This is a guest post by ASHOK SWAIN
Since the death of a young and charismatic separatist named Burhan Wani, Kashmir has erupted into violence and chaos. Weeks of violent protests in the Valley have resulted in the deaths of at least 50 people and over 5,000 injuries. Kashmir is not new to violent protests and civilian deaths, but this time the intensity of the protest and the passion of the protesters is unprecedented.
After the killing of Burhan, Indian forces have tried to suppress the protesting mobs with pellet guns and tear gas. Weeks of lockdown and curfew, shutting down mobile and internet services and even closing down local news papers for few days have not improved the situation in the Valley. Popular unrest does not show any sign of abating soon.
The killing of Burhan in the hands of the security agencies on 8 July 2016 might be the fresh catalyst for the Kashmiris to come out to the streets to demand ‘azadi’, but the nature and character of this violent outburst is not surprising. Kashmir has been on edge since India’s capitulation to Modi mania. No one is saying Kashmir issue is new or no other parties or leaders are responsible for the Kashmir chaos. However, with Hindutva forces taking over the power in Delhi, Kashmir looks far away from India than ever before in this millennium.
In Summers 2008 and 2009, I had spent months in Kashmir for my research when the valley was experiencing a violent agitation against the Congress-led coalition government for allowing transfer of land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board for developing permanent facilities for Hindu pilgrims. Besides talking to people from various sections of the society and the state about their issues, I had also joined few ‘anti-India’ demonstrations to be able to understand the depth of the anger of the Kashmiri youths towards the Indian state.
Many of these demonstrations in various parts of Kashmir were led by one or two middle aged bearded leaders with skull caps, followed by 50 to 100 teenaged clean shaven boys and in the end of the line 10 to 20 young girls whose heads were covered but not faces. While the boys were screaming anti-India slogans, the atmosphere within the marching group was mostly breezy. Sometimes even the girls were teasing boys by raising pro-India slogans. Situation was rarely confrontational even when the protesters were passing in front of Army areas. They were angry about the decision to transfer the land, but the anger was limited in scope and issue specific.
The violent protests, which Kashmir is witnessing now is not any more about a small stretch of land, or against a particular draconian act or to regain the control over their hydropower. No one is leading these protests for ‘azadi’ anymore. No political party, not even Hurriyat. Kashmiris are coming to the streets not because of them, but in spite of them.
When India elected Narendra Modi to Prime Minster’s Office in May 2014 and the BJP swept election in Jammu, the Kashmiris were duly worried. Low voter turnout and boycott had marred parliamentary election in the Valley. Instead of being a healer, Modi decided to go for a political kill.
Kashmir Valley suffered from a devastating flood in September 2014. It killed more than 250 people and displaced nearly a million. The over-whelmed but boisterous Modi administration refused to take any direct assistance offered by the major international disaster relief agencies and tried to over play the politics of aid by Indian army. The PR exercise by the embedded journalists rather alienated suffering Kashmiris further from the mainstream.
In the Jammu & Kashmir assembly election in December 2014, Modi’s scheme was to win the state on the basis religious divide and media hype by hoping to capture all the assembly seats from Jammu and Ladakh. That was not to be. BJP’s polarized politics, by even advocating to put Article 370 for ‘discussion’ helped it to win majority of seats in Jammu, but all its candidates except one lost their security deposits in the Valley.
BJP received only 3 per cent of the Valley’s total vote. This would have been enough for anyone to get the message in order to find ways of trying to win ‘hearts and minds’ in Kashmir, but not for Modi. He went on for an opportunistic alliance with PDP to form the coalition government in Srinagar, and that took away the political capital of the PDP, which was only remaining hope for a majority of Kashmiris to find a peaceful resolution of Kashmir issue.
While Kashmiris have been fast losing remaining trust on their own political elites, the hyper-nationalism unleashed in Modi’s India has compounded theirs insecurity further. There are regular attacks on Kashmiri students in academic campuses in northern India over ‘patriotic’ symbolism. Modi’s ministers were also in the forefront of openly instigating non-Kashmiri students against local students in Srinagar NIT incident. Modi government has also been trying to make a political capital by branding any criticism of its Kashmir policy in academic campuses as anti-national and not hesitating to take confrontational actions against it.
No doubt, Modi’s brand of politics has brought insecurity to the Kashmiris as never before and has pushed them to the streets to fight. One year back, Indian army had informed that for the first time in decades, homegrown militants have outnumbered foreign militants in the Valley. In 2014 when Modi was scheming to come to power in Srinagar, 70 Kashmiri youths took up arms, the highest in many years.
South Kashmir has become a fertile breeding ground for new militants. These warring youths are enjoying increasing local support and that has emboldened them openly waving ISIS flags and chanting jihadi slogans. Kashmir had witnessed 113 militancy-related incidents in 2013, the lowest since 1990. Coinciding with the arrival of Modi in Delhi, the number of these incidents jumped to 311 in 2014 and 291 in 2015.
Since coming to office, Modi not only has failed to rise above petty politics, he has also failed to start any form of dialog with Kashmiris. He has misdirected his time and energies in pursuing ‘blow hot blow cold’ strategy vis-à-vis Pakistan in search of finding solution to Kashmir issue while framing policies in infuriating Kashmiris further. He and his ministers are now trying to pass the buck to Pakistan instead.
Frustration and anger have been building among already exasperated Kashmir youths for sometime now. The PDF-BJP government’s recent plan for creating colonies for ex-servicemen and townships for Pandits had kept the situation in Kashmir on the boil. The death of Burhan Wani has only unleashed that mounting suppressed anger. Modi can only arrest the further deterioration in Kashmir situation, not by blaming Pakistan or by using pellet guns, but by reaching out to people of Kashmir. Not through a tweet or a mann ki baat – it has to be a genuine dialog with Kashmiris within the ambit of insaniyat.
[The writer is professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden.]