Fifty-five years ago when I went to America, it was a confident, powerful nation happy with itself. It was the young who saw how rotten and smug the polity was and they rebelled. Within two years, the country was consumed by struggles over civil rights led by student activists. The student movement erupted in Berkeley, California, in 1964 for Free Speech. They began a teach-in to ask why the US was in Vietnam.
The elders were outraged and puzzled. They tried to patronise, to cajole, to threaten and to punish. But the young went on. Within five years America had civil rights and the Vietnam War was lost. Through all these troubles, the older politicians never talked to the students and never understood them. They relied on their past experience which was, alas, a bad guide.
That is what happened in Kashmir last week and has happened repeatedly. The pattern is routine. Someone gets shot. A funeral follows where there is firing by the Army or police. There are more deaths. A curfew follows, which is defied. Deaths escalate. More funerals. The separatists come out and praise Pakistan. Outrage in Parliament. Defiance and puzzlement. What do “they” want? When the death toll gets troublesome, there is the routine debate in Parliament.
Then, as before, Parliament sends an all-party delegation. The delegation does not talk to the young who were rioting. They try and talk to the same cast of characters who has been a part of the “problem”. Indeed their importance derives from keeping the problem alive. They too know nothing about what the young want. Battles of the past are fought again. The separatists, predictably, refuse to speak to the delegates, even the friendly, Left ones. If they did, they would lose their argument and hence their importance. The delegation comes back. The government says it has done its best. Onward till the next killing.
This has been the case with the Congress/UPA as with the BJP/NDA. The UPA even sent three good people as interlocutors. But they made the mistake of talking to the relevant people and delivering a sensible report. They were treated with contempt and their report trashed.
This is because no one wants the Kashmir problem solved. Like in Bollywood hits such as Dhoom 3 and others, politicians want to relive the same story again and again. Hence no new, surprise, element can be introduced. The same cliche cast of separatists, Hurriyat, jihadists, Pakistani intrusions — military and diplomatic — are staple ingredients. There will be more shootings, more funerals, more pellet bullets till the next all-party parliamentary delegation.
Did any one suggest not sending elderly MPs but some young people from the rest of India to talk to their contemporaries? Does any serious study or polling exist of what the rioting young think or want? Why not a round table, a nationwide live teach-in to find out what the young of Kashmir and the rest of India think? Or do we just presume that they want jobs but they are seduced by the separatists? Has anyone tried to cultivate the Kashmiris who have ventured to come south, despite facing suspicion and contempt, what they think their future should contain?
Don’t worry. Just shout: Kashmir is an integral part of India. Then shoot.