Tavleen Singh’s book has the merit of going to the heart of what is at present the Kashmir issue rather than getting lost in the past. This distinction between the old Kashmir question and that confronting India today is important, but recognised by all too few policy-makers or commentators.
A readable and largely first-hand account, Kashmir: A Tragedy of Errors is the story of how the incipient triumphs of fair elections and a new beginning in 1977 and 1983 were thrown away by the shameful dismissal of Farooq Abdullah by a vengeful Indira Gandhi in 19 84, and compounded by the abortive Farooq-Rajiv Accord of 1986 and the crude rigging of the 1987 elections in the Valley, which the opposition Muslim United Front was unlikely to have won in any case. Thereafter, it was a case of repeated lost opportunities.
Abdullah’s “coronation” following the Sheikh’s restoration could have marked a departure. Singh does not spare Abdullah or Governor Jagmohan for what she cites as their failures; nor the Government of India which continued to treat Kashmir with indifference and disdain, scarcely aware of rising resentment until the smouldering embers burst into flames.Weak governments and divided counsels in Delhi, Punjab and the anti-Sikh pogrom, and the communal divide over Ayodhya heightened Kashmiri doubts about India’s secular future. The call to arms found a ready response among the youth, with Pakistani interference being the consequence rather than the cause of escalating violence.
Yet, Singh believes, it was the Governor’s somewhat panicky and heavy-handed law-and-order approach that converted what was still an angry mass movement in early 1990 into an insurrection. The Gawakadal killing in January 1990 was the turning point. By March, and certainly by May, the absence of a coherent Kashmir policy and ad HOC fire-fighting spelt disaster. Insensitivity aggravated alienation and if the- security forces- “frightened rabbits with power to kill” – were painted the villains of the piece, the militants were not above exploiting the lack of official transparency by exaggerating and inventing “excesses”. The Kashmiri press walked a razor’s edge while the rest of the Indian media, by and large, found the truth too delicate to report.
In 1983, Maulana Farooq, the Mir Waiz, had joined Farooq Abdullah in a “Double Farooq” alliance that could have turned things around. But that was botched. Later, when the Maulana was killed by extremists, the panic firing on his funeral procession deflected popular anger from the militants to the Government.
In 1990, after Jagmohan was replaced by G.C. Saxena, 10 respected Jammu and Kashmir civil servants wrote to the new Governor pleading for a more sensitive approach. The plea went unheard. Within two years, a ranking Hizbul leader, Abdul Majid Dar, was telling Singh that the Kashmir problem, perhaps, might be solved if the BJP were to come to power. Obviously, for some, secularism had become a casualty in Kashmir.
Her conclusion: there can be no solution unless India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris stop being prisoners of the past. They must recognise the need for give and take, break free from bygone events and attitudes, and move towards genuine autonomy for both parts of Jammu and Kashmir within India and Pakistan.