Kashmir imbroglio deserves national priority

File Photo: Aman Farooq/GK

Democracy is the best political doctrine to counter militancy. In Kashmir the electoral process for DDC elections has commenced. Larger participation in voting will empower the grassroots representatives. This election is a God send opportunity for the people to loudly tell the world that Kashmiris want peace, and an exit from the current death and destruction phenomenon for last three decades.

Though the Kashmiris are deeply hurt by inoperability of article 370 and bifurcation of the JK State into two Union Territories. It is perceived as an affront and brazen insult to Kashmir’s historic status within the Union of India that was recognised by the Constituent Assembly of India.Yet people have full faith in democracy and constitutional institutions of the Country.

The objective given by current ruling dispensation while abrogating article 370 was that militancy would end, democracy will strengthen, Kashmir’s ethos will revive and huge opportunities of employment would be created for youth. Further, tourism will flourish and new vistas of development will open up. None of such commitments are actually visible on ground. Although Kashmiris want all this, deserve justice, and the aspirational youth wish to mainstream with the global economic opportunities.

Kashmir imbroglio can be resolved by mainstreaming the people by winning their hearts and mind. The idea of India in Kashmir has to be consolidated by love and not by use of force. Kashmiris can be won over by love and never by sword; this was said by Pt. Kalhana about 1200 years back and it holds true in today’s enlightened times.

The lingering Kashmir imbroglio deserves to be a national priority. A party-independent approach and a political will are urgent for its resolution. The people of Kashmir are longing for an end to violence, return to a peaceful life, and rehabilitation and return of the exiled populations.

In the name of a strong narrative of self-determination (azadi), the people have no voice of their own and emotions are controlled and charged by proxies. People know the disastrous consequences of the harm violence has done to the current generation of Kashmiris and also to future generations. But the alienation and anti-India sentiment that has grown over the years is so strong that people refuse to see the logic.

Politics is all about emotions and not reason. Prime Minister Narendra Modi successfully portrayed himself as the saviour of Indian nationalism, culture and civilisational ethos. People believed in him and every bit of his narrative in the 2019 Lok Sabha poll campaign. He turned the whole election into a sort of “presidential form” — people trusted and voted for him overwhelmingly. The Kashmir situation and the Balakot airstrike deep into the territory of Pakistan as a retaliatory measure against the Pulwama terror attack struck a deep emotive imprint in the psyche of the Indian masses across the spectrum. It was competently used by a well oiled BJP cadre machine in the election campaign — that turned its fortunes to a massive electoral victory.

After the article 370 was made inoperable Kashmir and the country’s relations with Pakistan are the main focus of the Government of India, and the home minister Amit Shah. He is conscious that Kashmir affairs have wheels within wheels and international players are keenly watching as to what the ministry of home affairs under him is up to in Kashmir.

The government needs to acknowledge that the use of military force is not a solution to the complex situation in Kashmir. To win the people’s trust is the real issue that can be done through engagements with all the stakeholders. It is the psychological, attitudinal, social, political and economic grievances that need to be addressed. Therefore, the government should focus more on winning back the trust of the people and let violence be handled by the security forces.

Militancy in the Valley, however, also seems to have developed an autonomous raison d’etre in the absence of comprehensive policy and the absence of dialogue with the stakeholders. People’s subtle support to militancy seen in the large participation in the funerals of slain militants and large-scale protests across the Valley are issues that should worry all citizens and governments in particular.

Realising the ground sense better, LG Manoj Sinha,who acts for the Union of India, has extended an olive branch for surrender to militants. Likewise, the top BJP leadership recently has also echoed the same political approach. Dialogue with non mainstream leaders could also be a good optics for the reason that Mirwaiz Omar has always been a votary of dialogue in past, and led the Hurriyat leaders’ delegation for talks with deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in 2003 — and also with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh subsequently.

Some segments play spoilers whenever there is an attempt to open talks with Kashmiris for peace and progress. A peace and war scenario has been thrust. It is a dimension of a hybrid war. The security forces and intelligence agencies have completely overlooked and misjudged the potential of this dimension of hybrid war in Kashmir. This phenomenon is evident from the fact that tourism, education, health services, law and order, developmental activities and the public grievances system have collapsed and stand completely eroded. Democratic institutions stand marginalised and discredited. Drugs, black-marketing of essential goods, smuggling of timber, hawala and fake currency have become the backbone of a parallel conflict economy.

Kashmir analysts are of the opinion that New Delhi’s political managers should shun hawkish approach and allow the political space for both the mainstream and non-mainstream Kashmiri leadership to exert a moderating influence that could prevent youngsters from taking up the gun.

Kashmir deserves to be managed by an out of the box “vision” that can encompass a comprehensive process to resolve the imbroglio. The question remains whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP have any out of the box vision and political will to resolve the issue. Loud statements made by security forces that there are very few militants in operation is something people don’t trust because they have been hearing these claims through three decades of active militancy. Security forces kill one — three get freshly recruited, voluntarily. It looks like an unending phenomenon.

This is a worrying phenomenon for the nation and is viewed as a result of deep mass alienation caused by ad hocism and mismanagement of Kashmiri affairs from time to time. The unrest in Kashmir has always been attributed to cross-border hostilities. But the unabated turmoil and political turbulence in Kashmir is rooted deep in the denial of justice, disrespect to legitimate aspirations and frequent skullduggery resorted to by New Delhi — says the Kashmiri intelligentsia.

A long spell of governor’s rule is no substitute for democracy. Elections have to be held and the political process has to commence, better sooner than later. Kashmir affairs have to be dealt with n a party-independent manner by all the political parties, particularly by the ruling party.

Kashmir has been on the boil for 30 years now. Tens of thousands of people, both civilians and soldiers, have died and the population of Kashmiri Pandits exiled. Kashmir affairs are seemingly messed up. Terrorism has rendered the state, especially the Valley, without liberty and individuality. It has devastated the economy, education and normal living patterns, the plural ethos and has imperilled institutions. The societal psyche is becoming cynical and despondent.

The average Kashmiri has both hope and fears — hope that Mr Modi’s massive mandate may allow him to think out of the box to resolve the issue and live in history as a legend. Fears abound of his home minister Amit Shah’s reputation of being a hawk — his belief in a strong muscular policy may not work longtime.

The country needs a healthy opposition in the best interests of a robust, democratic and transparent governance. The grand old party, the Indian National Congress is expected to lead the opposition. Democracy and a formidable opposition leads to moderation and checks and balances. Would the party rise to the occasion and fulfil the most onerous democratic role of building and strengthening a moderate, secular and inclusive idea of India? To initiate a political healing touch in our Kashmir policy, there is an urgency to create consensus across the political spectrum. Therefore, opposition parties, including the Indian National Congress, have a big stake and role in shaping the future of the Kashmir policy. Kashmir has to be treated as a national priority and as a party-independent issue that deserves collective national attention and a comprehensive national policy.

The huge victory in the 2019 election mandates the Modi government to accelerate at least its unfinished political initiative on the repatriation of exiled Kashmiri Pandits back to Kashmir, build up trust with India’s Muslim minority, besides economic reforms, ranging from income tax reforms to the goods and services tax, from structural solutions for the farm sector to banking reforms, and enabling investment to create opportunities to the armies of young people joining the queue of job hopefuls every year.

While the nation expects the Modi government to make India, one of the fastest growing economies in the world, a science, technology, military and diplomatic superpower, the Kashmir problem is sensitive within the country with international ramifications, and as such, deserves astute care and an early resolution. The people and the nation are waiting for Modi-2.0 to deliver.

Ashok Bhan, Sr.Advocate, is Chairman Kashmir Policy & Strategy group