There could not have been a worse moment for Mehbooba Mufti to insult the Indian flag. As a former chief minister who swore by the Indian Constitution, she should never have said that the Indian flag would only be ‘allowed’ in Kashmir after ‘our flag’ is given back. But, to say this in the week that one of Imran Khan’s ministers admitted in Pakistan’s parliament that the Pulwama massacre counted as one of his prime minister’s ‘successes’ made it sound much worse. If there has been general support across India for the abrogation of Article 370 it is because in the past three decades, we have seen the Kashmir Valley become an arena for Pakistani terrorism and radical Islam.
In these three decades the former state of Jammu & Kashmir has been governed by two families. The Abdullahs and the Muftis. Before Mehbooba made her shameful remark, Farooq Abdullah said something as offensive. He said that Kashmir was ready to throw its lot in with China if that country could guarantee the restoration of Article 370. Has he heard of the Uyghur people? Does he know that Islam is being treated in that country as an evil ideology? Nothing that has happened in these Hindutva times compares with what China has done to its Muslims.
Remarks of this kind by two former chief ministers confirm that Article 370 had to go. It served mostly to mislead far too many Kashmiris to think of themselves as not really Indian. When I heard Mehbooba say what she did it brought back memories of long ago holidays in Kashmir when we would get offended by ordinary Kashmiris asking if we had ‘come from India’. Politicians who portray themselves as ‘pro-Indian’ may not have actively encouraged people to think this way but they did too little to stop them. And, they did much too little to stop radical Islamic ideas from spreading across the Valley.
When the ‘azaadi’ movement began at the end of the eighties and young Kashmiris went across the border to be trained in terrorism why was so little done to stop them from returning? When violent young men wandered about Srinagar forcing the closure of cinemas, liquor shops and bars why were they not arrested? Twice such things happened before my eyes. Once when I saw radical Islamist youths march into a liquor shop and start smashing bottles while the owner of the shop cowered in silence. The second time was in the Broadway Hotel where while lunching in the restaurant I saw two bearded men walk into the bar and order it closed. Why were these things allowed to happen? Why did nobody do anything when young girls had acid thrown at them if they came out in public without a hijab?
Why did these leaders who now talk so aggressively against India not show as much aggression in warning ordinary Kashmiris that there was never going to be ‘azaadi’? The truth is that there never was any chance of ‘azaadi’ and there is much less chance today than ever because of an increasing revulsion against the kind of Islam that teaches young men to behead people in the name of Allah. So, if there was once sympathy outside India for Kashmir’s movement for ‘azaadi’ it has died.
My personal view is that the aftermath of the abrogation of Article 370 has been badly handled. Instead of months of curfew and Internet denial there should have been a serious effort at the highest levels of the Indian government to reach out to Kashmiris and convince them that they stood to benefit from what has happened. Narendra Modi’s Kashmir policy will be counted as a miserable failure if he does not bring peace and normalcy to the Valley so if the demands of leaders like Farooq and Mehbooba are reasonable they will be met.
Instead of demanding the restoration of Article 370 they should demand that statehood be restored immediately. It was a mistake to demote the former state of Jammu & Kashmir into a union territory in the first place, because now the Home Ministry in Delhi has to take full responsibility for the terrorist violence that seems to get worse by the day. From all accounts the Valley has been turned into a police state with soldiers and policemen at every corner so why does the violence continue? Last week three young BJP workers were killed by jihadist groups that continue to remain shadowy and highly dangerous. Why do they continue to operate?
At a political level, failures are as glaring in Srinagar as they are in Delhi. Kashmiri politicians have come together in a Gupkar Declaration grouping so they can demand the restoration of Kashmir’s special status. Can they not see that this is a road that will lead nowhere? All that will be achieved is that ordinary Kashmiris will be misled once more into believing in that dream of independence that was always just a dream. If these political leaders care about Kashmir then they should be making more realistic demands.
They should concentrate their energies on demanding what they can get instead of wasting time on trying to restore Article 370. India cannot afford to allow an Islamist state within her borders and this is what Kashmir had become. Wrongly or rightly most Indians believe this happened because of the shelter that Article 370 provided.
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