Rights

An Uneasy Quiet in Kashmir Is No Guarantee That All Is Well

The Valley is without disturbance as perhaps never before, but the people's trust has been broken.

A little over a year ago, on 12 August 2019, the Indian Express carried an article that I had written on the annulment a week earlier of Articles 370/35A that the Supreme Court had several years earlier ruled as “permanent” features of the Constitution. My opening line said, “Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have just created a Palestine on our northern border.”

I have waited nearly 14 months for that to happen. But the Valley is without disturbance as perhaps never before. Jammu has largely welcomed the move. Ladakh was overjoyed to get Union Territory (UT) status and liberate itself from the stranglehold of Srinagar. A raft of development schemes was announced, as was a raft of youth employment schemes. Panchayat elections were held. With impunity, non-Muslims were put in every office of significance in a Muslim-majority state.

A massive wedge was driven between the electorate and the National Conference, in particular, and the old political establishment of the “three families” in general, to the extent that the Kashmiri-in-the street was mocking Sheikh Abdullah’s family with the cry, “Ab bolo, ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’”. Pakistan had been rendered ineffective in fomenting trouble. The India-China border was so tranquil that President Xi Jinping arrived in Mahabalipuram in October 2019 to a welcome warmer than a fresh masala dosa. Was I totally wrong in my assessment?

So wrong that the satraps of the Central government had slowly retracted many of the restrictions imposed on the normal life of the population. Traffic jams returned to the city. Internet worked – at least in the 2G version. Educational institutions reopened. Shops did brisk business. A team of European Union diplomats issued individual certificates of “normalcy” being visible. The authorities were so confident that the people had learned to live without 370/35A that they even released Omar and Farooq Abdullah (but not Mehbooba Mufti, their erstwhile ally) and allowed them to meet other political “leaders” to issue a second Gupkar Declaration on 22 August 2020. So where was the intifada (an uprising), where was the “Palestine on our northern borders”? Apparently in limbo.

‘Completely disillusioned’

So effective was the Central government’s control of the narrative, they even allowed Farooq Abdullah to attend parliament. The speaker promised him time to speak. In consequence, he was granted one minute at the start of the session and one more at the end. Is this how a self-confident government works?

So, a frustrated Farooq took to the media and in an interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, found some outlet for what he needed to tell the nation. His father, the Sher-e-Kashmir had repulsed Jinnah to join India, he said, although “religion (was on) that side, the roads that side, the rivers go that side. We went against the current”. Why? “We joined Gandhi’s India, not Modi’s India”. So, what had Modi’s India done? They had broken the trust that underlay “the unity of the Muslim-majority state with the rest of the nation”, leaving the people “sick of having to put up with a soldier with an AK-47 on every street, every village”, “their dreams gone” awry, their children deprived “of a future”, “completely disillusioned…If I speak of India anywhere, they don’t want to listen”.

A paramedic walks through a deserted street during curfew ahead of the first anniversary of the revocation of Kashmir’s autonomy, in Srinagar August 4, 2020. Photo: Reuters/Danish Ismail

Then why are they so quiescent, so accepting of their fate, so reconciled to their deprivation as to not take to the streets? “Would you be able to protest here in Delhi if every street was filled with armed gunmen?” Perhaps not, but Delhi isn’t Srinagar. Why are people there so intimidated that they don’t protest? Farooq in reply “guaranteed” that “the minute you remove those soldiers, lakhs will be on the street”. And if the soldiers are not removed? “One day this volcano will blow”.

Perhaps, therefore, the intifada I had predicted will take time to erupt. I recall that for 40 years after Al-Naqba (‘The Catastrophe’ of 1948), there was no intifada. The Palestinians were relying on their Arab brothers to liberate them. The “Arab brothers” spectacularly failed them. Worse, one by one, they began deserting the Palestinian cause and listing to the siren song of Israel. It was only when the Palestinians realised that they were alone that they started the intifada. No intifada can be made overnight. They have to be driven to it. Are Modi-Shah driving them to it?

Farooq says they are fighting for “the honour, dignity, the respect that the people lost on the 5th of August last year”. They want the Government of India to “start trusting Muslims instead of denigrating them…They (Centre) still hold the land, with force, but they have lost the people”. And that is why “sentiment for Kashmiri independence has grown sizably”. People are still are not interested in joining Pakistan but, notwithstanding Chinese treatment of Uighur Muslims, Farooq believes “they would rather have the Chinese coming in!”

This is the extent to which Modi and Shah have driven seven million Kashmiris up the wall. And with the new domicile laws endangering the demographic composition of both UTs, fear and apprehension have overtaken all three regions of the erstwhile state – Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, including both Muslim-majority Kargil and Buddhist-majority Leh. If the situation is not rectified, intifada and worse can overtake the trijunction of India, China and Pakistan, the “crown” of our nation. This was not the situation on August 4, 2019. It is the position today. That is the measure of what the Modi-Shah regime has wrought in Jammu and Kashmir. The nation’s unity and integrity are under threat as never before.

Withdraw troops and restore Kashmiriyat

Is there a way out? Child’s play, really. Just revive the permanent constitutional status of J&K; return to them their statehood as it existed till last year (subject to consultation with Leh); restore to the country the values of Gandhi’s India; start again trusting the Muslims; stop branding Kashmiris traitors; play fair with the Kashmiris who stood by us not only at Independence and Partition in 1947 but also at war in 1948, then again in 1965 in facing down Bhutto’s Operation Gibraltar, and twice again in 1971 and 1999; stand by those who have stood by us at the United Nations in New York, Geneva, Vienna; restore democracy and fundamental rights; and revive Vajpayee’s formula: Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat, Kashmiriyat (humanism, democracy, Kashmir’s legacy of amity). That is all we have to do to draw down the army and eventually send it back to guarding our borders.

“Bring back yesterday, bid time return” (Shakespeare, Richard II). Otherwise, doom and gloom await us.

Mani Shankar Aiyar is a former minister for petroleum and natural gas, a former member of the Lok Sabha, and a member of the Congress party