It is easy to blame Pakistan, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Opposition for the troubles in Kashmir. But the fact remains that it is the National Conference-led government's deplorable poverty of politics that has set the State alight again.
The ongoing unrest in Kashmir is the result of a failure of politics, political courage, conviction and empathy. If Kashmir burns time and again, it is because politicians in New Delhi and Srinagar have failed to extend a powerful and convincing political argument to the Kashmiris. Gone are the days when a nation state could demand the undiluted loyalty of its citizens by force and coercion; today, a modern multinational state such as India can command the legitimacy of its citizens only by the power, persuasiveness and attraction of its political arguments.
Kashmir's latest unrest needs to be seen in context, wherein the politics of New Delhi and Srinagar has lost favour with the Kashmiris. It is easy and convenient to blame Pakistan, the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), dissident parties in Kashmir and the Opposition People's Democratic Party for the troubles. Indeed, they might have even committed their own acts to fuel the unrest. However, the fact remains that it is the National Conference-led Jammu and Kashmir government's deplorable poverty of politics that has set Kashmir alight again.
The historic election of 2008 saw Omar Abdullah elected Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir with a remarkable voter turnout of 61 per cent, despite the vote coming in the wake of the Amarnath land dispute. It was hoped by many that the young and dynamic Mr. Abdullah would lead the State towards peace and prosperity. However, the NC-Congress administration in Jammu and Kashmir has failed to accomplish anything more than the preceding governments and has been equally unable to prevent the State from sliding into further turmoil. Mr. Abdullah also appeared to falter on many occasions in the last two years, including recently when he attempted to blame the unrest on the LeT and anti-national elements. This is a sentiment, of course, shared by the NC's coalition partner, Congress. The Chief Minister has said on a number of occasions that Kashmir is a political issue, first and foremost, and rightly so; what then, one wonders, has prevented him from addressing it as such?
The new government in Jammu and Kashmir came to power pledging zero tolerance to human rights violations. But this is observed more in the breach. The Chief Minister also briefly flirted with the idea of setting up a ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission' of sorts; however, it remains one of his pet grand ideas and has never materialised. The process to amend various draconian provisions of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is yet to get under way in a serious manner. The five working groups established by the Prime Minister to resolve State issues at the end of the second round table conference in 2006 have not been given adequate attention, despite the encouraging suggestions proffered by many of them.
In 2000, the NC pushed a resolution through the State Assembly demanding autonomy that was rejected in totality by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government in New Delhi, which termed it “anti-national.” One wonders why the NC has not renewed this demand, given that it is now a coalition partner in the UPA government at the Centre. All the NC and Mr. Abdullah have done in this regard, though, has been to make occasional references to it. It is one thing to orchestrate a litany of promises; it is an entirely different thing to have the political will and courage to pursue them.
The previous two years of mainstream politics in Jammu and Kashmir have been marked by a post-2008 election euphoria that has led to a misplaced sense of triumphalism in Srinagar and New Delhi regarding the victory of democracy and the defeat of dissent in the Valley. The politics of indifference and complacency took root in place of a realisation that this sense of relative stability could be used to usher in a programme of political reconciliation and peace. Mainstream politicians in the Valley forget what has always been true in the case of Kashmir: peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of justice, as famously pointed out by Martin Luther King Jr. The politicians of Jammu and Kashmir and New Delhi should have had the wisdom to capitalise on the positive post-2008 atmosphere by promoting substantive conflict resolution processes in the State. The absence of a political reconciliation process has convinced the people, especially the youth, that their trust has been betrayed by the elected leadership.
Meaning of violence
There is also a widespread tendency among officials and those who write on Kashmir to assert that in a purely statistical sense, examining (for example) indices of poverty and other socio-economic indicators, Kashmir is doing far better than most other Indian States: so what are the Kashmiris complaining about? On the other hand, there are those who argue that the way to resolve the Kashmir issue is simply to pump ever more money into the State. Both these positions are half-truths, if not outright absurdities. Those who defend such arguments fail to understand the meaning of violence in its more nuanced sense. Peace and normalcy cannot be measured by poverty levels, or by other well-cited numbers such as the number of deaths by police fire. These statistics cannot capture the extent of political alienation and the severe psychological trauma experienced, especially by the post-1989 generation that has grown up in the shadow of guns and bloodshed. No amount of economic largesse will tempt this generation to buy unconvincing political arguments. When disillusioned youth fight for a meaning to their political existence, the political parties of Jammu and Kashmir ought to pay attention, for it is these youths who will decide their fate.
In this context, the argument that peace building and conflict resolution in Kashmir could not progress due to the post-26/11 acrimony between India and Pakistan falls flat. The fact is the governments in New Delhi and Srinagar need not wait to get the green signal from Islamabad to talk to their own people. Non-interference by Islamabad may well reduce violence and keep Kashmir militancy-free. However, the reality is that the current eruption of violence is marginally affected by Pakistan. Ironically, one could even argue that less interference by Islamabad could even prompt the Indian government to become complacent on Kashmir. In truth, it has certainly appeared thus since 2008.
Why should Pakistan dictate our Kashmir policy when we are certain that for the majority of Kashmiris, Pakistan does not even figure in their minds when they take to the streets protesting against injustice? Indeed, barring the marginal Hurriyat faction of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, no other political leader talks about going to Pakistan. Neither does the majority among them demand a complete separation from India.
Many of those in New Delhi and Srinagar who swear by the argument that Kashmir should be resolved “politically” because it is a “political issue” fail to comprehend what this really entails. Simply put, it means that we can win Kashmir back only by making a convincing political argument, by devising a politically conscious reconciliation process, and by being sensitive to the many injustices the Kashmiris have suffered.
(Happymon Jacob teaches at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.)