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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 27 New Delhi June 22, 2019

Kashmir Today: Striving for Peace, Need to Address Alienation

Monday 24 June 2019


by Ram Puniyani

Since the Narendra Modi Government has returned with a thumping majority, any plan of action by the BJP on Kashmir should give due importance to the strengthening of dialogue and deepening of the process of democracy.

After the massive mandate in the 2019 general elections, the Narendra Modi Government is firmly in the saddle again. Now Amit Shah, who seems to be the most powerful person in the BJP after Modi, is the Home Minster. It is expected that he will pay special attention to the nagging Kashmir issue. Different social groups, the victims of the turmoil in Kashmir, have also been looking for initiatives that can restore peace and sanity in the area.

There are reports that Shah is proposing delimitation in Kashmir. We know Kashmir itself is multi-ethnic, multi-religious. In the Kashmir Valley, Muslims are the dominant social group while in Jammu, it is Hindus. The other components of the population are Buddhists and tribes. Now, delimitation should serve for better representation of the area, it should also involve the exercise of taking popular opinion into consideration. One only hopes that the aspirations of the people of Kashmir are taken into account while doing this exercise; it should not just be for the political agenda of garnering more seats for a particular party.

Other things which have been on the manifesto of the BJP time and again are abolition of Articles 370 and 35 A. Article 370, a part of the Indian Constitution, has been there in the background of the clauses of the treaty of accession, as per which Kashmir will have autonomy in all matters barring defence, communication, currency and external affairs. Article 35 A relates to the buying of property by non-Kashmiris in the area. Both these had to be there as Kashmir acceded to India under special circumstances. It was in the wake of aggression by Pakistan-supported tribal groups—plainclothes Armymen that Raja Hari Singh, the Sovereign of Kashmir, asked for help from the Indian state to quell the aggression. Earlier, Hari Singh had decided to keep Kashmir as an independent state. But in the face of this aggression, the negotiations with the Indian state led to this treaty after which Indian Army could go to quell the attack from the Pakistan side.

The final merger of Kashmir with India was to take place with the opinion of the people of Kashmir, the referendum, which never took place. Sheikh Abdullah, the Lion of Kashmir, had a major role in accession of Kashmir to India. He did become the Prime Minister of Kashmir. The rise of communalism in India in the form of the murder of Gandhi and the demand of instant merger of Kashmir into India, from the likes of Shyama Prasad Mookerjee of the Hindu Mahasabha, unsettled Sheikh Abdullah. His responses to the overtures from Pakistan, the US and China led to his being jailed for 17 long years. This is where the process of alienation of the people of Kashmir begins. This alienation is the root of the problems of Kashmir.

The militancy in Kashmir was initially on the grounds of Kashmiriyat. Kashmiriyat is a unique synthesis of Vedanta, Buddhism and Sufi traditions, best exemplified in Nooruddin Noorani (Nund Rishi) and Lal Ded. The festival of Kheer Bhavani, jointly celebrated in Kashmir, is one manifestation of the deep bonding, which transcended religious boundaries and incorporated the people of both the major religions in Kashmir. The communalisation of the militancy due to the coming in of the Al Qaeda-type of elements has been a big bane, for Kashmiris as a whole and for Hindus, the Pundits in particular. The selective targetting of Pundits has sent wrong signals to the detriment of the inclusive traditions of Kashmir.

Militancy in its extreme form has led to the exodus of over 3.5 lakh Pundits and also of a large number of Muslims from Kashmir. Not much has been done for the Pundits, despite different governments ruling at the Centre. The plight of Pundits needs a fresh look when today we are talking of Articles 370 and 35 A. During the Modi-I regime, there was talk of rehabilitating Pundits in a separate enclosure but nothing seems to have come of it.

While the BJP talks of abolition of these Articles, it had no hesitation in joining hands with Mehbooba Mufti, who has been appreciating the separatists. During the PDP-BJP alliance and during the previous Modi regime, the process of dialogue has been given a go-by.

The militancy and calls for separatism went up during the past few years. The victims of pellet guns have gone up in number. The process of alienation has not been addressed at all. Why have so many of young boys and now girls come to throw stones despite the knowledge that it will lead to dire consequences? Can we quell the dissidence-alienation by bullets is the question. If we take a bird’s-eye view of the situation in Kashmir, it is clear that the muscular nationalist polices have led to bigger destruction of the social fabric than to the possibility of winning over the hearts and minds of Kashmiri people.

Today, the Modi-II Government is in a unique position with its massive mandate. The issues to be addressed are to undo the alienation of the Kashmiri people which is the root of the problem. The people of Kashmir have been the victims of different types of violence. A healing touch is the need of the hour. The democratic processes and concept of Human Rights have to be the guiding principles of our policy. These were very well-articulated by the late Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, when he gave the framework of Kashmiriyat, Jamhooiriyat (democracy) and Insaniyat (humanism) to deal with the issue of Kashmir. To take further Mr Vajpayee’s formulation seems to be the best option for us even today. A jumbo-size majority in Parliament can give the licence to the ruling party to unfold its programme, but one hopes this programme will take into consideration the strengthening of dialogue and the deepening of the process of democracy.

The groups whose hurt is to be assuaged are the ones who have suffered violence from different quarters, the half-widows, the Pundits and the average person in Kashmir who has borne the brunt of militancy and presence of the Army in civilian areas for several long years. The report of Interlocutors (Dileep Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and M.M. Ansari) also needs a relook if we wish to bring peace and amity in the region.

(Courtesy: Secular Perspective)

The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.

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