Kashmir – Back on the brink

In order to be able to make sense of the subtext of the current turmoil in the valley, it is useful and instructive to understand it in the light of the following very natural questions:
Kashmir – Back on the brink
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In order to be able to make sense of the subtext of the current turmoil in the valley, it is useful and instructive to understand it in the light of the following very natural questions:

a. How is it that alongside those successful individuals who have carved a niche for themselves in their domains of expertise and who have been natural role models for a whole lot of young men and women in the valley, there are those and constituting a significant section of the Kashmiri youth, who see an icon and a role model in the likes of Burhan Wani whose death in a police encounter provided the first spark for the current wave of unrest in the valley?
b. Why is it that people come out on the streets in the towns and villages of the valley in brazen defiance of curfew restrictions to brave bullets, only to give vent to their pent up anger against the state, which has been accumulated over a period of time due to extreme apathy and intransigence of the political establishment towards addressing the genuine grievances, both political and otherwise, of the people? 
c. How is it that as opposed to a certain segment of the society which may have reasons to feel alienated and marginalised, nearly every single Kashmiri- especially the youth- feels disgruntled, disaffected and disenchanted from mainstream India?

It is both easy and all- too familiar on the part of the political establishment and the breed of modern day ultra-nationalists to invoke the Pakistan angle every time there is unrest and the valley erupts in protest. It is nobody's case to deny that country's willingness to fish in the troubled waters of India, what with the alacrity with which the situation in the valley is allowed to spin out of control and the attendant ease with which it is allowed to be exploited by our neighbour next door, waiting to lap it up at the first available opportunity. However, that is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg! 

The unimpeachable fact though remains that, alongside the widespread perception of being ever ready to act as a villain and ever so willing to throw a spanner in the works of India, Pakistan does have a locus standi insofar as the K-issue is concerned and no one should grudge that. Much as one may or may not not like it, this locus standi has been bestowed upon it by historical circumstances involving the chain of events surrounding the Partition when the issue involving the permanent accession of the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir was referred by the then Indian Prime Minister to the UN which had resolved to have the matter referred to the people of Jammu & Kashmir to exercise their option through a referendum, stipulated to have been held there within the next five years after the partition. But, make no mistake! The present unrest in the valley- which may expectedly bring smiles to the cheeks of those watching the unfolding spectacle from across the border- is typically home-grown and may be dealt with as such, without invoking the all-too familiar plea of the diabolical game of the hostile neighbour who has forced its hand in this country's 'internal affairs'. 

There are those who call into question the relevance of the UN resolutions for whatever reasons, that include the all-too nauseating refrain from them that 'we are now living in a country, being ruled'- as they believe – 'by a government which brooks no nonsense and is being headed by the strongest man ever who has been at the helm of affairs since independence'. Even so, when they are reminded of what J. P. Narayan had famously said in one of his articles published in a national daily way back in 1962 on the elections in Kashmir having been routinely rigged and on the urgency of resolving the K-issue, they are seen to scoff at it as anachronistic while waxing eloquent on the redundancy of these utterances, declaring with braggadocio that 'we are now living in changed circumstances', a'la Modi!  Be that as it may, these 'redundancy theorists' would do well to note that the present 'strong' dispensation which is ruling the roost at the centre shall have to contend, in equal measure, with a new age generation of aspiring and ambitious youth of the valley, and comprising about two-thirds of the population, who are no easy pushovers like their ancestors were and who, in the mistaken perception of these desh bhagts, could be won over through sops and freebies. As we see it, such a perception is self serving at best and plainly out of sync with the zeitgeist. This new breed of young men and women are educated and inclined to shun violence. Like youths in other parts of India, they have dreams to pursue and the natural desire to have some space to realise their dreams. Unfortunately, that has not happened! Having been denied that space they feel pushed to the wall, what with a life of indignity and humiliation that has been visited upon them ever since they happened to open their eyes in this part of the world which they saw as a veritable prison, being 'fortified' as it is, by the unwelcome presence of a three-quarter million of armed forces who, they learnt to their dismay as they grew up, can and do act with impunity, thanks to the draconian AFSPA which to their horror, doesn't look like going away any time soon.

It pains me to note that it is in the midst of these unfortunate circumstances that some youth in Kashmir are beginning to look up to Burhan Wani and his ilk as their 'role model'. How else does one explain the sea of humanity that had turned up to pay obeisance at his funeral! Regardless of how many of those who had turned up there actually saw Burhan as their icon, the very fact that about two hundred thousand people were a part of the funeral procession should ring alarm bells in the ears of those who seek to play down the magnitude of the problem by equating this spectacle in the valley with that involving tens of thousands of those who had gathered at Yaqub Memon's funeral. If that doesn't speak of complete alienation of the youth of Kashmir from the mainstream India, what does! 

The situation that obtains in the valley today cannot be reversed merely through the facade of development or patchwork diplomacy. The K-issue is already much more complex than is made out to be and so calls for an out of box approach by all the stakeholders, not excluding those calling the shots right now in the valley. In an attempt to come to grips with the issue, it is futile to endlessly nitpick on who to reach out to in Kashmir to pave the way for an end to this cycle of violence to be followed by a rapprochement with all the stakeholders involving a political solution to the Kashmir problem. Much as some political pundits or opinion makers may wish to have their way, it is neither wise nor practical to shoo away the conglomerate of disparate parties under the banner of the Huriyat from reaching out to, which besides those claiming to represent Kashmiri Pandits and other aggrieved sections of the society, represents the genuine political aspirations of a vast majority of people across the valley. The plea that the Huriyat does not have a representative character just because it has not participated in elections doesn't wash. Come to think of it, a substantial chunk of those associated with the Huriyat are amongst those who had fought the 1987 elections and had won, but were denied victory due to massive and unprecedented rigging of those elections which expectedly ushered in an era of total chaos and mayhem in the stateof J&K under which it continues to be reeling. 

On the other hand, those at the helm of affairs at the Centre would do well not to give in to the temptation of doing what they are known to be too good at doing: waiting for the tempers to cool and sweeping the issue under the carpet with the hope that the issue would peter out on its own with the passage of time. We have learnt it- and learnt it the hard way- that it is wishful to think so, or else neither 2008 nor 2016 would have happened; leave alone the 1989 or 2010 upheavals which have exacted such a huge price in terms of death and destruction.  It would also help matters to recognise, despite whatever is happening inside that country, that Pakistan is a bonafide party to the dispute and has to be taken on board while attempting to broach the vexed issue for a solution. Modi who is ever so keen to tweet every so often even on occasions of no great significance has remained studiously mum on the current phase of bloodbath in the valley. It is he who has (the capacity) to take a call on an issue that should be top on the national agenda and that may be ignored, but only at our own peril. That is absolutely essential for peace to return to this region. After all, what we so sorely miss but also so richly deserve in our two countries, and more so in Kashmir, is an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity that has eluded us all this while and that has to be restored to this region more than anything else. One cannot begin to appreciate the value of peace and freedom unless one has had a taste of what violence and political uncertainty actually bring upon its victims. That you need to know from someone who has gone through these unedifying experiences. Ask any Kashmiri- a Hindu or a Muslim- and he will tell you the difference!

(Prof. M.A.Sofi teaches at the Department of Mathematics Kashmir University)

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