Kashmir’s political conundrum is largely divided into two major ideological orientations — the Kashmir issue and the issues of Kashmir. The separatist groups have always claimed to be the sole custodians of the peoples’ aspirations and representatives of the “Kashmir issue” while the pro-India, mainstream parties never question their claims, accepting defeat by claiming to represent the “issues of Kashmir” related to bijli, sadak, paani and berozgari. This isn’t new and predates not only the current protests but many such previous churnings as well. Thus, mainstream politics has largely remained confined to governance delivery-politics while separatism has become a conviction-based discourse. The idea of separatism derives its political capital from the larger Kashmir issue which remains unsettled and is the direct or indirect reason for every problem in the state. There is considerable social acceptance for separatist politics because it is centred around the aspiration of political freedom. The idealism associated with it triggers street rage and emotional fortitude which in turn earns it legitimacy while simultaneously delegitimising the pro-Indian polity in Kashmir.
Our political process is based on three primary institutions — the parliament, assembly and panchayat — all seeking citizens over 18 years old. I head the youth wing of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and my target constituency remains above 20 years old. I think our challenge in Kashmir today is to connect to the youngsters who are below 18 and, tragically enough, many of those who have recently died are in that age group. In three earlier cycles of protest, in 2008, 2009 and 2010, the major casualties were largely among those who are below 18. A majority of them were children.
In 2010, the more than 120 people who were killed didn’t throng the streets to impose Islamic rule but to assert their call for justice with dignity. These were the children of conflict who grew up under the shadow of the gun. We witnessed youths, teenagers particularly, becoming part of the separatist constituency while their elders engaged with the larger political constituency of the mainstream. This is true today as well. We are a state with 60 per cent youth population and around 20 lakh students admitted in schools. The stakeholders are youngsters. It is unfortunate, however, that our politics doesn’t engage and target them at the age they are attracted to a divergent ideology.
We need to understand that these youngsters need good parenting rather than policing. We need to listen to them patiently. Similarly, social problems need societal interventions, rather than security. Security forces can’t replace society in conflict areas. In villages, we have lost the idea of eldership. We used to have a culture of respecting our elders. Today, elders are irrelevant in villages. The reason for this societal breakdown is the despair set in by a never-ending conflict that rules every sphere of the life of the people. We need to understand the reason behind the rage.
Kashmir’s youth, particularly, is brought up in a sea of dejection. I think they need happiness more than peace. In my many interactions in the countryside, I have always noticed youngsters with dejection writ large on their faces. They hardly smile or laugh. They have lost the sense of humour and blitheness that defines youthfulness. A consistent gloom and trauma surround them. They look haunted.
I work in the villages with young Kashmiris and see in them an urge for dignity, economic prosperity and social mobility. But economic measures won’t be a substitute for political ones. Kashmiri youth are very politically conscious and understand the nuances of each discourse. Over the years, there is a feeling of defeat which they carry with them and Delhi perpetuates their miseries by committing its share of mistakes; for example, by hanging the 2001 parliament attack convict, Afzal Guru, in 2013.
Kashmir’s youth is angry, it is not India’s enemy. Today, the young think that if they inflict injury on themselves, New Delhi may feel their pain. It’s more of an emotional problem than a geographical or economical one. But Delhi lacks emotion or empathy for Kashmir and its responses have often been in terms of economic packages rather than serious and honest political outreach.
When India says Kashmir is its integral part, the term “integral” is geographical in nature and doesn’t take the people into account. On the other hand, Pakistan calls it its “jugular vein” and addresses its constituency in Kashmir more emotionally than geographically. Many people in Kashmir carry the grudge that a country which unites in seeking justice for victims of rape and molestation like Jessica Lal or Ruchika Girhotra conveniently ignores similar victims in Kashmir. The mysterious deaths of 2009 “rape and murder” victims, Aasiya and Nilofar, in Shopian are repeatedly cited as a case in point.
Every year, thousands of our young boys and girls get scholarships under the Prime Minister’s Special Scholarship Scheme (PMSSS). Our students, who go out to study or work, get harassed and beaten up across cities and towns in mainland India. This defeats the very purpose of such programmes and instead, sows the seeds of hatred in the hearts of Kashmiri youth. Earlier, the problem was, for example, the arbitrary arrest of Kashmiri youth by agencies like the Special Cell of the Delhi Police. Now, it’s different — it is the common people of India who look at Kashmiris with suspicion and contempt. This is much more dangerous. It’s another feeling of defeat for our youth, which further taints the idea of the political mainstream on the ground in Kashmir.
The insurgency in Kashmir faced a military defeat. Those who turned towards separatist politics were finding it very difficult to stay relevant, given the state of competitive politics in the Valley. Also, the expectations of youths were high. In 2002, the PDP emerged as a middle ground.Our agenda enjoyed social legitimacy; talk of human rights, dignity and justice was unique and unheard of from a mainstream group. That year, a free and fair election further boosted the credibility of electoral politics. It started integrating dissenting voices and, in a unique way, addressed both ideological orientations — “the Kashmir issue” and the “issues of Kashmir”. This balance between development and sentiment was hitherto unknown. The PDP emerged as a genuine voice, a credible space, a democratic model much more powerful than a power-politics model.
Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had firmly positioned his politics on annoying none and still creating relevance for all. His was an accommodative, inclusive and participatory politics. Unfortunately, the process of reconciliation started by him ended tragically. In just three years, the Congress painted the peace process as politically motivated and it was derailed.
Today, while there is an urgent need to resuscitate that process, there seems no serious movement in that direction. One can only regret the absence of spaces in our country for social and political engagement on the “Kashmir issue” and “issues of Kashmir”. We need people-to-people relations that sustain and outlive us. Looking at Kashmir only through a security prism is dangerous and counter-productive in the long run.
A healing touch and not a military crackdown should form the core of the Kashmir policy. The policy of consistent inconsistency practised by earlier Central governments hasn’t helped. Delhi has to be different this time. It’s high time Modi invokes and emulates Mufti’s legacy.