India’s most used and abused K-word is back in political patois with a bang. In a brand new avatar, it makes grand media appearances to the accompaniment of a chorus worthy of a Greek tragedy. But the national comedy is that India’s liberelati caricature the Kashmir issue as a confrontation between a handful of separatists and Indian forces. It’s no laughing matter that the unrest, perennially ignited by Pakistan, is a threat to the identity and authority of secular India.
Last weekend, PM Narendra Modi met political leaders whose parties have representation in Parliament to discuss the Dantesque situation in the state of stone-pelters and find a solution to end the violence. Barring Congress, BJP and PDP, the other parties who attended the meeting hardly have any presence in the Valley, where of 10, just four districts—Anantnag, Kulgam, Pulwama and Shopian—define the topography of terror. Yet they are the most vociferous champions of a dialogue with terrorists. They were stymied when Modi, in his acerbic style, changed the Kashmir narrative by investing it with new meaning. The thrust of his approach does not pander to the international community’s vicarious glee about India’s problems. Neutering Pakistan’s efforts to bring Kashmir to the global stage, Modi treated it as a patently domestic problem.
His invocation of Kashmiriyat does not concern only the human rights of misguided youth masked as dissidents, but also encompasses the zeitgeist of over 100,000 Kashmiri Pandits who fled their homeland after their neighbours usurped their land and possessions. Modi put on the defensive all the participants summoned to the meeting and bleeding heart media by saying “one reality is also that Kashmiri Pandits, who have been living in the Valley for centuries, have been displaced from the houses belonging to their forefathers. They were displaced from their land by terrorists trained in Pakistan and this cannot be the work of those who believe in Kashmiriyat.”
Modi silenced dollar-funded K-activists by pointing towards the agony of Pakistan’s persecuted populations—Hindus, Christians, Ahmaidyas and Balochs. For the first time, an Indian PM emerged from crustacean diplomacy to deliver to a nefarious neighbour an explosive message—face similar retaliation if you continue to foment trouble in Kashmir. He said, “Time has come for Pakistan to answer to the world about the atrocities being committed on people in Balochistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.” In his short speech, which was only partially reported, Modi revealed statistics about captured ordnance and foreigners killed by terrorists. He said, “The fundamental reason of disturbances in the Kashmir Valley is cross-border terrorism promoted by our neighbouring country.” He disclosed that in the past 25 years, security forces have recovered around 34,000 AK-47s, 5,000 grenade launchers, 90 LMGs, 12,000 revolvers, three anti-tank guns, four anti-aircraft guns, 350 missile launchers and 63,000 kg of explosives, including RDX, which claimed over 5,000 lives—a number almost equal to the strength of five Army battalions. Rarely does an Indian PM crunch numbers to underscore a situation. But Modi is determined to turn the table on the promoters of trouble in Kashmir, who project violence as a struggle for human rights and freedom of expression.
The PM perceives it as a domestic law and order problem. For those demonising the J&K police for firing pellet guns at armed terrorists and their cohorts, Modi’s message was definitive. The new dispensation in New Delhi was willing to celebrate birthdays and break bread with neighbours, but it has also kept its arsenal and armed forces in a ready-to-attack-and-kill situation to eliminate those who aim to break up India.
Inspired by the new Kashmir doctrine, the PM didn’t immediately agree to an all-party delegation to the Valley. His team briefed him in detail about the fiasco created by a visit on March 9, 1990 by a similar delegation led by then deputy PM Devi Lal in the company of former PM Rajiv Gandhi. According to a published account, when the delegation landed at the Srinagar airport, Rajiv rejected Jagmohan’s call to play the host. The latter’s absence at the airport became an issue. Later, in full media glare, Rajiv asked Jagmohan why he was not present to receive the deputy PM. As the governor tried to explain, Rajiv interrupted and asked why Devi Lal’s chair was placed “on your left and not on your right”, as protocol demanded. When Jaswant Singh butted in, the media was ejected and proceedings resumed in-camera. A caustic Rajiv asked Jagmohan whether he should disclose the views expressed by the governor on Article 370 (in Jagmohan’s earlier stint in Raj Bhavan). Jagmohan responded, “I can also speak out what you had told me then.” Later PM V P Singh recalled Jagmohan.
Modi is not in a mood to let an all-party visit become a yet another venue to advertise political differences. His priority is to restore normalcy in the Valley and isolate the elements, which use children as human shields and enjoy a lavish lifestyle on ill-gotten Pakistani rupees obtained through hawala. The ruling class increasingly feels that separatists should be treated as secessionists since they demand ‘azadi’ from India. After Modi’s speech, the clock has struck the hour to investigate the sources of income of all secessionist leaders who have built palatial houses in and around Srinagar. It is ridiculous to provide massive security at state expense to provocateurs, who spur revolt against the country and stay safe from terrorists’ bullets.
If Kashmir has to be Paradise Regained, the Modi government needs to restore its archetypal secular character by ensuring the return of Kashmiri Pandits. Kashmiri youth should be encouraged to join Modi’s initiative of StartUp India by offering liberal financial support. The PM must eliminate the business of terror and extortion by making local youth stakeholders yatris in his Vikas Yatra. Success in this endeavour is likely to put him in the reckoning for a Nobel Peace Prize and not as the athlete in an internationalised race for a blood-stained trophy. He is a marathon man who has the staying power to leave behind the fake liberal stragglers who conceal their bloodthirsty mindsets behind hypocritical smiles.
Follow him on Twitter@PrabhuChawla