Subjugation and Kashmir during the 100 days of the Modi Sarkaar

Published: August 26, 2014
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The concerns the people of Kashmir, like always, have been rejected as ‘secessionist’ and influenced by Pakistan. PHOTO: AFP

More than a hundred days of Modi Sarkar’s achey din are over and since then the Indian premier has visited the occupied territory of Jammu and Kashmir twice. Lately, the disputed region, for a constellation of reasons, has also taken up quite a bit of space in the news.

Starting from a debate over the abrogation of Article 370, which gives Kashmir special status, on paper at least, from the Constitution of India to the recent cancellation of foreign secretary level talks between India and Pakistan, Kashmir has dominated headlines and been the subject of prime time discussions on TV in India.

An in-depth analysis of these debates shows how, the new dispensation in, India is tactically attempting to obliterate any signs of Kashmir’s disputed nature from the popular imagination. By diving deep into local politics, portraying Kashmiri Pandits as victims and completely overlooking the sufferings and struggles of other sections of Kashmiri society, they are further fuelling regional polarisation.

India’s 370 love affair with Kashmir

The right wing Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatya Janata Party (BJP), which is running the government in India, has been at the forefront in demanding the abrogation of Article 370, making it one of its core selling points in 2014 general election manifesto. The demand has helped BJP in three ways; first, it helped them assert the ideology of ‘one India’ and gather support from all over the country to bring Kashmir at par with other states in the Indian union. Secondly, it helped them further strengthen their position in the Jammu region of the disputed state (they won all the three parliamentary seats in Jammu and are expected to win at least ten assembly seats in the upcoming state elections).  And lastly, BJP has effectively engaged all political forces in Kashmir trying to scuttle BJP’s prospects of winning any seat in the Kashmir valley.

The pro-freedom groups in Kashmir reacted to the hue and cry calling for abrogation of the article in an expected manner. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Kashmir’s most followed pro-freedom leader and chairman of the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, said,

“Article 370 doesn’t hold any importance”.

Taking similar line of action, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, stated,

“Abrogation of Article 370 is a non-issue”, further saying that Government is, “using force to run the affairs of the state”

Interesting, however, is the manner in which the so called ‘mainstream’ political parties in Kashmir reacted to the controversy. The ruling party, National Conference (NC), took to the streets to protest against the move. Calling Article 370 as the “only link” between India and Kashmir, the party said that,

“They will go to any extent to safeguard this article”.

A thorough and authoritative study of Article 370 by the constitutional expert AG Noorani in his book A Constitutional History of Jammu and Kashmir lays bare the hollow rhetoric of pro-India political parties in Kashmir. According to Noorani’s comprehensive study, Article 370 has been subjected to systematic erosion by the successive governments in New Delhi. Economist and former chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Bank, Haseeb Drabu, opined that Article 370, as it stands today, is nothing more than ‘husk’.

A critical study of Article 370 in the contemporary times reveals that Kashmir’s affair with 370 or the ‘special status’ is long over. What keeps the ball rolling is merely a political propaganda seeking to safeguard the ‘careers’ of a few people and their positions of power. Also, since majority of Kashmir’s population does not seem to get their aspirations fulfilled, any debate that talks about issues less than the resolution of dispute appears as hogwash to take the focus away from the realities on ground. Still, popular imagination in India and Kashmir see Article 370 as a blessing for the people of state; that the article places Kashmir in a special category and allows for its development is a mirage. Such farcical public imagination is manufactured by the state controlled media in India which toes the line of national interest in reporting affairs relevant to Kashmir.

The manipulation of facts and appropriation of political developments in Kashmir has made the hollowness of India’s generosity in giving a special status to Kashmir obvious therefore causing a ‘heartbreak’ and making the love affair one of I-don’t-care types from Kashmir’s side.

The melodrama of rehabilitation 

The migration of Pandits from the Kashmir valley following an armed rebellion against India in the early 90s has been a debate of contestations. It is one single event in the history of Kashmir’s armed struggle against India which is extrapolated to colour the freedom movement as communal thus placing the struggle in the global map of ‘Islamic jihad’. What exactly happened on that fateful day has been interpreted in different ways. While a section of pandit’s argue that it was a handiwork of Muslims in Kashmir (who lived together with Pandits for centuries in what is known as a composite culture), others say that the migration was facilitated by the State and government machinery at that time.

Successive regimes, both in India and Kashmir, have time and again used the rhetoric of rehabilitation to make Pandits only politically relevant to the landscape of Kashmir. As a people, they have been denied their status and place, and the State, through its propaganda machinery (the media), has attributed it to the pro-freedom leadership in Kashmir, accusing them of flaring up communal divide and resorting to violence to sabotage the process of rehabilitation.

In reality, rehabilitation is only a bubble.

A look into the labyrinth of rehabilitation reveals a sinister mechanism akin to the Israeli settlement policy. The idea of a separate ‘homeland’ for Pandits within Kashmir is bizarre and reeks of a strategy of settlement rather than rehabilitation. In its true sense, rehabilitation would include providing the Pandits their own places, the villages where they were born and the streets they were brought up.

Under the Modi sarkaar, the farce of rehabilitation gained further momentum. With Jitendra Singh from Jammu holding the key portfolio of minister of state in the prime minister’s office, and the elevation of some journalists (read: propagandists) to top positions in ‘reputed’ media houses, only one side of the debate has found voice and space. The concerns the people of Kashmir, like always, have been rejected as ‘secessionist’ and influenced by Pakistan.

The President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, in his inaugural address to the joint session of Parliament mentioned the agenda for rehabilitation of the Kashmiri Pandits. Later on August 12, 2014 Narendra Modi, while speaking in Kargil, said that,

“We will do whatever it takes to do it (to rehabilitate Pandits in Kashmir) and are determined for that.”

Earlier, the home ministry had started work on the rehabilitation policy which, among other things, envisages a package of rupees 20 lakh for each family for the construction of houses.

While self-appointed ‘representative’ Pandit organisations have welcomed the move, a section of them have called for legal action against people involved in the ‘killing and forcing out of Pandits’ from the valley. These organisations have been tight lipped about the killings and other gruesome human rights violations committed by the Indian forces in Kashmir. The culpability of killing more than 120 youth in the recent past by the Indian forces, according to them, should lie on,

“Secessionist leaders of Kashmir who drive the youth out on the streets to die”

In the past two months or so, Indian media outlets have joined the chorus with the BJP government in realising the project of a separate ‘homeland’ for Pandits in Kashmir; the return, many columnists in India argue, must come with a promise of livelihood and dignity.

Pro-freedom leadership in Kashmir maintains that return of Pandits to their homes is important. However, there has been no substantial contribution in terms of policy or mechanism made by such leaders to facilitate the safe return and reintegration of Pandits in the society.

The politics of pilgrimage and a failed tryst with ISIS

Kashmir is indeed a paradise on earth. On a lighter note, less for its geographic landscape and more for the number of gods that ‘live’ here or were born here or, at some point in time, have traversed through Kashmir and blessed the land for eternity.

The list of pilgrimage destinations in Kashmir are mounting like the number of dead. Season after season, new unexplored locations inspire religious fervour (also seduce some DSLR geeks for photographic expeditions). In 2011, the Amarnat yatra received more than six lakh pilgrims. Over the last few years, the number of pilgrims to Amarnat and other places like Katra, Machail and Gangabal have seen an exponential increase. Although yatra to Kausernag was started in 2009 from Reasi, this year a group of Pandits unsuccessfully tried to make Kulgam the base camp for yatra. People in Kashmir were quick to lodge their protest against the move and the state government was forced to call it off.

History is often invoked to justify the unjustifiable. While the ISIS wrongly invoke religion to seek moral justification for the barbarities they commit in Iraq, BJP and their proponents of politics of bigotry and hate refer to mythological past to justify an act of environmental vandalism. People opposing the increasing yatras in Kashmir contest such history saying such yatras were never taken in past. Also, the growing concern for the ecological devastation caused by the Amaranat yatra, a proposed yatra on large scale to Kausernag, has raised serious doubts.

Rahul Pandita, making (un)just use of paper in The Hindu, argued that the encroachment of Dal and Dachigam in Kashmir has been going on rampantly. His concern for the endangered Kashmir Stag (Hangul) is welcome. However, his proposition that opposition to Kausernag yatra does not come out of environmental considerations but a tactic to “deny Pandits their past” does not augur well with his love for Hangul. The deterioration of Dal Lake in Srinagar serves as a slap on the face of successive governments, who have pumped in tonnes of money, resulting in nothing.

In the middle of the ragging controversy Omar Abdullah, the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, tried to shift focus and engage conscious people in another issue,

“Heard that a Kashmiri youth from Australia has joined the ISIS”, the CM was quoted by the media.

So far no credible evidence suggests that anyone from Kashmir has joined the group in Iraq or Syria. The trick to shift the public mood from the Kauserng controversy to the ISIS failed to be of any purpose. The ISIS has not been able to find much space for serious engagement with the youth in Kashmir except for a group of ‘Twitter jihadis’ who managed to inspire a few juveniles to raise ISIS flags in Srinagar.

Lady UNMOGIP and the absurdity of the peace process

Remember the favourite guys in newsroom discussions in India bursting their lungs and wiping United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) having “outlived its utility”. The debate went on to declare (from India’s perspective) that the status of Kashmir as a dispute in the United Nations has also ceased to exist.

The purpose of the establishment of UNMOGIP in 1951, following the termination of UNCIP, was to supervise the ceasefire between India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir. Its presence or absence had no relevance whatsoever with the nature of the dispute recognised by the UN under chapter seven of its charter.

The Modi Sarkaar, after it came to power in India, asked the UNMOGIP to vacate office in New Delhi from where it was running a liaison office for more than 40 years for free. The matter gathered momentum and some political pundits, and India’s Kashmir experts, declared that UNMOGIP should be asked to leave the country as it has lost relevance.

Pakistan has been reporting every ceasefire violation having taken place to UNMOGIP. India, however, had stopped taking any case to the UN appointed supervisor after the 1972 Shimla Agreement between the neighbouring nuclear powers.

After the creation of Bangladesh, India held more than 90,000 Pakistani troops as prisoners of war. In order to facilitate their release, an agreement was signed in Shimla between Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Obviously, the latter had much at stake. The agreement called for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute bilaterally thereby reducing the territory and people of Kashmir merely into a ‘property’ whose fate was to be determined by India and Pakistan.

The cancellation of foreign secretary level talks by India after the Pakistani High Commissioner in New Delhi met Kashmir’s pro-freedom leadership is justified on the basis of the Shimla agreement. The Indian government calls Kashmir its “internal matter” and argues that such meetings were in violation of the agreement.

Another proposition that can be added to the cart is the absence of Kashmiri leadership, which in effect, is in contravention to what India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had promised to people of India, Pakistan and Kashmir. The “aspirations of the people of Kashmir” are represented by Hurriyat leaders who are now denied the right to put forth Kashmir’s objectives to the governments of India and Pakistan. This denial of representation is a sinister design of the Modi Sarkaar to silence the entire population into subjugation.

The idea of any peace process is absurd and its purpose meaningless unless the party affected is not a formal member of the process. A trilateral approach which includes both India and Pakistan, and the leadership from Kashmir is needed to address the issue amicably.

Basharat Ali

Basharat Ali

Basharat Ali is a freelance writer and blogger. He is doing his masters degree in Conflict Analysis and Peace Building at the Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He tweets as @Basharat_Dar (twitter.com/Basharat_Dar)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.