Eighty six days after the Modi Sarkar in a ‘shock and awe’ move revoked Jammu & Kashmir’s special status enjoyed under Article 370 the State has a new identity. Yet, the air is thick with silence and dread mingled with anticipation and interspersed with muted joy as the State of Jammu and Kashmir vanished into history on 31 October and two Union Territories J&K and Ladakh took birth. Signaling the beginning of a new political order.
Certainly, the Government has yet to fulfil its goal of bringing normalcy as the Valley continues in partial shutdown with limited internet usage, political dynasts Abdullahs and Mufti, separatists and other leaders continue in detention with a fresh spate of terrorist attacks on non-Kashmiris and stray incidents of stone pelting.
Understandably, Kashmiri Muslims are outraged but quite even as Pakistan mewls like a cat stranded on a tree and its ‘all weather friend’ China growls to show its comaraderie. The Opposition is weeping crocodile tears to empathize with intellectuals and liberals. A 23 member EU delegation has visited the Valley. All this is according to script.
Of course, it is a steep tough dreary road but the Government has time on its side. Its wait and watch policy of tiring down the Kashmiris is bound to succeed as it works on assuaging them, opening up their social and political space, sorting out issues to strike out militancy. Even as it makes clear that violence and terrorism are unacceptable.
Importantly, the abrogation of Article 370 has struck a death knell on separateness and the so-called Kashmiri identity. True, the quashing was a political act but the identity issue is a sociological one which is not only hard to tackle but requires a two-pronged strategy of patience and time. Complicating matters, the distinctness of the Kashmiri Hindu identity from the Kashmiri Muslim is more stark now.
Consequently, the Government needs to win the hearts and minds of Kashmiri Muslims who are lost in a mental wasteland and clueless on how to reconcile their new reality with what he or she wants. To align with Pakistan, swear by India or demand azaadi. Alongside, resolve the issue of separateness which defines them whereby there is no place for Hindus or other Indians.
It needs to tackle two competing nationalisms at work and at variance: The Kashmiri version which seeks separation and exclusion and the Indian description which insists on inclusion. Some Kashmir watchers aver the mistake New Delhi makes is to ignore separatism’s deep roots and the complexity of political consciousness which detaches governance issues, after years of debilitating strife.
Undeniably, one cannot expect miracles overnight as the K problem was not created in a day and nor will it end soon. More than more of the same, money, men and muscle what Kashmir needs is an emotional package that will allow Kashmiri agitators to give vent to their grief and frustration, their anger and even their hatred.
Compounding things, a new generation of students born in the early 1990s has taken to the streets and are not willing to go back home empty-handed. Brought up under the shadow of violence and guns of security forces and terrorists, their hopes for a better future remain unfulfilled. They are uneducated, jobless and angry.
While some are paid to shout azaadi slogans and hurl stones at security forces, others are worried about the lack of resolution of core issues, return to normalcy and the Government’s inability to decide the socio-economic challenges facing the State. A wrap up which will treat them with respect, restore their dignity and try and heal the accumulated humiliations. Healing, by itself, will not be a solution, but it will be a beginning. India needs to connect with Kashmiris.
Towards that end all Parties, BJP, Congress, NC, PDP etc who have large student and women wings should send delegations to Kashmir to spend time with Kashmiris just listening to their grievances, ignoring Pakistani provocation to ensure an emotional connect does not take place. Undoubtedly there will be bad eggs, but one hopes Kashmiris will not spurn a genuine hand of friendship or treat it with violence.
Modi has announced various measures to amalgamate Kashmiris into the mainstream. Extended reservation in jobs in State Government posts to socially and educationally backward classes and in educational institutions etc would help eradicate the discrepancies suffered by them, along-with allowing people the right to vote or contest in nagar palika, panchayat and Assembly elections.
Besides, plug Kashmir deeper into the Indian economy and create more broad-based stakeholders who will benefit from greater economic interactions with the rest of India. Urgently, start developmental projects. For the medium term the Government needs to put in place an educational package, not only formal but educating the people of Kashmir’s reality.
With the ban on outsiders living, working and buying property lifting, Kashmir could usher greater business investment like IT to relocate to the region, promote world class tourist facilities and build new infrastructure for modern industries. Bollywood, Telugu and Tamil film industries should return to the region thereby ushering a new era. Besides, Kashmir is now open to tourists.
Further, the Government must help Kashmiri Pandits who were mercilessly kicked out of the Valley in 1990 with successive Central Governments being silent spectators who today are willing to go back to the houses they once owned. It should facilitate buy-back of such properties and provide them proper security.
However, this hinges on the Government’s ability to restore normalcy soon. Two, given that J&K’s social and economic indicators are better than UP, Bihar and other States, it will require sophisticated interventions to leapfrog development when the situation settles down.
It remains to be seen if the people will be appeased by promises of development as growth is not the biggest grievance of Kashmiris. It is the unacceptable heavy-handed tactics of the security forces. Hence, New Delhi needs to be deal with the unfolding situation sympathetically.
Also, the Centre needs to set up a Delimitation Commission to rationalize Lok Sabha, Vidhan Sabha and Panchayat seats by adopting a fair/uniform criterion in delimitation of constituencies in the Union Territories proportionate to the electorate so that inequities and injustice could be plugged out and laying a platform for a stronger and cohesive J&K.
Primarily, the successful resolution of insurgencies requires a three-pronged approach: governance, development and security, along with perception management. While the security situation has improved, poor governance and lack of adequate socio-economic development continues to hamper efforts to put an end to ISI and Pak-sponsored insurgency. New Delhi would be wise to realize no insurgency the world-over can be solved by security forces alone.
Modi has promised Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas Sabka Vishwas. The need of the hour is imagination, innovation and impetus. There is a Punjabi saying: “Three things are improved by beating: women, wheat and a Jat.” Modi and the Centre need a long-term hard-nosed policy and the Kashmiris’ too need to rise to the occasion. Ultimately, we need to win the minds and hearts of the Kashmiris since wars begin in the minds of men and it is in the minds of men that the defence of peace must be constructed. Time to deliver jannat in Kashmir’s paradise.