Talking Trilogy

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In wake of separatists’ demand for right of self determination and unionists stand for restoring undiluted autonomy, Masood Hussain sees Delhi’s new trilogy apparently misleading

Narendra Modi on August 15, 2016.

Narendra Modi on August 15, 2016.

It is tragic that every time it takes an overwhelming situation in Kashmir for people at high places to start talking about it. Once the situation ebbs, the discourse goes back to the tourist narrative. Delhi’s Kashmir managers invest massively by way of time and efforts in diffusing the situation at huge costs to Kashmir, and once pushing it to a semblance of normalcy; they go all thumbs-up.

Once it was militancy that would keep Kashmir in headlines but after 2008 civil unrest took the governance structure off guard. At huge costs, in 2010 and now in 2016, Kashmir is again in turmoil. Since last seven weeks nearly 70 are slain, thousands injured and hundreds maimed, blinded.

Every time unrest came with its own lullabies, some hummed from Delhi and some sung locally. Still, there is a feeling in certain quarters that a respectable ‘blood money’ could do wonders. In 2010, it was Rs 5 lakh, per corpse. But this time inflation around, may kick the costs up, a little.

Efforts are underway to save the situation. Home Minister Rajnath Singh flew to Srinagar for the second time in a month. But people continue to suffer. Authorities are apparently relaxing curfew restrictions during separatist-sponsored strike but get harsh in implementing restrictions when separatists want people to have a bit of routine. It is a battle over authority.

This battle over the “writ” tells the entire story of Kashmir. In conflict spots and contested territories, ‘authority’ had always remained a ‘conflict personality’. The two main ingredients of authority, power and legitimacy, have  always remained in question.

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This exists in Kashmir’s ideological split and is as old as J&K state’s partition. Kashmir’s evolution in one of “world’s most successful suppression stories” is firmly based on injustices and denials and that exists in both the camps divided by ideology.

When J&K acceded to India (not merged in) in wake of tribal raids, initiated by a rebellion against the Maharaja Hari Singh within the territorial limits of the state, Pandit Nehru took the moral high ground. He petitioned the UN and promised a plebiscite. While it linked fate of Kashmir to a settlement with Pakistan, holding part of the state, the decision divided Kashmir’s political landscape completely: the plebiscite seeking separatists and status quo supporters, the unionists.

This division of the political matrix remained unchanged even though people crossed the line dividing the two. Sheikh Abdullah, the key player in 1947 as a mass leader, was the most prominent unionist who jumped to literal separatist bandwagon after being deposed and who after 22 years of ‘political wilderness’ eventually returned to the ranks.

Two full-scale wars, a localized war in Kargil and half-a-century of cold war later, the ground realities have not changed much. If the evolution of the two sections of politics, the so called unionists and separatists, is keenly examined, both have suffered injustices.

Sopore Protests

 Nothing much is required to be written for the separatists, the people seeking right of self determination for Kashmir. The option of plebiscite was literally withdrawn by Delhi much earlier. It was more of a tactic to legitimize the status quo. Now even Prof Abdul Gani Bhat says the implementation of the UN resolutions is impractical though he does not negate the fundamental nature of these resolutions in distinguishing the Kashmir Tehreek from similar movements in diverse geographies.

On basis of these resolutions, however, Kashmir retains the “relic” of UNMOGIP at Gupkar. For the last nearly seven decades, the resolutions have enriched Kashmir history by way of perennial fierce speeches of the rival sides in New York.

Unionists have their own tale of battering. They conditionally acceded, even Karan Singh remembers, offering Delhi three subjects, foreign affairs, defence, communication. They negotiated the accession for retaining a fairer quantum of autonomy and later created Article 370 as the only constitutional bridge between Srinagar and Delhi. A subsequent process concluded in 1952 upholding J&K’s exclusivity in Indian federation.

First shock was 1953 when Sheikh was arrested as Kashmir’s first Prime Minister for, according to Kashmir expert, A G Noorani, for delaying ratifying accession. During regime of four of his successors, the “bridge” was converted into a tunnel and the autonomy was diluted to the extent that even laws pertaining to high seas were made applicable to Kashmir, a land-locked territory. Almost 22 years later, Sheikh was encouraged to return and preside over a Congress house with a shrunken status.

Sheikh hawked secular India over a theocratic Pakistan to defend his decision of accession to India but when Narendra Modi took over Delhi with a thumping majority in 2013; Mufti Sayeed saw the requirement of a new engagement that led to an accord based on Agenda of Alliance. Barely six months after his death, Mufti’s party men told visiting Rajnath Singh in Srinagar how their founder died a broken man. He put his long political career at stake as Delhi avoided even implementing an iota of the mutual agenda.

Masood Hussain, the artist, earlier taught at Music and Fine Arts College under University of Kashmir.

Masood Hussain, the artist, earlier taught at Music and Fine Arts College under University of Kashmir.

 In this background, when Kashmir erupts, Delhi flies gods of governance to make interestingly newer revelations. Atal Behari Vajpayee is genuinely credited for being the best peacemaker on Kashmir for he ensured a ceasefire at the LoC. The seriousness of purpose was nowhere to be seen, however, when talks were initiated with Hurriyat, which turned out mere photo-ops, a fact that even Advani admits. But he successfully created a “new framework” for handling Kashmir, “within the ambit of Jumhooriyat and Insaniyat”. More than a decade later, Modi added Kashmiriyat. Put together, nobody in Srinagar could decipher trilogy’s Lakshman Rekha, till Modi recently invoked “within the constitution” rider.

While the trilogy makes good headlines, it lacks relevance to what history has left to talk. Delhi can approach either side of Kashmir’s ideological divide to make a beginning. It can suo moto turn back the clock to a level erasing the massive infrastructure, legal and physical, that it built to fight militancy and offer some CBMs. Unionists have consistently insisted that they would not mind if Delhi talks to their ideological rivals first. Why dither? Why not walk the talk without creating newer narratives for exit?

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