There is a new generation of Kashmiri Muslims in the Valley who have little or no personal acquaintance with Pandits. To most of them, stories of syncretic living in schools, colleges, work-places, eateries, sports arenas, cultural festivals, weddings and cremations are largely imbibed as hearsay. Their most acute experiences are embedded in three decades of militancy, and state repression. Most of them believe that the state’s accession to India was both coerced and illegal, and, in contrast to the secular Kashmiri nationalism of the first decade after Independence (Sheikh Abdullah had said to Jinnah, “what can a Sufi Kashmir have to do with a theocratic Pakistan?”) the nationalism of this new generation is tinged with religious faith and observance (in colonised Algeria, many modern Algerian women took to the veil as a political gesture of defiance.
I am often among some of the brightest young Kashmiris at academic seminars, and intense social and personal interactions. It would be a grave mistake to assume that this generation, despite their conformism with outword religious forms, has any love lost for the prospect of an oppressive theocratic existence or state. What may seem in them a diminution of secular ideals is profoundly a response to the everyday breaches of that ideal all over India, especially lately. Their anxiety at not being reduced to a minority springs precisely from such a concatenation of national occurrences, pertaining particularly to stories of how even highly accomplished and professional Muslims are treated socially on the mainland. Which is another way of saying that their cynicism and skepticism about claims made on behalf of the virtues of Indian democracy is deep and based both on analysis and experience. They can produce little evidence of the operations of a credible democracy in the state after the watershed arrest of Sheikh Abdullah in August, 1953, leading up to the decisive rupture — brutal one you might say — with any democratic hope in the ‘elections’ of 1987. Nor can they be shown any substantial evidence of the least efforts made by the Indian State to truly place trust in their allegiance and aspiration, or to integrate them without discrimination and with felt dignity and acceptance with the life of the nation. The face of the state they most are familiar with is that of men in khaki
As I have said, the vanguard of this new generation are some of the finest scholars, researchers and teachers I have known, a generation not amenable to wishy-washy enticements.
What would be another grave misperception is to think that this generation is enamoured of Pakistan or are inclined to consider a merger with Pakistan even a mentionable political option. This fact needs to be emphasized. In 2005, a Mori International poll conducted among the Muslim-dominated areas of the state of Jammu and Kashmir revealed that 59 per cent wished to be Independent, 35 desired to retain their Indian citizenship, and 6 per cent opted for merger with Pakistan. I can say with confidence that were a poll conducted today, that 6 per cent would be down to minus. Those on the Mainland who do not see this point do not know a great deal about the people of Kashmir. And do not be fooled by the green flags that appear from time to time; these are semiotics of taunt against coercive Hindutva nationalism. If the faultline between the dominant sentiment on the mainland and in the valley follows a denominational divide, that between the valley and Pakistan is an ethnic one. Kashmiris have known from early times how the Punjabi-Wadera dominated state of Pakistan has dealt with even the Mohajirs who were originators of the idea of Pakistan, not to speak of the Balochis, the Hazaaras, the Bengalis, and now even the Sindhis. Given that history, nobody in the valley, bar the patently Islamic sections, is fool enough to think that the Pakistani ruling elite would treat Kashmiri-speaking Muslims any better.
With every passing day, it seems even to me that the political situation in the valley may be fast becoming irretrievable. It hardly seems likely that the familiar gangrenous status quo can or ought to continue. It is this realisation that keeps me here from recounting in a routine way the crests and troughs of governance and of electoral politics in the state in any detail. This, even as there have been time-spans (for example, 2002-2008) which seemed to raise ‘normalcy’ both internally and between India and Pakistan to a level of hope not experienced before. My assessment is that the time to count resolution of the problem of disaffection in Kashmir, in terms of the state of tourism or of successful yatras, is over.
So, what may be the factors to consider as different stake-holders seek, with varying degrees of earnestness or honesty, to bring Kashmir to a consensual resolution?
If Pakistan were to be left out of the equation for now (Pakistan may or may not have a Kashmir problem, India does) and a round-table were attempted that would include all our internal stake-holders, what might result? At two ends of the ideological spectrum, the RSS/BJP and the Gilani faction would argue their maximalist positions as full integration with the Union and merger with Pakistan severally; the JKLF would route for Independence for both parts of the divided State; the Congress might make vague postulations about inducing greater democracy into the electoral politics and institutional life of the state; the PDP most likely would reiterate allegiance to the accession but make a case for ‘self-rule’, meaning thereby an opening up to the occupied part of the state in terms of commerce and a broad spectrum of social and cultural inter-penetration, and the National Conference would equally reiterate their commitment to the accession but contend that autonomy based on the terms of the accession be restored in full. From among the ‘separatists’ the position of the Mirwaiz faction might turn out to be the most creative and constructive, once some credibility was generated in the parleys. As custodian of Kashmir’s enlightened Islam, he would have most anxiety about the other variety of the faith as propagated by the Salafist ISIS.
Two things might be safely assumed: no stake holder, once some serious conversation began, would with any conviction consider force, overt or covert, indigenous or extraneous, an option worth the taking; and no stake holder, since all as of now seek a resolution on the basis of a commitment to the undivided state as at present constituted, would insist for long that any viable consensus could be obtained based exclusively on any one single position offered by any stake-holder.
This seeming jamboree of contentions must not be seen as either unique or intractable. Any number of instances from global contentions of this nature can be cited in defence of that optimism.
Time would show that the wholly unacceptable preferences would turn out to be a referendum and any thought of merger with Pakistan, or the insistence on an erasure of commitments made with a view to obtaining a non-consensual assimilation of the state into the Union. If that is understood, what would be left would be a body of considerations wherein a formal connection with the Indian state and constitution is retained but a structure of institutional arrangements worked out that would fully and unequivocally honour and restore the terms of autonomy upon which the Delhi Agreement of 1952 was formulated. This, with the further extension of internal democracy that would accord with the suggestions that were made by the Committee on Devolution of the early fifties headed then by the late Balraj Puri—one that would involve statutory establishment of assembly structures in the three parts of the state, with real and operative authority of local governance bestowed on panchayats and zilla parishads. The Union would undertake to underwrite the finances that would be required to arm the state with schemes of investment worked out wholly by the elected bodies of Jammu and Kashmir, and schemes formulated in relation to education and employment that would offer a wide spectrum of integrative opportunities to Kashmiri youth in national projects and structures of power. Depending on the clout and willingness of political authorities in PoK, an interactive life of the two parts of Kashmir may be affected without any change of borders thereof. By general consent and commitment, the return of t he Pandits to the valley may be worked out with all stakeholders party to that commitment. The army may be withdrawn to the borders, and the Kashmiri judiciary and bureaucracy empowered in real terms to deliver justice and governance. The writ of the Central Election Commission and of the Supreme Court of India may be retained by mutual consent as guarantors of unblemished electoral democracy and justice without colour.
It has been seen the world-over that extreme positions to such disputes have a way of sidling towards a workable medial arrangement that satisfies a maximum section of the populace and isolates those whose positions patently offer no arguable way out. The Hindu right-wing would have to understand that mere slogans of unity and threat of coercive occupation would not only be self-defeating but in course of further time bring matters to a point where separation would become a real prospect. Just as those that seek for merger with Pakistan would need to confront popular Kashmiri nationalism that distrusts, as I have said above, the Pakistani state dominated by a Punjabi ethnicity and a brutal military regime. Sheikh Abdullah had presciently understood that a Punjabi dominated Pakistan that treats its other nationalities as vassals would do no better with the Kashmiris. And those who seek independence would need to confront the prospects—geo-political and economic—that would ensue from a severance of the Muslim parts of the state from the rest. Many educated Kashmiri Muslims will tell you privately that given the preponderance of ‘crocodiles’ waiting in the wings, the ‘sovereignty’ of an ‘independent’ valley would be pretty short-lived, and something worse than what Kashmiris have experienced thus far.
But for any of that to happen, the Indian state must acknowledge fully and finally that it has committed perfidies of mistrust and betrayal with the Kashmiris, and that, unless it wishes things to come to an unlikely pass, it must boldly and comprehensively honour all commitments made. One is not even mentioning the implication that any major mishap in the valley would have for the Muslim citizens in the rest of India, or in several other parts of the country where incipient disgruntlement of a real nature could yield a horrendously uncontrollable future.
Let this not seem a utopian offering. The quality of anger in the valley this once does not compare either in motivation or rigour to the often cited events of 2008 and 2010. The fact of the RSS/BJP now in power is not only a new one but a qualitatively deleterious one, however sanguine the explanations offered on behalf of the present coalition arrangement. Given the fact of the RSS/BJP in control of state power at the Centre, Kashmiris in the valley see the prospect of the realisation of a very bad dream, one that they have fought off with determination ever since the whittling down of autonomy began to be a central project in contravention of covenants made at the time of the accession. The Indian ruling class needs to evolve to a new bold embrace of decentralised and pluralist democratic arrangement with the federated units if the unity of which it speaks so stridently is to be achieved at all.
What the Indian State has failed to demonstrate thus far is that the people of Kashmir are as integral to its affections and concerns as the land in which they live. This lacuna needs to be addressed and remedied without further denial or prevarication. No assertive nationalist sloganeering is likely to paper over the widespread and deeply internalised estrangement that renders customary palliatives of little use any more. Contrarily, those seeking to secede from the union need equally honestly to acknowledge the furthest limits of what the Indian State can do, and to aim for the most consequential extensions of democracy and autonomy that can be negotiated. As suggested above, the Kashmir imbroglio does not promise complete fulfillment or satisfaction to any stake holder, but many times better for all parties in the fray.