Updated: July 18, 2016 4:22:38 am
Another summer, another round of violent protests in the Kashmir valley. This time the trigger has been the death of Burhan Wani, the young, social media savvy commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen. If only he had as many military kills as Facebook likes to his credit, his dream of azadi might have been possible. For now it remains a dream, despite the spontaneous and unprecedented outburst of public anger, despite the calculated statements of separatist and mainstream Kashmiri politicians, and despite all the manipulation by the supporters and handlers of Kashmiri separatism in Pakistan’s military establishment.
The death of Wani has triggered a somewhat predictable response both in the Valley and elsewhere. The popular outburst of grief and rage is undoubtedly genuine. It has been encouraged by the separatist leaders on both sides of the border, but it would be a mistake to think that these violent protests are manufactured or mere posturing. In Pakistan they have led to plenty of public displays of solidarity and official statements denouncing Indian repression. In India too a whole range of activists and media platforms have denounced both the killing of Wani and the response of the state to public protests. The positions taken by the Pakistanis and the Kashmiri separatists are hardly surprising. Neither is the popular sentiment expressed in the Valley. What is surprising and disappointing is the inability of our public intellectuals to appreciate the central place of Kashmir in the idea of India not just as a secular, pluralistic society, but also as an economically and socially modernising democracy holding its own in an extremely hostile and dangerous neighbourhood,
There is no doubt that jihadi attacks across India and by the separatists in Kashmir pose tough questions for the idea of India. But they are not merely moral questions about the legitimacy of the Indian state and its commitment to human rights and the rule of law, that are to be answered in a purely ethical framework. They are also existential questions that involve statecraft, military tactics and hard-nosed realpolitik. The Indian state is not a wide-eyed groupie at a love fest that it will give up territory to be loved and respected by its neighbours or an assortment of self-appointed nonstate arbiters of international morality.
The depth of alienation in the Valley is real and enduring. It is naive to think it can be countered with economic packages and political concessions. The separatist narrative in Kashmir has a long history and for the large part it runs parallel to the two-nation theory that led to the Partition of India. The underlying impulse in both is a political and cultural identity based on religion. In the initial years, both Kashmiri separatism and the pre-1947 articulation of Pakistani ideology paid lip service to the ideals of secularism and a composite culture. Today, both have given up the pretence and are unabashedly Islamist in their ideology. Today, Kashmir is one of the flashpoints in the global jihadi narrative like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. And it is a narrative that has repeatedly betrayed its own syncretic history and multicultural demography with cynicism and brutality. The treatment of Kashmiri Pandits in the 1990s was an ethnic cleansing. The continued divergence of political aspirations between the Valley on one hand and Jammu and Ladakh on the other is also a case in point. Taken together they blow a big hole through the lie that the separatist claim in Kashmir is a moral imperative.
Faced with an enemy that knows no norms of war or manners of peace, what does the republic do? Does it stay faithful to abstract ideals, a leap of faith unlike any in world history, or does it gather itself, ready to be wounded, ready to wound, because survival is non-negotiable in any moral framework? If we can’t see a mortal threat for what it is, how do we expect to survive and thrive as a nation and civilisation. I envy the moralist and the idealist. They are guided by a glorious sense of certainty. The rest of us, the fools who actually do the killing and the dying, simply have the weight of a flawed past and our present instincts to guide us. For post independence India, Kashmir is not simply a story of loss of innocence and guilt. It is also the road to possible oblivion for India as a nation. Continuing with heavyhandedness and cruelty may or may not win us Kashmir. But cowardice or even confused inaction will surely not save Kashmir. Or India.
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