Cut & Thrust: A PLEASANT VOLTE FACE

After years of somnolence, ensconced deep in the arms of Morpheus as the central government was on Kashmir, one sees frenetic activity over the last 48 hours. Now, I am just wondering whether it is the Sochi/Wuhan effect. PM Modi recently conducted one on one informal deliberations with Xi Jingping and Vladamir Putin. The agenda of these talks was not specified. The fact that the government has moved with great alacrity on Kashmir since suggests a linkage and connection even if it is tenuous at this stage. This is a clear volte face by the BJP and that is what makes it monotypical. For Delhi has suddenly very dramatically altered its position by agreeing to implement the 2003 ceasefire with Pakistan, followed more or less in synchronicity with first Rajnath Singh talking about a dialogue with the Hurriyat and then the Joint Resistance Leadership of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Farooq and Yasin Malik reacting by saying that there should be a clear road map on the talks with specifics involving all stakeholders. Their usual rider of Pakistan being a party to the dispute was also raised adding that dialogue among the stakeholders in the best political redressal of the Kashmir conflict. Hastening to add that they won’t accept anything less than self determination, something that the government of India will not accept under any circumstances. Once the secessionist leadership realises that Kashmir is central to India, then that can be the starting point for fresh talks. Pertinently, Hurriyat held two rounds of talks in 2004 when NDA was in power and then again in 2005 when Manmohan Singh was PM. Hurriyat doves also backed out of secret confabulations initiated by P Chidambaram in 2009 when militants killed one of their leaders Fazal Haq Qureshi. One wonders why the government wasted so much time in arriving at this decision. Bloodletting of a level not seen in all these 30 years has been viewed this calendar year. With Kashmir burning and local militancy returning with a bang, the Ramzan ceasefire is being used to broach the subject of confabulations. Home minister Rajnath Singh has spoken of reopening a dialogue with Pakistan as well. The Union home minister also said that he was even prepared to hold talks with Islamabad if they were ready for it.  “To not welcome anyone who wants to talk is not the right thing,” he said. This flies in the face of the Modi government’s stated position on Kashmir where Muslim bashing became the norm. Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti welcomed this statement of Singh, saying it would pave the way for peaceful dialogue with all stakeholders in the Valley. She said this was indeed an encouraging step given the positive outcome of ‘Ramzan ceasefire’ on the ground.

This is the first attempt by the Islamophobic Modi government to effect some sort of rapprochement in Kashmir with fundamentalist separatist elements. It could have been done after the spiral of unending violence last summer, during the winter of 2017-18, a window of opportunity which was missed. It comes at a very crucial time when the Supreme Court is set to hear Article 35-A on August 16.  Four petitions have been filed, demanding scrapping of Article 35A in Jammu and Kashmir. The petitions challenge the validity of Article 35-A of Indian Constitution, which gives special rights to permanent residents of the Jammu and Kashmir. The main petition was filed by Delhi-based NGO, ‘We the Citizens’ in 2014. Subsequently, three more petitions challenged the provision and were filed and clubbed with the main one. In October last year also, SC had deferred the hearing for three months after the Centre told the apex court that it had appointed an interlocutor (Dineshwar Sharma) for holding talks with various stakeholders in Jammu and Kashmir and requested it to adjourn the hearing over the politically sensitive issue, claiming the court hearing may affect the dialogue process. Article 35A empowers the J&K legislature to define permanent residents of the state. It was added through the Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order, 1954 issued under Article 370 of the Constitution. The J&K Constitution, which was adopted on November 17, 1956, defined a Permanent Resident as a person who was a state subject on May 14, 1954, or who has been a resident of the state for 10 years and has “lawfully acquired immovable property in the state”.

Completing the government’s trifecta was a recent interview given by Army chief  Bipin Rawat where he categorically asserted that — AZADI will not happen, you cannot fight the Army — this is a dictum Kashmiri youth need to know. In 2012, when relative tranquility existed in Kashmir Valley, I visited it twice speaking to a large assemblage of citizenry in the local lingua franca, something that helped me connect better and understand the ground situation. Operation Three Star, the code name given to Afzal Guru’s hanging still hadn’t happened (February 11, 2013). The average Kashmiri told me in no uncertain terms that India Kashmir ko chodega nahin aur Pakistan jaana option nahin hai. The full complement of security forces on constant alert had convinced them just as the bombings, killings and fundamentalist anarchy in Pakistan had convinced them that it wasn't an option. A guerrilla war against India has been fought for 30 years both by local militia and Pakistan trained proxies and yet India has not ceded ground. Yes, the security forces may be fatigued, but the concentric circle like security grid doesn’t allow very much room to manoeuvre. This was the prevailing sentiment in November 2012. It was an emphatic declaration more or less spoken in unison.

That the Centre and Omar Abdullah’s government in the state managed the fall out of the Afzal Guru hanging with great equanimity thereafter was also part of this process. But this is where sentiment turned once again against Delhi. Parliament attack plotter Afzal Guru was seen as a martyr.  Kashmiri youth believe that the final judgement of the Supreme Court that sentenced him to death said that he was merely going to be hanged till death “to satisfy the collective conscience of the Indian society.” Kashmiris were anguished at the turn of events. While due process was followed in legal terms by the government of India, Kashmiris sense of outrage was that  not only did he not get a fair trial, but the “hanging was just another way of repressing those who dared to challenge India’s control over the disputed region. That even his dead body was not handed over to his family, or his family wasn’t allowed to meet him last time, is a festering wound, unlikely to be forgotten.” So long before Burhan Wani’s killing, the situation on the ground had turned as Afzal Guru was viewed as a martyr.  But the security forces and their tough military grid controlled the situation. Things of course careened out of control when the PDP decided to draw up an alliance with BJP, something that this writer has  brought up ad nauseam over time.

Echoing the same sentiment that I witnessed during my two visits, the Army chief was unequivocal in a recent interview. Expressing concern over Kashmiri youth “picking up the gun” and “those who tell them (that) this path will bring Azadi…misleading them,” General Rawat said: “I want to tell Kashmiri youth that Azadi isn’t possible. It won’t happen. Don’t get carried away unnecessarily. Why are you picking up weapons? We will always fight those who seek Azadi, those who want to secede. (Azadi) is not going to happen, never”. This is the only reality under Westphalian sovereignity rule of engagement; morally, constitutionally and legally J & K is an integral part of India and there is no question of giving any part of it. General Rawat said that he doesn’t attach much importance to the number of militants who are killed in encounters with the Army. “These numbers don’t matter to me because I know this cycle will continue. There are fresh recruitments happening. I only want to stress that all this is futile, nothing is going to be achieved by them. You can’t fight the Army”. Equally, General Rawat said he is perturbed by the killings. “We don’t enjoy it. But if you want to fight us, then we will fight you with all our force. Kashmiris have to understand that the SFs (security forces) haven’t been so brutal — look at Syria and Pakistan. They use tanks and air power in similar situations. Our troops have been trying their level best to avoid any civilian casualty despite huge provocation,’’ he said. “I know that the youth are angry. But attacking security forces, throwing stones at us isn’t the way”.

Now finally it seems better sense has prevailed that between killing those who take up the gun against the Indian flag and the stone pelters who try and protect them, there is room for a sit down dialogue. Kashmiris have to realise that India will never give up an inch of the Valley and while many understand this, repeated attempts at subversion have failed at the behest of the separatists and their handlers across the border. Kashmiris have to be made to comprehend a couple of simple facts — they are and will remain a part of sovereign India, there is no in between place, there can be a level of autonomy or self rule so that they retain their Kashmiriyat or identity, but this identity cannot be subsumed under the larger world vision or mindspace of Wahabi Islam. They have to differentiate between religious Islam and political Islam, the four walls of India’s Constitution allows you freedom and fundamental rights but not if you wage war against the state. Then there is no compromise. Sit across the table and list out your demands, as long as they are within the four corners of India’s Constitution. Seventy years later, there is no going back on their accession. Acts of commission and omission may have happened on both sides, but the cost of waging war is expensive in human terms. This realisation should dawn on the separatists as well, you have to  work under the umbrella of India with limited self rule which can be designated through deliberations. Azadi is a chimera, all three geographical and linguistic divisions of the truncate state of J & K belong to India. Work under its ambit.         

(sandeep.bamzai@mydigitalfc.com)

Columnist: 
Sandeep Bamzai