Robust Rhetoric

As Kashmir entered into the second month of crisis at exorbitant costs to its overall well-being, the governments in Srinagar and Delhi are yet to initiate a serious process to make a fresh beginning, a Kashmir Life report

Narendra Modi on August 15, 2016.
Narendra Modi on August 15, 2016.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech delivered from Red Fort ramparts was perhaps the most watched August 15 speech in Kashmir in the recent years. Restricted by the massive curfew restrictions, the people hoped that the month-long bloodletting and the strike may encourage Delhi to pick up threads from its earlier peace process to offer some opportunity to Kashmir get normal.

Skipping Kashmir altogether, Modi in his longest ever speech talked about “supporters of terrorism” and criticized Pakistan. He expressed his gratefulness to the “people of Balochistan, Gilgit and PoK” for thanking him in past few days.

The fact is that Modi had already done his talking on Kashmir. Avoiding Lok Sabha that was in session Modi flew to Bhabra in Madhya Pardesh’s Alirajpur district to launch 70th Freedom Year Celebrations. Sections in political class were happy on August 9, saying that perhaps Modi has chosen the birthplace of towering freedom fighter Chandrshekhar Azad to talk about the Kashmir crisis that started with the killing of Burhan Wani in south Kashmir.

Separated by geography, objectives and the time, both Azad and Burhan had striking similarities. Both had their parents so keen to make them learned people in their lives, both left education and rebelled at the age of 15, both choose the neighbouring woods to acquaint with get trained to guns to use violence as a communication with the government and both died in encounters, young.

But when Modi broke his 32-days silence on smouldering Kashmir after 55 killings, he had something different in mind. “When Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister he had adopted the path of Insaniyat, Jamhuriyat and Kashmiriyat and we walk the same road,” Modi said. “I want to tell the brothers and sisters of Kashmir from this great birthplace of Chandra Shekhar Azad that Kashmir has the same strength that has been given to (other parts of) India by our freedom fighters. Kashmir has the same freedom that every Indian feels.” Modi expressed the pain over “innocent, simple and gullible” youths being given stones in their hands instead of books and laptops.

In Kashmir, Prime Minister said, there was “no dearth of people willing to die for India” and “some people” will not be allowed to hit Humanity and Kashmiriyat. “Pick up plough and give up guns to turn the soil from red to green.” Reassuring all help for development, he asserted that with Mehbooba Mufti, the Centre is working “to solve the state’s difficulties” in the “heaven” of Kashmir that “is loved by India so much”.

People shout slogans during funeral procession of four youths killed in Aaripanthan area of central Kashmir's Budgam district. People in thousands attended the funeral prayers PHOTO BY BILAL BAHADUR
People shout slogans during funeral procession of four youths killed in Aaripanthan area of central Kashmir’s Budgam district. (Photo: Bilal Bahadur/KL)

It did not address anything, as Congress pointed out the speech lacked even a word of sympathy with the bereaved. Omar Abdullah disagreed that development was the solution to all problems, including the Kashmir issue. PDP, his ally in the state, skipped welcoming the statement at the highest level. Various political parties insisted that Delhi must opt for a political initiative. Sharad Yadav even said that Modi’s “love for Kashmir” was “one-sided”.

Pressure was building. Finally, BJP gave a reluctant go-ahead to an All Party Meeting that Omar skipped but PDP attended. It bulldozed the idea of sending an all party delegation to Kashmir as the message dished out that of a hard response. That proved anti-climax to Left efforts of initiating some healing process for the bleeding Kashmir.

Noted lawyer Muzaffar Hussain Beig, the ruling party’s north Kashmir MP, set the tone for meeting. He invoked “the narrative of religious extremism” created by madrassas which automatically links with revival of Khilafat and ISIS. “It is bound to influence the youth of Kashmir,” Beig was quoted saying by the Indian Express. “I told them that what is taught in Madrassa is not real Islam. They teach them politicized Islam. They (the students) get two sets of kameez pajamas from their families and these vulnerable minds are told that if you die in Jihad, you will go to paradise and if you survive you will be a hero. We should have had a counter-narrative (in Kashmir)”.

“Women cook food and then come out to protests after 8, 9 PM. In my own village (in Baramulla), women who are my own relatives go out to protest in the night after they cook dinner. It is happening across Kashmir,” Beig said while talking about “all-pervasive” protests. “There is 73 per cent rural population who were bystanders earlier, they are participating fully now.” He invoked J&K’s constitution to insist that Delhi can give any territory to anybody excepting Kashmir.

At the same time, however, Beig said that historically Kashmir was let down by mainstream politicians in Srinagar and Delhi. “We are not prepared to share their (Kashmiris) pain. Once we understand their pain, then there should be process of dialogue,” Beig said. “We shouldn’t agitate on excessive use of force: pellets etc and rather have patience. We have reached here in 60 years and we can’t find solutions in five days. We must have a positive mind and a quick fix shouldn’t be there (to Kashmir problem) because at subterranean level it is a volcano.”

There were suggestions from certain opposition parties about some CBMs including withdrawing pellet guns, relaxing AFSPA. Left was keen to have an all party delegation to Srinagar. Almost everybody talked about initiating “talks” but not a single one mentioned “with whom”.

People of all ages are part of every day pro-freedom protests. This Kl Image is from Bandipora which was posted on Facebook by a Journalist. (Courtesy: Owaisi Farooq)
People of all ages are part of every day pro-freedom protests. This Kl Image is from Bandipora which was posted on Facebook by a Journalist. (Courtesy: Owaisi Farooq)

After the 4-hour long conclave, the message was clear. Prime Minister talked about his willingness to address “grievances” of all sections of people in J&K “as per the Constitution” but ruled out any compromise “with the nation’s integrity.” He saw “cross-border terrorism supported by Pakistan as the root cause of turbulence.”

“Whoever is killed, whether civilians or security forces, we all feel the pain. I have full sympathies with their families,” Prime Minister was quoted saying. “We are committed to providing good health care to the injured and also towards restoring peace in the valley so that people could live their normal lives.”

But what distinguished the conclave outcome was Modi’s attack on

Pakistan for its “screwed human rights violations in Pakistan-administered-Kashmir and Balochistan” saying “it will have to answer to international community for the atrocities it was committing there.” He said he has already asked External Affairs Ministry to contact “PoK Diaspora” to get details of the area’s “pitiable condition and share them with the international community.” He assured his government will reach out to civil society and speed up measures to “integrate Kashmir’s youth with the state’s economic activities.”

The meeting supported the stated policy of keeping third-parties away from Kashmir when External Affairs Minister Ms Sushima Swaraj revealed the UNHRC’s keenness to send a team of human rights observers to Kashmir. The only exception was Asaduddin Owaisi, Hyderabad’s vocal lawmaker.

A scene on clashes in Bandipora on Friday. (KL Image courtesy: Owaisi Farooq/FB)
A scene on clashes in Bandipora on Friday. (KL Image courtesy: Owaisi Farooq/FB)

But the other August 15, speech that was shadowed by an embarrassing start with the fall of tricolor from its stand, was not less watched in Kashmir. Chief Minister Ms Mehbooba Mufti maintained that violence invites miseries and solutions come through democracy and dialogue. She felt the time was opportune for both Delhi and Srinagar “to fully retrieve” J&K “with honor and dignity, from the political uncertainties they are engulfed in for the past seven decades.”

She listed her priorities: reaching out to the people, irrespective of their political affiliations, as a CBM; to end the pain and miseries of the people; to strive for their larger political empowerment and inclusive prosperity, and to work through peaceful means and through public participation towards restoration of peace.

“If we can’t find our solution in the world’s biggest democracy, we won’t find it anywhere else,” Ms Mufti said. “I assure you that there will be decisive movement forward on political, economic and developmental fronts in coming days, transforming J&K into a politically stable and economically prosperous state.” This unrest, she said, will be unlike 2008 and 2010 “when political and other delegations came to Kashmir without anything substantive being done.”

“There is no cut and die or a ready-made formula to resolve the issues confronting J&K, but a solution will only come through an evolutionary process,” Ms Mufti said. “There is no scope for delaying any further a meaningful and bold response to what has now developed into a moral, political and humanitarian challenge for this billion plus nation.”

People shout slogans during funeral procession of four youths killed in Aaripanthan area of central Kashmir's Budgam district. People in thousands attended the funeral prayers PHOTO BY BILAL BAHADUR
People shout slogans during funeral procession of four youths killed in Aaripanthan area of central Kashmir’s Budgam district. (Photo: Bilal Bahadur/KL)

The dichotomy in the two statements from allies in Srinagar and Delhi, explains the crisis on ground. In managing the situation, the dominant policy seemingly is muscle-flexing, and a hard fist. Every day, Chief Minister meets the officers and a select section of the civilian administration, discuss the day’s happening and hope tomorrow will be better. Top cops have termed it a “tea party”. These parties lack the political ingredient that is so crucial for handling Kashmir.

Occasional outbursts apart, Kashmir periphery exhibited an unprecedented situation. With economy in tailspin, education at back-burner, the governance in dormancy, the media battling to survive as an institution and the security set-up dominating the “response discourse” is pushing Kashmir to the brinks. Kashmir has already lowered nearly 70 youth in their graves as many hundreds survived maimed, blind and bed-ridden.

Apparently the federal level narrative rooted around Islamabad’s direct involvement in the unrest is dictating the Kashmir-management. Starting with a top militant’s claims of having organized the protests with a few grenade explosions in Pulwama and coupled with various militant sightings in processions, Delhi seemingly has decided against accepting mass involvement as a reality. This orchestra has, according to many people, reduced Kashmir handling to a close trio, the Prime Minister, the NSA and the BJP president. Even the Home Minister is the last to know, not to talk of J&K government.

But, governmental sources said that Chief Minister is being kept informed. “She is getting the best support from the centre,” one insider said. “Almost everybody talks to her on day to day basis.”

But the “talking” has not lead to any breakthrough. Nobody from the Hurriyat has been approached. Neither of the CBMs that Hurriyat wanted has been agreed upon. Barring Delhi accepting Islamabad’s invite on talks over prevailing Kashmir situation, there is nothing suggesting Delhi is genuinely concerned. “They are talking about the heart but are actually playing mind games,” said an official wishing anonymity.

Security grid is now poking villages during nights. It created a serious situation in Soibug where a posse of soldiers was on the brinks of being lynched by a midnight mob when their officers intervened and saved the situation. The lack of same intervention led to Aripanthan where four boys were shot dead paving Omar Abdullah, the local lawmaker, to ask: “Why this belt erupted all of a sudden after more than a month?”

The government has already enforced round the clock curfew to fight a Hurriyat calendar with a hard response in Srinagar, the capital city that had avoided a 2010 like situation. There is more willingness in government in getting out army.

This may force strike-fatigued people out of their homes but is unlikely to be inconsequential. BJP may convert Kashmir’s sense of defeat into poll buntings for UP, but it could dent healing touch doctrine beyond repairs.



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