On August 9 last year, my security staff, who had held me in my home since the evening of August 4, informed me that a police contingent from the local police station had come to take me away for a few hours as it was Friday and they apprehended protests.
I asked for a few minutes to get ready but moments later the banging on the door intensified. Hurry up, they said. As a precaution, I carried my medicines, the Quran and two sets of clothes and the police extended the courtesy of taking me in my own vehicle driven by my PSO, with the SHO sitting by my side. We were headed to Hotel Centaur on the banks of Dal Lake. I was to return home, four seasons later on June 18, the following year.
For those 10 months, I was a prisoner of India.
The five-minute drive from my home on Gupkar Road to the newly declared jail at Hotel Centaur felt like a journey of centuries. Seven hundred years earlier, Nund Rishi, the patron saint of Kashmir, stood at the hump of Gupkar Hill and, mesmerised by the beauty of Dal Lake, is reported to have turned back with his disciples, declaring “this is heaven and if we go into it now, that much would be reduced from the actual Jannat”.
As tears welled up in my eyes over the loss of my identity, possession, land, culture, faith and hope I suddenly recalled Boabdil, the last King of Granada in Muslim Andalus. When he left Alhambra Palace, he had also looked back with a sigh at the beloved city that he ruled and had now handed over to King Ferdinand. The proverbial sigh of the Moor suddenly synchronised with the sigh of a Kashmiri Muslim. We had lived in a make-believe world of false trust and illusionary hope. We evidently didn’t belong to you, India! Only our land did.
Kashmir’s calendar is full of ironical parallels. August 5 and August 9 are two such dates. Here I deal with August 9, when I reached Hotel Centaur as a prisoner. The hotel had been conceived and constructed by Sheikh Abdullah as part of his grand reconstruction plan. The building was partly intended to hide the betrayal he had suffered from Delhi under Nehru and his successors after the Sheikh’s endorsement of accession to a democratic India in preference to Islamic Pakistan despite the odds of history, geography and the theme of partition. I had attended the inauguration of this convention complex as an official, the first such complex India was to have outside its capital. I had been received here many a times, with garlands by waiting crowds, with official protocol as a minister. And now, here I was. A detained Kashmiri.
August 9, 1953 marked a watershed in the Kashmi-Delhi relationship. On that date, a state within the larger Indian Union was turned into a de facto Union Territory by the architect of autonomy himself, Jawaharlal Nehru. Ever since, all leaders from Sheikh saheb himself right up to the last chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, had essentially been fighting to retain the semblance of statehood as it should be.
Nehru dismissed his naïve friend, the most popular leader of the state, as prime minister of Kashmir and bundled him into jail for the next 11 years. For the following 11 years – from his release in 1964 to 1975 – the Sheikh had to adjust himself to new realities to become chief minister.
We grew up observing August 9 as a ‘black day’ till the Sheikh returned to the mainstream, post his accord with Indira Gandhi. And here I was, a prisoner, along with 39 others in the same place that the Sheikh had bequeathed as a result of his accession and thousands jailed across the country, based on, as he always stressed, the ‘shared ideals of democracy and secularism’. That day in the hotel I realised we all had lived a falsehood.
In the 1953 coup, all the MLAs of Sheikh’s party were arrested by Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, his successor, and ironically again, detained at the Lake Miskeen Bagh resort on the western shore of Dal.
The irony of August 9 will remain etched in my mind for another reason. It was Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad’s son, Javed, who was to receive us as our jailor. A very fine gentleman, he worked as the director of the convention complex and was designated the jailor only because he was there. But this was perhaps dictated by history to remind the new Gods of New India that nothing had fundamentally changed in Kashmir in the last 70 years. If anything, Kashmir had imprisoned India more than the opposite of it as the disease became only more virulent with every remedy you administered.
Using Kashmir as a test case
In one fell swoop, the BJP replaced the constitution of India with its election manifesto, using Kashmir as a test case. Consider the aspect of nullifying the constitution of Jammu and Kashmir through a presidential order. The president of India was a functionary under the state constitution under which he appointed the governor and high court judges. If he could be persuaded to scrap the very constitution of which he was a creation, could it have ramifications beyond Kashmir, some distant day, on the constitution of India itself?
Consider the geostrategic ramifications of the scrapping of the special status of the state, in which the folk language still calls the place as Mulk-i-Kashmir. The humiliation and sense of defeat, criminalisation of political and constitutional domains, demonetisation of political class is not confined to Kashmir anymore. This is a blueprint for a new India. If it was not for the religious denomination of Kashmir’s majority community, their complete alienation from the mainstream, the political baggage of a contested territory, things in Jharkhand and Tral might have looked somewhat similar on the human development index and individual empowerment if one detached the natural scenery and electoral politics from the backdrop.
Ladakh is only swelling into a permanent drain on the national resources of a country that just witnessed the realities of life its people are living through tragic images of migrant labour. Kashmir is acknowledged as the most militarised place in the world. And that’s not to defeat Pakistan in Pakistan. But defeat them in Kashmir with images of teenaged amateurs falling to one of world’s fiercest war machines. The images are essentially for the Breaking News brigades to amplify for the gullible Indian Public who are conditioned to defeat the enemy every day, whether a meat truck driver on the outskirts of the capital or Pakistan in Kashmir. A safe, in house enemy to keep voters tied to hate. And, of course, to prevent protests by ordinary Kashmiris and regulate their lives through a barrage of laws and brute force.
When nothing is going right for a party, Kashmir is a sure fall-back option. Opportunities, it seems, rain as it did through the mad act of the Pulwama bombing in the last election. So, from fighting elections to preparing for war as we are currently doing with shopping sprees across the globe, Kashmir is at the centre of Indian politics. And every Indian pays a price for keeping a messed-up piece of real estate.
Now consider, if there was no Kashmir problem or if Kashmiris had actually been treated with respect. Would the preference in the midst of a pandemic be to purchase war machines or build hospitals and help the economy?
Obviously, India is occupied by Kashmir.
Naeem Akhtar is a senior spokesperson of the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party and a former minister in the last elected government in the erstwhile state of J&K.