Talking in terms of when the situation normalises in Kashmir amounts to living in a fool’s paradise. That the person saying so happens to be the chief minister of the state reveals the paucity of any real incentive to find solutions. Situations do not normalise as a matter of course when people in a place have been fighting a battle within.
A nine-year-old’s death during this tense-filled month clearly shows that no one is in control. While the home minister, P. Chidambaram, has insinuated the role of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, it is akin to playing to the gallery. After a while, it stops being a popcorn moment of watching the skirmishes in celluloid fashion. The government intercepted a conversation between hardliner separatists discussing the possibility of causing causalities in a procession on the outskirts of Srinagar. One office-bearer said, “At least 15 people should be martyred today.” This was a 20,000 crowd. Nothing happened because the cops dispersed the mob with a cane charge. So much for the hardline terrorist plan and the sleuthing by the intelligence agencies.
The real dramatis personae this time are within the state. There is the ruling party leader Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti of the People’s Democratic Party and the separatist Hurriyat’s Mirwaiz Omar Farooq.
The Centre plays a guest appearance.
Abdullah states that the Kashmir crisis is not because of bad governance. It is most certainly not the only reason if he means during his tenure, but it has been bad governance all along. His silence for the most part has not helped and when he does speak it exposes his lack of political will and sensitivity. Commenting on the loss of civilian lives, he said, “Being a father, I can feel the pain of those parents who have lost their child, I appeal all of the parents to counsel their children to not go outside their homes during the violence or in curfew and don’t indulge themselves in anti-national activities.”
Is good governance all about imprisoning children inside their homes? Isn’t good governance about trying to put a stop to such violence that is at least within manageable limits? Are the young people who are coming out in the streets and pelting stones indulging in anti-national activities? Has he not seen that the police have begun carrying little bricks too? This is not the voice of terrorism but of frustration.
Worse, there have been attacks on media persons. The Press Guild of Kashmir issued a statement saying, “Not allowing media persons to move and cover the situation tantamount to banning the media and that is what the state government has done indirectly.”
Abdullah can therefore reach his own conclusions because he is indulging in suppression of information. He alludes to the youth being used by vested interests. Why does he not name them? Everyone is a vested interest in Kashmir because each life is in danger and each human being there is living on the razor’s edge for two decades.
It is naïve of him to suggest that vested interests and anti-national forces are working together. Most local separatist groups can be broadly referred to as anti-Centre, not anti-national. Several issues need to be resolved, and that they are not is the problem of the government of India and not the extremist factions. What kind of a society is it where the ruling party leader says that normalcy will return if people obey the curfew? The people of the state are not sheep that they can be herded together to obey such diktats. Besides, are curfews the answer to the problems in the Valley? Will they assuage the disaffection of the people, bring back economic prosperity, prevent the influx of outside forces, and end the demands of separatist groups?
In what appears to be a case of ‘he has lost it’, at a press conference Abdullah appealed to senior citizens and religious preachers to spread the message of peace and help to bring normalcy in the affected areas.
Senior citizens have lost their children in the years of insurgency in the state and the peace process is not about homilies. As for religious preachers, he is transforming a political issue into a seminary dialogue and buffering the image of it as a jihad, which is playing into the hands of certain elements that have been pushing this agenda to justify their own religious idea.
He then went on a completely different track by holding out for the actions of the young people by bringing in the heavy-handedness of security forces that beat up locals and this could as a consequence be seen as retaliation. Excesses by security personnel are not unknown and have been going on for quite some time. This is not reprisal against that. He is using a simplistic yardstick because this is what he is comfortable with.
Undertrial prisoners and civilian casualties have another dimension. This time the youth movement seems to have been activated at the ground level, in many ways outside the purview of separatist or establishment movements. They are in effect protesting against bad governance, whether or not he wishes to admit it.
Mehbooba Mufti has blamed both the central and state governments. “Law and order is directly controlled by New Delhi. Now the governor has passed an order asking all departments to submit a monthly progress report on development activities to him directly. So, what does Abdullah do?” It is a relevant query. The elected representative has little power and therefore cannot hold forth on governance. However, surprisingly, Mirwaiz Omar Farooq believes, “She is a politician, so she blames the state government. But the current movement has nothing to do with governance issues. It is totally related to the cause of the Kashmiris and the political solution of the larger Kashmir issue.”
This is word-play. The Hurriyat leaders are politicians too, although not elected by the people. The larger Kashmir issue and the cause of the Kashmiris cannot exist in a vacuum and are related to governance. If they were not, why would the leaders rant against the Centre’s apathy or the State’s lack of initiative? Security is a matter of governance. Autonomy and other demands may be the macro issues, but their demand has sprung forth from the attitude of the Centre, the infiltration from across the border and infighting amongst the various militant outfits.
If a basic aspect like governance is resulting in such convergent views then there is little hope of there being any whiff of the real thing. If Mirwaiz says, “The situation is quite violent. The administration and New Delhi is trying to showcase it as a few cases of sporadic violence. But that’s certainly not the case. New Delhi has always tried to manage the Kashmir issue; never tried to find a solution”, then he must not speak with a forked tongue and absolve the Centre and the state only to take to task other political parties. He must not forget that during every elections heads roll and almost never of the political leaders who find different portfolios in different parties. It is the person going out to vote who has his head on the chopping block.
It does not need to be reiterated that the Kashmir issue is a complex one, but when the armed forces fight civilians, it is also not a matter of separatist aspirations. It is about a badly-administered state that is not providing basic infrastructure and opportunities to the citizens.
The youth pelting stones represent themselves. It is precious irony that in a state that wants to fight for freedom, the freedom of individuals to express their own anger is being manipulated by various power centres – of the government and the separatists.
The larger Kashmir issue is this – peace for the people by the people and of the people.
FARZANA VERSEY is a Mumbai-based author-columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org