Impressions from a recent Kashmir visit

When Delhi doesn't deliver, even moderates feel ashamed


Every time I come back to New Delhi after a visit to Kashmir I feel that that I have gone through yet another experience of being through something that I do not consider to be a normal state of affairs. Every day of a politically conscious visitor’s life in the city of Srinagar reminds him of a story of political betrayals, layers of economic ruin and stagnation, simplicity of campus romanticism, and above all the moral dilemma of trying to be neutral about a political plot horribly mis-scripted by India, Pakistan and the Kashmiri leadership. As an analyst, I should maintain my neutrality and yet in my inability to do so I am comforted by Dante Alighieri’s famous saying: “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality.” Hence, as the title reads, the following thoughts are impressionistic, biased, and, often, inconsistent and I am not apologetic about them being so.
In search of a less than perfect solution: There seems to be a growing stream of thinking across the board in Kashmir that Kashmirs need to focus on a practical, achievable and less-than-perfect solution to the decades-long conflict there. This is not something that you get only while talking to the mainstream politicians who would, of course, talk about various middle-of-the-road solutions, but is also something that the separatists are expressing more explicitly than ever. That the overall development of the state, education of the Kashmiri children, and the dreams of Kashmir’s youngsters cannot continue to remain hostage to the conflict in and on Kashmir conflict is something that is now widely recognized and appreciated. At the theoretical level, there are indeed many absolutist positions which, it so seems, will moderate themselves on a dialogue table premised on the possibility of an honorable settlement for all parties involved in the conflict. 
Pakistan’s place in the valley: Pakistan is a long-forgotten dream in contemporary Kashmir’s political discourse and social imagination. It is now widely understood that the claims regarding the Pakistani nation being the final resting place for Kashmiri national aspirations are not to be taken seriously or should indeed be actively dissuaded. There are many reasons for this: the constitutional uncertainty faced by Northern Areas, the place of POK (AJK) in the Pakistani body-politic, Pakistan’s failure to portray itself as a model Islamic state for others, its ‘descent into chaos’ and the general lack of identification of the Kashmiris with Pakistan. Even those who once had sympathies for Pakistan are now taking a relook at own their views because Kashmirs have certainly learnt the thump rule applicable, perhaps, in all conflict regions: there is a need to constantly redefine one’s strategies and modus operandi in the light of the new geopolitical contexts and the larger goals one is pursuing.
Interlocutors: Another issue on which there seems to be a general agreement is that the much-hyped work of the interlocutors may, after all, pass off as a non-event in Kashmir. While the mainstream politicians do not say it openly, those on the separatist side do not have any hesitation is clearly saying so.  One of the widely held arguments against the Padgaonkar-led group of interlocutors is that the Kashmir conflict is a political one and it cannot be resolved by journalists and academics: there needs to be, in other words, a high-level political process led by leading Indian politicians who can make decisions and not merely make suggestions which may or may not be accepted by the multi-layered and complex bureaucratic establishment in New Delhi. Even if one were to argue that the interlocutors would end up giving a good set of recommendations to New Delhi in order to politically address and resolve the Kashmir issue, the trouble is that since the separatists are not part of the process they are unlikely to accept them however enlightened or encouraging the recommendations may be for fear of being considered irrelevant in the resolution of the Kashmir conflict. In other words, this is a non-starter. More so, with the peace-loving Manmohan singh under heavy opposition fire from multiple corruption charges, the UPA government is more likely to go back to its time-tested political position: political status-quoism. The right-wing BJP, with its new-found advantage over the government, is unlikely to let the government to do anything radical on Kashmir.
Where is the Indian Civil Society? While some Kashmiris express an emotional rupture with the Indian nation, there are others who are sympathetic to the Indian nation and its many dilemmas and yet ask a very significant question: where was the Indian civil society when over hundred young Kashmiris lost their lives by the bullets of the security forces? Barring a few voices condemning and reacting to the loss of lives, many Kashmiris point out, most members of the Indian civil society, who would lose no time in condemning any injustice done in other parts of the country, were not vocal, forceful and empathetic enough in reacting to the killings in Kashmir. Isn’t it ironical that when the gun-culture was more prominent in the valley during the 1990s there were more committed civil society reactions from the rest of India, and now, when the gun-culture is on the wane in the valley, there are not many in the country who seem to care about Kashmir?
Generational Shift: There is a new generation that is taking over the legacy of the conflict in Kashmir and they are serious about creating a new set of narratives about the conflict. While the older generation, increasingly considered by the youngsters as having not done much for the Kashmir cause, had a more romanticized idea of azadi and were also emotional and temperamental in their brand of politics, the new generation not only shows a certain sense of emotional moderation when it comes to articulating the Kashmir cause. There is more clarity and theoretical finesse about their arguments and they are intent on making rational, logical and political arguments rather than engaging in a shouting match. This generational shift also tends to historicize and contextualize the Kashmir conflict even as the new generation pitches its national claims in neatly formulated conceptual categories.
New Delhi’s invisible hand: Everyone in Kashmir is consciously or unconsciously aware of the role of the invisible hand of New Delhi in managing the affairs of the state. Nothing happens in Kashmir, be it electoral results, appointment of the Chief Minister or of the local level officials, or who should be paid how much, without the knowledge of the all-powerful middlemen (another term for the Intelligence agents) of New Delhi in the state. It is not the political establishments in Srinagar or New Delhi that micromanage the affairs of the state but the ‘Intelligence walas’ who often act on their own to fit the reality on the ground to their pet theories. 
Dilemmas of the moderates: As I wrote in my last column, the Kashmiri moderates are in an existential dilemma even as the future of Kashmir and the direction of its conflict lie, in a major way, in their hands. As one of them pointed out to me, they are fighting India’s battle in Kashmir for the sake of moderation and sanity and, in a sense, against complete independence of Kashmir from the rest of India. And yet when New Delhi does not deliver on its promises after holding sustained dialogues with them, it makes the moderates feel apologetic and ashamed of what they do. By making them look apologetic and as ‘bought over by New Delhi’ before their own people, New Delhi is only strengthening the hands of hawks like Geelani.

(Happymon Jacob teaches at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Email: 

Lastupdate on : Sat, 19 Mar 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 19 Mar 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 20 Mar 2011 00:00:00 IST

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