There is acute political awareness in Kashmir, and the nuances of the game are understood even among its younger residents. In that respect, the Valley may be thought of as being among the most politically alive regions of the country.
There is no shortage of political parties on the ground. There is also the separatist combine – the Hurriyat Conference. In a freer atmosphere, Kashmir may have buzzed with political activity.
Enough has happened in state in the past year to have ensured this – the toppling of the Mehbooba Mufti-led government, the imposition of Governor’s rule, the Valley-wide raising of temperatures on the ill-concealed effort of the BJP to do away with Article 35-A of the constitution through hostile judicial action as well as the virtually fraudulent municipal bodies’ election.
Governor Satya Pal Malik’s failure to permit a coalition of the PDP-NC-Congress to form an alternative government on the specious ground that such an arrangement might make the security forces “insecure” has caused disquiet among the people.
And the Modi regime’s adamant refusal over the years to hold talks with the political elements in the Valley in order to ease the atmosphere has been a persistent cause of sullenness and despair. In short, political pathways appear to have been deliberately jammed.
In contrast, the present writer can recall unbelievable scenes of mass participation in the poll campaigns of political parties in the run-up to the assembly election of 2002 – the first after the collapse of the 1990s insurgency. Towns and even the bigger villages had suddenly come alive with peaceful politics, although Pakistan-backed terrorist shootings and bombings still dominated headlines.
Today, sadly, what compels a visitor’s attention is the choking of channels of political articulation. Persistent violence has been the most conspicuous outcome. This has been most evident in the southern districts of Kashmir. In fact, today this remains the only brand of overt ‘politics’ on view.
The principal actors in this drama are teenagers and young men. Engaging the security forces on a recurrent basis is their platform of action. And every round of killings that takes place triggers further emotional upheaval in impressionable young people.
Feeling helpless and angry, they run away from home to join terror groups like the Hizbul Mujahideen and local units of Pakistan-based outfits such as the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba. They receive weapons and a few days of light training. Within weeks, these young men are dead in foolish encounters with the security forces. Another cycle of quitting home to become martyrs ensues.
This is senseless. A new generation is being lost. But when channels of normal politics are clogged on account of New Delhi’s Kashmir policy of the past four years to let only the gun do the talking, a messy result that turns lives upside down is perhaps inevitable.
This, however, is only a part of the story. A visible disturbing trend is the flaring of pro-Pakistan sentiment among the impressionable youth. Careful non-official observers of the scene attest to this. There is all round a sense of tragedy foretold. President’s rule, imposed on December 20, can’t alleviate the situation.
On a recent visit to the Valley, a free-wheeling conversation with the separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Kashmir’s chief priest, deepens the sense of despair.
Last month, around 40 freshly-minted local militants were killed in south Kashmir. A 19-month-old girl was hit in one eye by a pellet fired by the security forces. This month, seven civilians were killed when the army fired upon stone pelters.
The situation is worse than grim. The boys who are dying have turned autonomous actors, the Mirwaiz says, outside the influence of even the Hurriyat leadership. He thinks the only way out of the impasse is to de-congest the political space.
To stay relevant, the Hurriyat leadership sometimes calls for strike actions. The people grudgingly accept this if only to show solidarity with the dead. Exceptions apart, the mainstream parties no longer bother asking their followers to protest even symbolically. Normal politics has truly gone to sleep in Kashmir. This can only deepen anxieties.
The only politicians active have been the Ram Madhavs of the world, peddling RSS’s wares that no Kashmiri bothers with, as the governor plies the Centre’s trade.
Anand K. Sahay is a Delhi-based columnist and commentator.