From the time our Kashmir problem became poisoned with Islamism I lost interest in it. I believe Islamism to be the Nazism of our time and believe every effort must be made to crush this evil ideology. So it horrified me that Burhan Wani became a hero in death despite those ISIS-style recruitment videos in which he vowed to turn Kashmir into an Islamic state. When his death caused the Valley to explode into a suicidal mayhem of stone-pelting and Islamist slogans, I saw it as jihadi terrorism.
Since then I have avoided writing about Kashmir. If I do this week it is on account of an ugly Twitter war with Kashmiri pundits and Hindutva types that I became embroiled in after blaming Jagmohan for the exodus of the Pandits. This happened soon after he returned as Governor of Jammu & Kashmir in January 1990. The ethnic cleansing of Hindus from the Valley is one of Indian history’s most shameful chapters. It should have been prevented even if the Valley needed to be put under martial law.
It is a mistake that we continue to pay for but Jagmohan is seen by most Kashmiri Pandits as the ‘saviour’ of Kashmir. When I sifted through the floodgate of violent abuse directed at me because of my criticism of Jagmohan, I noticed that it was based on myth and not history. So the ISI, Pakistan and Farooq Abdullah were charged with causing the exodus. Jagmohan cannot be charged with causing it either, but he did fail to prevent it. As someone who witnessed firsthand the rise of the armed struggle for ‘azadi’, I feel it is important to set the record straight.
Like most other Indians, Kashmir for me was just a place I saw in Bollywood films and summer holidays. Like most Indians I saw the Kashmiri Muslims as traitors whose loyalties were not to India. My first trip as a political journalist was to cover the ‘coronation’ of Farooq Abdullah in the summer of 1981. Sheikh Abdullah was still alive and what impressed me more than the ‘crown of thorns’ he placed on his son’s head, at a massive public meeting in Srinagar, was the love that ordinary Kashmiris felt for him.
He died months later. And there was an election in the summer of 1983. I was sent to cover it for The Telegraph by M J Akbar, who was editor. It was the first election I covered on my own so I worked extra hard. I visited every constituency in the Valley other than Uri. And I reported that Kashmiris everywhere said that it was democracy and not secession that they now vested their faith in. They said they would vote for Farooq because they felt they owed this election to Sheikh Abdullah. Yusuf Jameel, who Akbar appointed as the first Kashmiri Muslim correspondent in Srinagar, was my travelling companion and interpreter.
The special correspondents sent by the national newspapers rarely left Srinagar and got all their information from people like Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who was then in the Congress party. They joked about how they were there as ‘viceroys of Delhi’, and because Kashmiri elections had always been rigged, falsely charged Farooq with rigging this one and with making secessionist speeches.
Indira Gandhi believed them and got rid of Farooq’s government within a year. The man she brought in to do this was Jagmohan. Her cousin B K Nehru, whom he replaced, refused to ‘destablise’ Kashmir, as he later wrote. The toppling of Farooq’s government was the beginning of our current Kashmir problem. Farooq became a hero after his unfair dismissal but lost his sheen when he foolishly made an alliance with Rajiv Gandhi to fight the election in 1987. This election was seriously flawed, and many of the men who crossed the border to return as armed militants were those whose defeat was engineered when they contested as part of the Muslim Front.
Farooq’s unpopularity grew exponentially in his second term as chief minister. So did the militant struggle for ‘azadi’, but it was because of mistakes made by Delhi and not Islamabad. Of these mistakes, one of the worst was when prime minister V P Singh’s feeble government sent Jagmohan back as Governor. It was under him that extreme force was used against Kashmiri Muslims instead of to ensure the security of Hindus.
There is no question that Pakistan and the ISI are now fully involved in spreading jihadist violence in the Valley, but they did not create the problem. It was created by mistakes made by Indian prime ministers. Mistakes continue to be made today. Narendra Modi could have started with a clean slate and written a new policy in which the emphasis should be on developing Ladakh and Jammu. These two regions continue to pay for the follies of the Valley.
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