The reality of the ground situation in Kashmir cannot be hidden by using some activities as barometers of Political Normalcy.
Kashmir has been facing a perennial situation of political uncertainty right from 1947. Various activities projected as normalcy have always failed to hide the ground reality which has a habit of bursting out off and on. After the dethroning of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the first Prime Minister of Kashmir in 1953, the Government of India has continuously tried to hide the real ground situation regarding the basic political problem by various activities projected worldwide through media. There have been many periods when Kashmir was really normal and the people had forgotten about the basic political problem. They had been totally engaged in commercial activities. In fact, after 1953 money was rushed in with other material goodies to make people forget the basic problem. Simultaneously, the “elements” who were supposed to be reminding people about the basic political problem were ruthlessly dealt with. Sheikh Abdullah had to spend 11 years in jail before the holy relic agitation woke up the people. During those years the most well-known barometer to show political normalcy was the “Festival of Kashmir”!
In 1975 when the Kashmir’s tallest leader made a somersault and rejoined the State Government as the Chief Minister, the most important activity was Tourism. Kashmir did enjoy almost a decade and a half of internal stability. The valley became the most important tourism destination throughout the world. Apart from foreign tourists from all over the world, a number of important dignitaries visited the state. In spite of the external stability and apparent peace, the basic political problem continued to simmer under the surface. Tourism did become a very lucrative activity. However, during this period no one projected Tourism as a symbol of normalcy. It was taken to be a normal economic activity. By late eighties more than half a million tourists including seventy thousand foreigners visited Kashmir every year. Then the whole thing disappeared due to the armed upheaval of 1990. For almost decade there were very few tourists. It started picking up by late nineties but again as a normal economic activity without any political overtones. However, after the installation of a new government in 2003, the activitywas converted into a barometer of political normalcy which gave many setbacks in which some tourists also suffered.There are many hot spots in the world where the activity of Tourism continues in spite of the local problems as the politicians there do not use it as a barometer of political normalcy. Here also, it is in the long term interests of the state, if both sides leave this activity alone especially in view of the approaching winter season.
During the current uprising which is spread all over Kashmir and as an anti-climax is more a rural phenomenon than the earlier urban ones, Tourism has suffered a severe setback. It has virtually come to a complete halt. Some people have estimated a loss of Rs. 4,000 crores! Its full revival is possible only when complete peace prevails. It could not be used as a barometer of normalcy. So the politicians chose a new barometer of “Political Normalcy”, the Education. The sudden mass uprising mostly comprised of teens bulk of who are students. Burhan for them had become a “Poster Boy” through social networking. Had the peaceful movement been allowed to run its course like the holy relic agitation of 1963, it may have cooled down after some time. However, it was put down with the harshest and the most brutal force seen in Kashmir in recent history. Over a hundred were killed, thousands were injured and hundreds were deprived of eye-sight by the use of so called non-lethal pallet guns. The forces took these students virtually for ducks and pigeons. After such a mayhem and when all the educational institutions were totally shut for months on end, the authorities had the temerity to announce an examination schedule. This amounts to sprinkling salt on the wounds of these teenagers thousands of whom are in prison and some are detained under the black law of the Public Safety Act.On the face of it one can clearly see the motive was not the welfare of students but a very crude attempt to use education as a barometer of political normalcy. In fact, the government has taken over the direct control of the Board of School Education as the members of the organization were probably reluctant to go ahead with the mockery of examinations.
The most ironic and pathetic instance in this affair is the Prime Minister asking the Home Minister to ensure the opening of the Schools. He appears totally oblivious of the mayhem going on in Kashmir. He does not seem to be bothered about the other happenings. There is no government visible in Kashmir for last four months. The pity is that the collaborators for the mayhem as well as for pursuing this new barometer of political normalcy are the very persons who started as “healers” and formed the vanguard of the “Azadi” movement in the nineties of the last century. Well, unfortunately, Kashmir has a tradition or rather the history of such collaborators from the very first year of its subjugation four centuries back. There is a Kashmiri saying, “O, log of wood what split you? The wedge made from own wood!” Some time back the Prime Minister in a speech had said that the Kashmiri students should be holding laptops in their hands instead of stones! He needs to be updated that the Kashmiri students who were already with laptops are throwing these away and are looking for and snatching AK 47s! He needs to face the ground reality and come out of the Cuckoo’s world!
The most immediate thing is to stop the burning of educational institutions by all means by people from all sides. It is a well-known fact that all school buildings have round the clock watchmen. This phenomenon is happening for last few months. It is strange that with so much force and umpteen security agencies at its command, the government has failed to arrest and unmask the perpetrators. There are allegations that certain agencies and elements interested in keeping the pot boiling are indulging in these activities. The entire society needs to wake up and protect these institutions of learning. The ultimate “Azadi” would be of no use for a Valley of Illiterate Apes!
Even the traditional leaders of the “Azadi” movement are at a loss to know the way out. The continuous shut down is becoming a bear hug for them. Even if they want to let go, the bear won’t allow them to go like the other Kashmiri saying of the Kakun Haputh! The only way out of the logjam is for the government to forget all artificial barometers of political normalcy. They must end all suppression, release all the arrested persons, restore all basic human rights and go for an unconditional dialogue with all stakeholders to sort out the basic political problem. The present “Scorched Earth Policy”being followed all over the valley, which has previously been indulged in history by retreating armies, not bothered about the alienation and the hostility of the local population, of which the happenings in Rohomo, Pulwama on October 31st are the latest example, is not going to end the mayhem! It is rather going to add fuel to the burning fire!
Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir Email: firstname.lastname@example.org