For some years now, and until a few months ago, it seemed that peace had at last returned to the Kashmir valley after years of militancy which began in 1989 as an indigenous movement of Kashmir’s Muslims but was soon hijacked and metamorphosed into Pakistan-backed terrorist activity involving the participation of Pakistani and other self-proclaimed jihadis committed, in the name of Islam, to the “liberation” of Kashmir. Fifteen years later, the militancy and violence appeared to be in retreat as, defying the threat of extremists’ bullets, the valley turned to the ballot box, leading to the formation of the People’s Democratic Party-Congress coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir in October 2002.
In mid-2008 the ill-conceived decision of the earlier Jammu and Kashmir government to transfer land to the Amarnath shrine board triggered widespread unrest both in the valley and in the Jammu region. This threatened to communalise the atmosphere in the entire state as the spectre of violence engulfed the state yet again. But fresh assembly polls in November-December 2008 were more or less violence-free and Omar Abdullah of the National Conference was sworn in as the new chief minister in the first week of 2009. Months later, tourists from the rest of India flocked to the valley and once again all seemed well.
In the last few months however, the situation has rapidly deteriorated to the point that, far from talk of a gradual withdrawal of troops from the valley, we are back to soldiers patrolling the streets of Srinagar once more, where too many precious lives have already been lost. To most people this apparently sudden turn for the worse seemed to be the result of Pakistan’s renewed efforts to stoke the embers of insurrection. But the latest reports in the national media are talking of the birth of a Palestine-like intifada in Kashmir.
In an article titled ‘The last option: A stone in her hand’ in The Times of India, Sanjay Kak graphically captures the new reality of the valley in the following words: “…now an unfamiliar new photograph of the Kashmiri woman has begun to take its place on newspaper front pages. She is dressed in ordinary shalwar kameez, pastel pink, baby blue, purple and yellow. Her head is casually covered with a dupatta and she seems unconcerned about being recognised. She is often middle-aged and could even be middle-class. And she is carrying a stone. A weapon directed at the security forces.” The article ends thus: “The current round of protests will probably die down soon. The mandarins of New Delhi will heave a sigh of relief, tell us that everything is normal and turn their attentions to something else. But only their hubris could blind them from noticing what we have all seen this summer in Kashmir. This is not ordinary anger. It is an incandescent fury that effaces fear. That should worry those who seek to control Kashmir.”
Only the deeply prejudiced or the wilfully blind will now pretend that alienation of such depth and intensity is all because of Pakistan’s shenanigans. The security forces can deal with insurgents but to deal with the problem of the deep-seated alienation that lies behind “an incandescent fury that effaces fear”, you do not need the army or yet another employment guarantee scheme, you need a genuine and sincere political process.
Where does one begin? Perhaps with two observations made by the union home minister, P. Chidambaram, in Parliament recently: one, that the accession of Jammu and Kashmir was “unique”; two, that the Indian state and its successive governments had failed to keep promises made to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. What was unique about the accession of Jammu and Kashmir and what were the promises made to its people? What was the backdrop, the context?
In our cover story in this special anniversary issue, Badri Raina starts by recalling how Sheikh Abdullah, the undisputed leader of the valley’s Muslims who was once fondly referred to as the ‘Lion of Kashmir’, consistently rebuffed Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s repeated attempts to win him over to the “two-nation” theory and the consequent religion-based partition of India. Where Abdullah stood on this issue is easy to appreciate from the fact that in 1938 he changed the name of the movement he led from the “Muslim Conference” to the “National Conference”.
On March 6, 1948, in his first speech as “prime minister” of the state, he affirmed: “We have decided to work with and die for India… We made our decision not in October last but in 1944 when we resisted the advances of Mr Jinnah. Our refusal was categorical. Ever since, the National Conference has attempted to keep the state clear of the pernicious two-nation theory…”
The uniqueness of Jammu and Kashmir’s accession lies in the fact that the Hindu ruler of the state, Maharaja Hari Singh, would ideally have chosen to remain independent and his Muslim-majority subjects preferred to join a secular, Hindu-majority India rather than the newly created nation for Muslims. It is in this context that certain promises were made. What do you expect but incandescent fury when an entire people who acted in good faith are faced with broken promises?
Archived from Communalism Combat, July-August 2010, Anniversary Issue (17th) Year 17 No.153 - Editorial