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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 43 New Delhi October 12, 2019

Holding Kashmir to Ransom

In pursuit of a dangerously divisive agenda

Sunday 13 October 2019


by M.A. Sofi

Far from the ruse of development or ‘main-streaming’ Kashmir as the stated purpose behind repealing Article 370, all that it is meant and intended to achieve is to advance an agenda that seeks to promote the persona of Modi and his minions as ‘muscular, decisive (?)’ politicians. And if that is achieved at the risk of humiliation and immiseration of the Kashmiri society, that is even better and, in fact, part of the grand design! As Pratap Bhanu Mehta evocatively remarks in a recent article: ‘What are the real sufferings of the few compared to vicarious thrills of the many (Indians)!”

In the backdrop of this, the question arises: what does the abrogation of Article 370 hold for the future of Kashmir and Kashmiris? It is clear that each party to the Kashmir dispute, namely, India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir, must have a roadmap up their sleeves about how to carve a future course of action in the Valley. On India’s part, there already are ominous signs how it intends to go about it at least in the immediate future. Apart from continuing with its penchant for using maximum force to quell a possible uprising or any trace of resistance to its move on August 5, the Modi Government seems to continue with the entirely ill-conceived communication blackout which, apart from other baneful consequences, is expected to lead to a massive and irreparable damage to the Rs 9000-crore Kashmir fruit industry which had recorded a bumper crop this year, but for want of the facility to transport it to other mandis in mainland India, the fruit is left to rot in the orchards and fruit godowns in Kashmir. In the same vein, it is also contem-plating measures that it fancies would help it neutralise the sense of grief and shock having gripped the people of Kashmir following the revocation of Article 370. To this end, the Central Government is already toying with the idea of winning over the bruised people of Kashmir by doing what it has always done in such situations: doling out largesse ostensibly in the name of development, employment, healthcare, education etc., but essentially with the ‘larger’ aim of buying loyalties. Whereas these measures may help certain sections of the Kashmiri society, their impact won’t add up to much in terms of the so-called development and of winning the hearts and minds of Kashmiris. That has been the history of Kashmir right since 1947 when the Central Government had offered doles while playing devious games by seeking to scuttle the autonomy of the State and doing everything in its power to rob the self-same Article 370 of its sanctity and constitutional inviolability. The latest sop now being offered involves the hapless fruit-growers and farmers in Kashmir who have shown no willingness to fall for the bait and even if some of them did, whether it would help the government win their allegiance is a tall order!

This is so because nothing agitates the psyche of a Kashmiri more strongly than when his identity and his land are seen to be at stake. It is precisely these two aspects of his bruised personality that were sought to be attacked and bulldozed by the revocation of Articles 370/ 35A. It is possible that in a few weeks down the line, the signs of ‘normalcy’ having returned to the Valley, may begin to become visible. But as we have witnessed and learnt during the past three decade-long strife in the Valley, what may at first sight appear to the casual observer as calm, peaceful and normal about everyday life in Kashmir, very soon that sense of optimism begins to evaporate into the thin air, what with an apparently minor, unsuspecting incident having the potential to trigger an upheaval of the most unexpected kind. That is what had happened in 2008, 2010 and 2016 when everything seemed to be normal on the ground in the Valley, but very soon that ‘deceptive calm’ had given way to unprecedented chaos and conflagration following certain develop-ments that, on the face of it, had nothing in them to portend a turnaround in the situation that had become impossible to contain in the weeks and months following those events.

On the other hand, regardless of how Kashmiris may have looked at the role of Pakistan during the past three decades of militancy in Kashmir, the situation threatens to have altogether changed since that fateful day: the 5th of August, 2019, even as Pakistan has upped the ante at least at the diplomatic level to raise the K-issue at various international fora to frustrate the Indian designs on Kashmir. Whether one may like it or not, the writing is clear on the wall that Kashmiris would gleefully welcome a proactive role of Pakistan in Kashmir, not only diplomatically but also strategically. With the Americans in Afghanistan now on their way out and the Taliban looking poised to take up the reins of the government in Afghanistan— the recent glitches notwithstanding—Pakistan is being seen to be in the driver’s seat in engaging with the Taliban and to get them to do their bit in what appears to be its ‘restrategised mission’ in Kashmir. All these factors add up to present a picture that looks grim, ominous and unedifying, both for Kashmir and the rest of India, and that calls into question the wisdom of the Indian political establishment having gone for the overkill that, in a display of utter contempt and disdain for the wishes of the people of Kashmir, it had ventured on August 5, 2019!

However, in the midst of all of this, the silver lining is the consoling thought involving the fabled resilience of the people of Kashmir against such heavy odds and the remarkable consensus among them on how to remain steadfast in their creative resistance against the forces which have conspired to dispossess them of their dignity, identity, autonomy and culture. Come to think of it, it is puerile to expect a deprived people—who may even appear to have been vanquished—to eat the humble pie and to take the disgrace of being dispossessed and of being ‘disrobed’, in their stride. The issue is further complicated by the fact that those who have done it out of sheer arrogance and in brazen violation of the constitutional propriety, have chosen to remain intransigent by refusing to restore the fundamental rights of the people of Kashmir which continue to be denied to them even seven weeks after they were withdrawn on August, the 5th. These include not only the freedom of expression and speech or the right to peaceful assembly and free movement, but even more ominously, the total blockade on mobile phone and internet connectivity which have come to be recognised as a fundamental right, thanks to a recent Kerala High Court judgement. Having closed the doors for dialogue to sort out the issues with the parties to the K-dispute as dictated by the norms of civilised behaviour and fair play—and reinforced by the UN resolutions on this issue—we have a ready-made recipe for the present standoff in the Valley to continue, God knows for how long, with attendant gruesome consequences to follow that would be beyond anyone’s capacity to contain! However, thanks to the courage and fortitude of the people of Kashmir who have, over the years, learned the art of handling their tormentors and of dealing with crises after crises with such panache and equanimity, that should leave no doubt in anybody’s mind that despite these tribulations, they will rise from the ashes and survive, and with grace, dignity and honour!

Prof. M.A. Sofi belongs to the Department of Mathematics, Central University of Kashmir, Srinagar.

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