Guest Post by GAUTAM NAVLAKHA
Image courtesy India Today
Burhan Muzaffar Wani and his comrades were born and died in the phase of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir that symbolizes the watershed in politics in J&K; pre and post ‘89-90. Unlike in the past, indigenous militants now neither travel to Pakistan for guns or for arms training. Armed resistance and its indigenous roots are etched on the faces of these young men. Burhan’s killing on July 8 and following that, the turnout at his funeral as well as the protests that broke throughout the state have rekindled memories of the early 90s, especially the death of Ashfaq Majid in 1990, which too had seen mass outpouring of rage. Burhan and his comrades knew they would not survive for long; seven years is the average life span of a militant in Kashmir, as Burhan’s father poignantly stated long before his death. Not because that was their own choice, but it was the only choice offered to a people by a ruthless military suppression by a state that has refused to recognize the popular demand for right of self determination.
Indians remain ignorant of the depth of the passion for ‘Azaadi’ from forced union with India, a union imposed in myriad ways. The policy of land grabbing to settle ex servicemen from outside the state (an old project of RSS); allowing non-state subjects unhindered access to land for industry, real estate, mining, for setting up fortified colonies for migrants; where control of the state government, especially Kashmir based ruling parties, over administration has always been circumscribed by New Delhi; and financial dependence compounded by autonomy of the military from the purview of representative government – all of these point to the fact that the reins of government are held in New Delhi.
If into this vortex we add the role played in the past as well as in recent times by Hindutva forces in J&K then it would have to be a stout but closed mind, that will fail to see the consequences of our own folly. Just as the obduracy of the Government in 1986-89 created the conflict situation then, the brutal suppression let loose since 1989-90 has transformed J&K, turning Kashmir in particular into a military garrison. The Indian army is everywhere – in bunkers, at checkposts, at drop gates, behind concertina fences, in camps, cantonments, fortifications, on roads, bazaars – an all too visible presence.
What saddens me most is that the Indian intelligentsia, with honorable exceptions, have been mired in dogma and “nationalist” ideology, communal or secular, both unequivocally wedded to nation-state and its inviolability. They have blinded themselves to the Indian State’s primary responsibility in bringing things to this pass. Wahabi Islam is blamed but no one bothers to ask how preachers of Wahabi Islam entered Kashmir. Why did every successive government patronize this “foreign funded project” all these decades?
Also we rarely interrogate the role of HIndutva and the patronage it receives in J&K from the military and establishment and the state government. What about the training and arming of 29,000 armed Village Defence Committee members drawn from Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena in Jammu region? How come in a “Disturbed Area” they are allowed to brandish their weapons? Or for that matter how do we reconcile our claims to secularism with the Press Information Bureau of the Government of India’s claim that undertaking a pilgrimage to Amarnath is a fitting show of solidarity with Indian soldiers fighting for the nation? If so, why should Kashmiri Muslims repose confidence in an India where RSS-BJP rules the roost?
The point is that “Indian secularism” has no credibility – institutionalized discrimination against Muslims; the persecution of Muslim youth and indifference to crimes committed against them; denial even of compensation in false cases against Muslims on terror charges (as in the Akshardham case where the Supreme Court found fabricated evidence and rapped the then Gujarat Home Minister Narendra Modi for “non-application of mind” in giving sanction to such a case; but refused compensation, accepting the prosecution’s plea that granting compensation would demoralize the police) and the violent anti-minority campaign launched by Hindutva hordes – none of this inspires confidence even among Indians, how do we expect it will inspire Kashmiris?
Those who blame Kashmiris for being religious fanatics must first answer if the presence of RSS in power at the Centre makes all of us Hindutvavadis? The point is that every time we raise a question about Kashmiri Muslims a question is posed to us. Of course there are radical Islamists present in Kashmir, but they are not in power in J&K and their capacity to cause damage is far less than that of Hindutvavadis who control the levers of power today. Yet we do not seem to despair as much over this threat to “mainstream” India, and we want Kashmiris to enter this cesspool?
Elections every six years (as in J&K) are not the sum total of politics. Participation in elections by Kashmiris is nothing more than a compromise in daily life to make survival little less onerous. Recall what AS Dulat, ex RAW chief wrote in his book on his years in Kashmir, that even an old woman who goes and casts her vote will not give up asking for “Azaadi”. Hearts and minds of the people of Kashmir are not with India.
Scholars who write on strategic matters appear to be wiser. Generals who have served in J&K have reminded us time and again that there can be no military solution to the Kashmir dispute. It needs a political resolution. There have been insightful field studies of Counter Insurgency in J&K. They point out that even local people who praise the army for their social work, are one in describing them as an occupation army and want azaadi.
So let us look ahead and see what awaits us. Counter insurgency involves psychological warfare, for perception management. The Indian state must appear to be simultaneously in control and triumphing over militancy, while at the same time maintaining high levels of insecurity among the Indian public, to legitimize the bloody suppression. As a result there is a sudden shift from triumphalism, and the claim of having defeated and suppressed the “separatists”, to consternation when mass upsurge takes place, blaming Pakistan for fomenting this.
J&K has been in the administrative control of India for nearly seven decades, we have deployed in J&K more than 600,000 armed soldiers comprising army, para military and armed state police forces with a regular army comprising renegades, and in addition, control the region with draconian laws. How come Pakistan finds it so easy to stoke fires of rebellion in Indian administered Kashmir? If elections and electoral turnouts are markers of people’s choice, then how come the very same people join the funerals of militants and gather at encounter sites?
To blame “radicalization” on outside agencies has been a tried and tested strategy. However, to deny the indigenous roots of militancy is a fatal flaw. Pakistan has been enabled to ‘fish in troubled waters’ by Indian government policy of virtually closing all avenues of protest and expression; by refusing to take any political initiative, jeopardizing right to life of people by giving legal immunity to the military to kill on suspicion, resulting in unsolved cases of custodial killings, torture, rape and disappearances. It is this shameful record of the Indian state that as driven the people of Kashmir towards taking up arms again. Lashkar or Jaish have reactivated themselves because young people after 2008-2010 began to slowly drift towards militancy after the bloody suppression they experienced 2008, 2009 and 2010.
In 2008 there was a discernible shift away from guns and towards mass unarmed protests, today that has swung decisively back towards armed militancy. Instead of seizing the moment in 2008, the UPA I and II squandered that opportunity. The reason was that the Indian government had nothing to offer. The offer of autonomy is an old record brought out whenever conflict escalates. There are no takers for it any more because no one takes it seriously. The issue of state subject-hood in J&K is no different than elsewhere in North East or in forest areas of India. Beyond this, the Indian government offers nothing, ensuring that they will continue to call the shots in J&K.
Former CM Omar Abdullah nailed the truth when he said that Burhan’s ability to recruit into militancy from the grave will far outstrip anything he could have done on social media. The spokesperson of ruling People’s Democratic Party and the state police have asked parents to prevent their children from joining protests. Which parent would like to see their child go out to get killed? But when people of every age group are joining protests, then to ask parents to stop their children is evidence of the Indian government’s desperation and miscalculation. Kashmir has entered a new phase of militancy and one should expect to see a perceptible rise in the numbers of militants, multiplied by a defiant people .
Note what took place at Tral on July 9 at Burhan’s funeral. The town ringed by security forces and police camps could not prevent 40,000 people from attending his funeral, young volunteers manned all entry points and obstructed the movement of vehicles of security forces. And Hizbul Mujahideen militants gave him a 21 gun salute. The depth of anger has to be understood in conjunction with what has happened in past 26 year, the issues thrown up by it, and the conspicuous lack of any effort to seek political resolution.
Enlightened self-interest would be a courageous road to take. The tragedy is that the situation is made worse by the presence of a dogmatic and ideological party in power in New Delhi. The Prime Minister publicly declared in Srinagar last November that he needed no advice on Kashmir. Hence the hackneyed approach of sending more troops, and strident support for legal immunity for security forces. The apex court has just the other day raised very uncomfortable questions about armed forces’ definition of “enemy” and “internal disturbance”; emphasized the sacrosanct nature of rights and liberties of civilians even in “disturbed areas”; and criticised the “indefinite” time taken to restore “normalcy” – but the government does not seem to be paying heed. A closed mind brooks no dissent.
So, ‘cry my beloved country’, because instead of arresting this slide towards a renewed cycle of bloodletting, the government is rushing us towards it. The consequences are grim, and we can no longer avoid a hard look at ourselves.