"Without the future of Kashmir, the future of India can’t exist,” Home Minister Rajnath Singh. Srinagar, August 25.
Astrology is the art of predicting the future. Politics is the art of predicting the past. Never before has India’s future been linked with that of any of its states. Kashmir’s destiny is dictated by its tortured past of death and divisiveness. The home minister’s statement while visiting the Valley signals a strategic shift in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s perception about its current climate.
The country has survived as a unified nation because all the states continue to express their unassailable faith in the Idea of India. Only a tiny section of Kashmir has been questioning the state’s allegiance to the Constitution and the cartographic integrity of India’s boundaries.
Rajnath Singh, who has been visiting the state more often than many of his recent predecessors, sent a clear message to Kashmiris that India considers them as much a part of the Bharatiya Parivar as the rest of its citizens. This assertion was not just a nuanced deviation from earlier policy, which was distrusted by the local population. Singh’s peacespeak comes at a time when the state government is struggling to bring normalcy to the Valley, which has been in turmoil for the past nine weeks during which around 50 people have been killed. His statement is an attempt to persuade diehard Kashmiriyat proponents to accept the reality of a state government in which the BJP is an equal partner. The unrest is the illegitimate offspring of a devious marriage between Pakistan and secessionists to show to the world that the Muslim-dominated Valley doesn’t accept the idea of being ruled by a united family of the saffron party and a local outfit. Singh’s outreach mission was to isolate professional separatists with Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s help.
The radicals and their masters have been attempting to sabotage the PDP-BJP government by sowing the seeds of division within its ranks. They persuaded Mehbooba to keep away from the CM’s chair after the death of her father, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. PDP leaders were encouraged to make unreasonable political demands to abort government formation. Even Mehbooba gave credulence to rumours that she was unhappy with the coalition by staying away from the public and not taking a stand against the agitators.
Her dilemma lay in her past, since she was championing them when she was in the opposition. Once she realised that the agitation’s political target was to make her irrelevant by destroying her credibility—both as an effective CM and chief of a regional outfit, which had fought relentlessly for the protection of human rights—she became the target of attacks from her opponents, including former CM Omar Abdullah. As Singh bonded with her, Mehbooba decided to hit back at her adversaries. For the first time in her 20-year political career, she took on Pakistan directly and blamed a miniscule minority in the Valley for fomenting trouble. She was particularly alarmed at the separatists’ call to march to the army headquarters demanding that the forces vacate the Valley.
Mehbooba has been harsher on the troublemakers than Singh. Last week, at a joint press conference, she sprang a surprise on her liberal supporters by asserting that the “5 per cent people who wreak havoc will be dealt with under the law. They wouldn’t be allowed to make the lives of others hell”. She further asked, “Does a child go to the army camp to buy toffee? Did the 15-year-old boy who attacked the police camp at Damhal Hanjipora go there to buy milk? 95 per cent people who died are kids who belong to poor families and were killed and injured in retaliation after they attacked the camps.” While she was seething with anger, Singh was trying to calm her down. She had already directed the state police to invoke the Public Safety Act against the culprits. A list of 500 potential
disruptionists was compiled and the cops were told to nab them before they could make trouble. It was a new Mehbooba on display, a daughter of Kashmir who decided to assert her authority as CM and not as a sympathiser of separatists whose survival is linked with keeping the Valley burning. She knew the history of past anarchy portrayed her foes as much more culpable.
The culpability of Omar in making Mehbooba’s inheritance turbulent cannot be dismissed. When he was CM, separatist mobs with Pakistan’s encouragement aided professional stone-pelters to paralyse the Valley for over 100 days (May to September 21, 2010) in an agitation that claimed 110 lives and injured over 500. The unrest started for the same reasons as now. The army was accused of staging a fake encounter of three Kashmiri youths on April 30, 2010. The inexperienced Omar looked towards the Centre to bail him out of the situation, like Mehbooba is doing now. The Omar-led National Conference was an ally of the Congress-led UPA as the Mehbooba-led People’s Democratic Party is today of the NDA. The only common factor to the regimes of the two political scions is the 80-year-old Governor Narinder Nath Vohra who has, by the way, outlived his utility.
Atavistically, the nature of solution is inherent in the crisis itself. On September 20, 2010, when stones were raining down on policemen, PM Manmohan Singh sent a 39-member delegation led by home minister P Chidambaram to Srinagar to initiate a dialogue. Predictably, a financial and political package was announced, which led to the normalisation of the situation in the Valley. Subsequently, the Centre announced more pacifist measures. Modi has chosen a similar path, but with a difference. Manmohan’s admirers crafted a politically correct Kashmir policy, with the pipe dream of getting him a Noble Peace Prize. For Modi, bringing Kashmir to the national mainstream is a personal mission. He knows that a political victory in Kashmir is both a national and global triumph—a much more powerful vehicle to drive into 7 Race Course Road once again in 2019 than the statistical score of having achieved 8 per cent GDP growth. Calculations for the future, both in Kashmir and elsewhere, are made using the equations of the past.
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