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Mainstream, VOL LV No 32 New Delhi July 29, 2017

Amarnath and After: Misplaced Euphoria

Saturday 29 July 2017, by Badri Raina


Shri Raj Nath Singh, our hard-working Minister for Home Affairs, is a good secular man, one who has a felt recognition and understanding of the unquantifiably rich and diverse Muslim contribution to the making of India’s economic and cultural life through the centuries—a nationalist who does not think Muslims are not proper enough Indians because their chief holy land, Mecca, lies outside the territory of Bharat. It is accepted that his tenure as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh was largely free of the sort of sectarian violence and bigotry so much in evidence now. Much like Shri Atal Behari Vajpeyee’s tenure as the Prime Minster. Perhaps the fact that both come from that most pluralist of cities, Lucknow, has had something to do with their evaluation of the invaluable content of India’s cheek-by-jowl multi-culturalism.

Raj Nathji’s lauding of the spontaneity of Kashmiri denunciation, across the board, of the killing of Amarnath Yatris was thus as much in tune with his character as it might have been astutely tactical. And yet, it would be an error of political judgement to conclude that any watershed endorsement of the Indian state has been inaugurated by that popular Kashmiri denunciation of the kiiling of Hindu Yatris. It is instructive to note that Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s condemnation of the tragic event was as forth-right and unambiguous as of any nationalist Indian. For that reason, there are ironies and iron-hard facts that do not escape the popular Kashmiri perception: the fact, for example, that on the very day, or thereabouts, when one Salim was heroically engaged in driving a bus full of Hindu pilgrims to safety in the Valley, another Salim was being brutally bashed on the mainland for allegedly carrying beef. Or that a Maulvi at the threshold of a mosque in Hissar was being brazenly roughed up by a gang of Hindu vigilantes, and sought to be coerced into saying: “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”. More importantly, the proforma rebuke that such lynchings draw from an occasional ruling party satrap fools no Kashmiri since such acts of hate-filled high-handedness are understood by them, as by millions of mainland Indian citizens, to carry the unspoken endorsement of those that truly matter.

Notice, for example, that at the recent observance in the Valley of the Martyr’s Day on July 13—observance in memory of the death of a score of Kashmiri protesters against Dogra rule in 1931 during the “Quit Kashmir” move-ment—no one from the Bharatiya Janata Party, a partner in the coalition State Govern-ment, attended. Nothing underscores as strikingly the fault-lines in the politics of the State and of the State with the Centre as this sort of divergence on the facts of the State’s modern history.

Raj Nathji’s admirable appreciation of the Kashmiriyat of those who came out to condemn the cowarfdly attack on the Yatris, an appre-ciation, you might have noticed, stood rather by itself without encore from the top brass of the Sangh, therefore begs some crucial questions: will, for exsample, the nationalist euphoria surrounding the demonstration of Kashmiriyat lead to any consequential rethink in the Sangh about the current militarist approach to the problems in the Valley? Will a move be considered to withdraw the obnoxious AFSPA, at least from such areas where even the establishment is agreed it may not be needed? Will thousands of young, even nubile, Kashmiri youth be released from prisons to inaugurate a new trust and future with the young Kashmiris? Will covert and overt initiatives be undertakien to renew a process of dialogue with all stake-holders in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, not-withstanding the divergence of political positions? Will the Sangh bring itself to owning the people of Kashmir as much as it is wedded to the integral territories of the State?

Equally significantly, will the Sangh and its plethora of scions and organisations answer the non-sectarian nobility of Kashmiriyat by recasting their view and treatment of Muslims on the mainland, and by a new, loving embrace of Kashmiri youth who study or work in different cities and towns of Bharat? Will, for example, atrocities against the minorities come to be seen to be prosecuted with non-discriminatory resolve and dispatch, whoever be the accused or culprits involved, in the sort of undeterred crimes that took the life of Junaid on an Indian train, and saw the bashing with iron rods of a Muslim family of more than a dozen human beings on yet another train? Will the attitudes of the Parivar to such goings-on so transform the Zeitgeist that Kashmiri youth screaming “azadi” in the Valley may come to believe that India remains their best option? That henceforth they can travel, commune, interact, live, eat, and wear fearlessly as freely embraced citizens of the Republic, without fearing the next lurking vigilante reprimand?

You can be quite sure that the Kashmiris who came out to denounce the Yatri killings are all bright people with long memories, and suffused with the deepest scepticism about the real intentions of the government that now runs the Indian state. Kalhan Pandit was perhaps the first to instruct the rest of the world that Kashmiris can never be won over by force, only by love. In our day, this business of love requires further gloss: it cannot comprise mere verbal sweetness, but, crucially, must be embedded in a light that imbues all the procedures of the state towards Kashmiri citizens with realised equality and justice on the ground.

I once asked a rather energised—and are they ever less than energised?—member of t he Parivar as to who had killed the Jews in the Germany of the thirties—Germans or Nazis? He was prompt in saying Nazis had done the job, not the Germans. I then asked him if every Sikh in the eighties of Punjab was a Khalistani terrorist, and he promptly—and rather with umbrage— said that Sikhs have been known to be staunchly Indian, and only some of them had become terrorists. And then I asked him who had killed and driven out the Pandits in the Kashmir of 1990—Kashmiri Muslims or Jehadis; and this once, he was equally prompt in replying that all Kashmiri Muslims were culprits in that act. Now, this is where the tale hangs, if only the Sangh and its vociferous supporters would seek to acknowledge. After all, why was a whole chapter in Golwalker’s Bunch of Thoughts been titled “Enemy Number One”, meaning all Muslims? It is foolish to think such facts of our modern history do not resonate with Ksahmiri Muslims, or explain their stern resolve not to lose their character as a demographic majority. If until 1987 the sources of Kashmiri disaffection were rooted in the gross Indian failure to install genuine democracy in the State, after 1992 that disaffection took on a reinforced second dimension as it dawned on them, as on many Indian citizens elsewhere, that new forces were on the ascendant that sought to undermine the principles on which the Indian Constitution and the Indian state had been established. Wretchedly, things have only gone worse since then, although there was an interregnum when parties to the Kashmir issue had very nearly come to a solution that bore the promise of meeting most first principles on all sides. Alas, then as now, majoritarian hegemony ensured that no such thing happened.

Imagine that the current Chief Minister of the State still holds on to the belief that the powerful Numero Uno of India both means to and has the clout to sort out the problem without hurting Kashmiri sentiments, or without excluding the Pakistan factor. What better could Shri Narendra Modi do than answer that call and write his name immortally in the history books. Were he to set his mind to so doing, he might recall that “Special Status” was accorded to the State of Jammu and Kashmir by the will of the entire Indian Parliament—a fact that ought to be as binding as that other resolution, of Parliament denominating the State as an “integral part of India”, is held to be. Thus Article 370 is, after all, only as unique as Article 371 that grants similar rights to some other Indian States, such as, for example, Himachal Pradesh and the North-Eastern States. The crux of the problem has been that such facts about Kashmir have tended to be seen through sectarian eyes, whereas in the case of other States, beginning with the Tamil Nadu of Annadurai, they have been regarded plainly as Centre-State disputes amenable to negotiated settlements.

With each day that passes, the Republic loses any legitimate hold on the people of the Valley. The more nationalist one be, the more one ought to worry about that reality.

The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012. Thereafter he wrote two more books, Idea of India Hard to Beat: Republic Resilient and Kashmir: A Noble Tryst in Tatters.

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