boosted the morale of the separatists.”
The logic is perverse. Not Article 370, but the people’s alienation keeps them from feeling that they are “part of the mainstream” (read India). Article 370, crafted to reassure them, is a wreck.
Mufti made false promises to roll it back to its original position only to agree to the BJP’s demand that he endorse the “present position”.
There has been a spurt in militancy and the ills that are caused by repression. Huge crowds throng to the funerals of slain militants and women rush to the windows when funeral processions pass by their homes.
Whom can the people look up to for redress? Omar Abdullah was no better. The separatists are divided and have no viable strategy.
On Nov 17, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq took a bold step in calling for a joint meeting of supporters of the cause, religious scholars, students, lawyers, journalists and others to discuss “alternative forms of protest” and a “new strategy to counter government’s aggression on resistance leadership and youth across Kashmir”.
It is in such exercises that Kashmiris will find a way out.
(The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.