Kash­mir Val­ley, seething with dis­con­tent

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hand and the con­fi­dence of Kash­miris on the other. Un­for­tu­nately, the ruling Bhar­tiya Janata Party (BJP) has a dif­fer­ent point of view, al­though Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi has not done any­thing which would whit­tle down Kash­mir’s au­ton­omy. But the fear per­vades in the val­ley.

This is the main rea­son why ac­ces­sion to In­dia has come to be ques­tioned se­ri­ously. Those who sel­dom re­ceived any re­sponse to their slo­gan of in­de­pen­dent Kash­mir in the past have many ears to lis­ten to­day. And, not sur­pris­ingly, their num­ber is in­creas­ing day by day. What New Delhi has to ap­pre­ci­ate is that the Kash­miris de­sire to dis­tance them­selves from In­dia may not be con­sid­ered in any mean­ing­ful trans­fer of power from New Delhi to Srinagar. Yet the im­pres­sion that the Kash­miris rule them­selves has to be sus­tained. Na­tional Con­fer­ence waged a long war to get rid of Ma­haraja Hari Singh and had an icon like Sheikh Ab­dul­lah to pro­vide a sec­u­lar and demo­cratic rule to state. But party suf­fered de­feat in As­sem­bly polls be­cause it was seen too close to New Delhi.

The Peo­ple’s Demo­cratic Party (PDP) won be­cause its founder, Mufti Mo­ham­mad Sayyed, kept dis­tance from New Delhi, with­out alien­at­ing it. The Kash­miris voted for him be­cause he gave them a feel­ing of de­fi­ance. Omar Fa­rooq Ab­dul­lah had to pay the price of Na­tional Con­fer­ence’s im­age of be­ing pro-Delhi. Kash­mir’s links with In­dia is too close to chal­lenge it be­yond a point. Still the op­po­si­tion, how­ever small, gives the Kash­miris a vi­car­i­ous sat­is­fac­tion of de­fy­ing New Delhi.

Lord Cyril Rad­cliffe did not at­tach any im­por­tance to Kash­mir. He was a judge in Lon­don who drew the line be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan to es­tab­lish two sep­a­rate coun­tries. He told me many years later dur­ing an in­ter­view that he never imag­ined that Kash­mir would as­sume so much im­por­tance as it did. I re­called this in­stance when I was in Srinagar a cou­ple of weeks ago to pre­side over the first an­niver­sary of an Urdu magazine. Urdu has been un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously ousted from all the states, in­clud­ing Pun­jab where it was the main lan­guage un­til some years ago. In fact, the lan­guage lost its im­por­tance in In­dia soon af­ter Pak­istan made it as its na­tional lan­guage.

Kash­mir feels strongly about New Delhi’s step-moth­erly treat­ment meted out to the lan­guage. And it is gen­er­ally be­lieved that it is lan­guish­ing in ne­glect be­cause Urdu is con­sid­ered the lan­guage of Mus­lims. If New Delhi were to own and en­cour­age Urdu, the Kash­miris would have at least one rea­son less to feel ag­grieved. Peo­ple are gen­er­ally poor like the rest of In­dia and they want jobs which they re­al­ize will come through only devel­op­ment, in­clud­ing tourism. But they are not them­selves pick­ing up the gun or any other weapon to drive mil­i­tants out. One, they are afraid of them and, two, there is a feel­ing that what the mil­i­tants are try­ing to do is to give them iden­tity. There­fore, the crit­i­cism that there is no re­sis­tance to the mil­i­tants from within the val­ley should be un­der­stand­able be­cause it is part of alien­ation. It is un­for­tu­nate that New Delhi did not give the pack­age which it had an­nounced af­ter the dev­as­ta­tion through floods in Kash­mir. There was no crit­i­cism of not hon­our­ing the prom­ise by the me­dia. No In­dian leader ei­ther pointed out to New Delhi that it has re­neged from the prom­ise. All these are in­ter­preted in Kash­mir as a de­lib­er­ate sign of cur­sory at­ti­tude. I still be­lieve that the 1953 agree­ment which gave In­dia the con­trol of de­fence, for­eign af­fairs and com­mu­ni­ca­tions can im­prove part of the sit­u­a­tion in the state. The Kash­miri youth who are an­gry over the state’s sta­tus as well the sit­u­a­tion can be won over by the as­sur­ance that the en­tire In­dian mar­ket is avail­able to them for busi­ness or ser­vice.

But this alone may not do. New Delhi will have to with­draw all the acts re­lat­ing to the fields other than de­fence, for­eign af­fairs and com­mu­ni­ca­tions. The Armed Forces (Spe­cial Pow­ers) Act which was pro­mul­gated some 25 years ago to meet the ex­tra­or­di­nary sit­u­a­tion in the state is still in op­er­a­tion. Were the govern­ment to with­draw the act, it would pla­cate the Kash­mirs on the one hand and make the se­cu­rity forces more re­spon­si­ble on the other. Nor­malcy is also a state of mind. The Kash­miris must feel them­selves that their iden­tity is not un­der at­tack and that New Delhi re­al­izes the im­por­tance of what the Kash­miris de­sire. The restora­tion of 1953 agree­ment giv­ing New Delhi the con­trol of only three sub­jects may re­trieve the sit­u­a­tion which, if not at­tended to, may de­te­ri­o­rate. —The writer is a vet­eran In­dian jour­nal­ist, syn­di­cated colum­nist, hu­man rights ac­tivist and au­thor.

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