Challenging Kashmir: Will Delhi win hearts?

The big question whether the scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status was a constitutional move is to be decided by the Supreme Court, thus putting the spotlight on New Delhi’s major challenge ahead i.e. to win the hearts of local Kashmiris. Clearly, the BJP-led NDA government has a herculean task ahead to restore peace in the Valley tattered by decades’ old violence and must have a roadmap.

A large chunk of Kashmiris have been supporting the separatists, who are aided by Pakistan, and they view “India as a tyrant which is a threat to their culture and identity”. Although they forget the fact that India itself is a diverse land — a combination of many religions, ethnic communities, languages and cultures. Nevertheless, New Delhi also has its own past of committing political gaffes — which helped Pakistani supported separatists to spread propaganda. It was this brainwashing, which gave immense strength to the cause of terrorism in the Valley, leading to the exodus of the minority Kashmiri Pandits from there.

Obviously, there is no doubt about the success achieved by security forces in the Valley, particularly in recent years, in neutralising terrorists, and this process must go on. But, the ugly fact is, despite a spree of deaths of terrorists, a chunk of Valley’s youth is picking up guns to fight for the cause of jihad against India. And, this fight manages to gather a significant audience in the Valley, gauged from the large gatherings seen at funerals of terrorists.

This is driven by the extremist Islamic ideology, which urges to practice jihad. And it is this ideology which continues to give birth to terrorists, just like the demon named Raktabeej in Hindu scriptures, who had the ability to create identicals like him from each drop of his blood whenever it touched the ground.

Similarly, today whenever a terrorist is killed by security forces, the death ignites another youth to pick up a gun. They justify their death in the name of jihad, as done by Adil Darr, the suicide bomber in the convoy attack of Pulwama this year. This underlines the fact that the seed of terrorism has to be ultimately annihilated to bring peace in Kashmir.

So, besides using military action, New Delhi must also start propagating a moderate ideology to replace the roots of the violent form of Islamic ideology. Remember, Kashmir was once an important centre for Hinduism, particularly Shaivism and the holy Amarnath Yatra bears testimony of it. Also, the flower of Sufism, the moderate Islamic ideology once bloomed there, which has now descended following the ascent of extremist Islamic form. It is said that a separate 4th Buddhist Council was held by Sarvastivad Buddhists, who were also once part of Kashmiri culture in the Valley under the patronage of emperor Kanishka belonging to the Kushan dynasty.

However, today’s Kashmir is a mere caricature of its own rich historical past. Presently, the extremism found in the Valley has almost completely overturned the composite Kashmiri culture, called “Kashmiriyat”. There is need for an alternative ideology, which values and believes in the doctrine of tolerance, if extremism is to be weakened.

But, New Delhi should be cautious by not repeating the mistakes that Washington did in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, as violent ideologies can’t be wiped only through bullets and guns. No doubt that propagating an alternative ideology is a challenging task for New Delhi in Kashmir, but it has no other option but to execute it.

Firstly, New Delhi has to start the process of reaching out to the Kashmiris through Sufism, which may eventually bridge the gap between them, who still believe that “their own culture faces an imminent threat from India’s government”. Through Sufism, New Delhi will not only blunt the extremist ideology but will also redress the “fear of cultural threat” from India.

Secondly, there is a nagging mistrust among the Kashmiris with the current mainstream political parties and leaders, because of their contradicting tunes when in power or in opposition. Already, the scrapping of J&K’s special status has dealt a blow to both the mainstream parties – the grand old party J&K National Conference of the Abdullahs and the People’s Democratic Party of the Muftis and it is unknown how these shall practice politics in “New Kashmir”.

However, the ground clearly points to a void in mainstream political spectrum there. New Delhi shouldn’t miss this golden opportunity. It would be better for it to encourage new political Kashmiri leaders. Luckily, it has options in Kashmir such as People’s Conference of Sajjad Lone, the separatist turned mainstream politician or say even the elected Panchayat representatives, who contested the polls last year despite boycott calls from both separatists and mainstream parties. However, New Delhi has to be cautious, by not repeating Washington’s blunders in Iraq where it imposed a puppet regime after dethroning Saddam.

Thirdly, New Delhi has to take the route of economic development. Though Kashmiris are better off than those in other States, one shouldn’t forget the environment there is full of smoke of guns. So, to bring back normalcy New Delhi’s crucial challenge is to annihilate the radical ideology with growth. Already, not only have the Ambanis and Trident groups claimed to show interest in investing there, a Global Investors Summit is slated to be held in October. A lot would depend how New Delhi takes it forward.

Lastly, New Delhi has to evolve a new strategy to counter Pakistan-aided mischevious and separatist posts on social media. After all, one day the blocking of internet will have to be lifted completely. In fact, in this age of digital technology, instead of putting restrictions on social media in the Valley it would be better for New Delhi to use it in its own favour by building a strong monitoring social media team to bust the separatist and extremist posts and use the platform to propagate its views and reach out to the Kashmiris, particularly the youth. Plus, it will also counter Islamabad in its own game. The ball lies in New Delhi’s court.


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