India: In Denial In Kashmir
By Nawaz Gul Qanungo
24 September, 2010
That the Hurriyat sets in motion a genuine political mechanism is all the more necessary since New Delhi’s policy of denial and procrastination bears an ever looming threat of a return of the gun. This is crucial even if it means taking the issue actively overseas
It was August 15, 2009. The Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, was standing on the ramparts of the Red Fort, ready to deliver his speech on India’s independence day, as thousands including leaders from around the world sitting at the venue, watched him. “Dear countrymen, brothers and sisters,” he began. “I consider myself fortunate to once again have the opportunity to address you on this sacred day of 15th August.” Manmohan Singh was addressing from the Fort on an independence day for the sixth time. And so far Kashmir – a subject he would touch moments later – was concerned, he had indeed been fortunate.
For, a year before, in 2008, an ill fated land transfer order had precipitated for India a national disaster in Kashmir. A hundred acres of forest land were planned to be transferred to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, the body that manages the annual – and now much stretched and politicised – pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave. The Hurriyat feared this was the beginning of a forced change of demography in Kashmir. And the people of the valley found they could offer India anything but trust. A ceaseless, momentous outpouring of people against the land transfer followed. “After 18 years of administering a military occupation, the Indian government’s worst nightmare has come true,” Arundhati Roy wrote in The Guardian of London. “Having declared that the militant movement has been crushed,” she wrote, “the Indian government is now faced with a non-violent mass protest, but not the kind it knows how to manage.” Within days, the valley was literally taken over by the men on the street. The coalition government fell down.
The world took notice: After an armed insurgency had been decisively crushed militarily, Kashmir had, from the dead, resolutely risen in peaceful uprising. The movement had been indisputably resurrected. A brutal military onslaught followed. And, to the horror of everyone who was anyone, elections were announced and even held – under curfew. The elections saw an unbelievable turnout of voters and was hugely publicised by the establishment as a “referendum” in favour of India. Syed Ali Shah Geelani – who since long now had been leading the Tehreek e Hurriyat, a breakaway faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference which broke apart, in a sense, over whether India could be relied up on over a dialogue on Kashmir – said the people’s decision of going to vote was a morally unsustainable one. Others, including the Mirwaiz, cried that the votes were merely a sign of the common man’s yearning for a more accountable, approachable local administration. The world stopped, took notice, and urged it was a golden opportunity for everybody to sincerely invest in a much needed resolution: many an election had been held before; the dispute was far, far from over.
But on August 15, 2009, as Manmohan Singh stood tall at the Red Fort, talking to the world, no bones were made of the fact that India was still not willing to acknowledge the overriding political reality in Kashmir. Thus he spoke: “There have been two elections in Jammu & Kashmir since I addressed you on the last Independence Day. The first one was for the State Legislative Assembly and the second for the Lok Sabha. People of all areas of the State have participated vigorously in both the elections. This is a proof that there is no place for separatist thought in Jammu & Kashmir.” (Emphasis added.) There had also been an Amarnath land transfer since Manmohan Singh had “addressed on the last Independence Day?” That the major political discourse in Kashmir is denied admission by those to whom it is primarily addressed to is the reason that the defiance of the Kashmiri street has turned into a fury no one knows how to address, let alone control. Election fortune had indeed favoured Manmohan Singh, but not his senses. It is because of this policy of denial that India is clueless of what to do in Kashmir today.
Does that mean that India will be compelled this time to acknowledge what it has been denying since more than sixty years? If past two summers are anything to go by, even if India comes out with the concession of a political statement that recognises in some way the disputed nature of Kashmir, there is no reason to believe that sense, and sincerity, would prevail over it in the long run. While nothing can be taken away from Kashmir’s ceaseless agitation amidst a unilateral bloodshed for three summers in a row now, the fact is India remains as indifferent to the Kashmiri street as it has ever been. But, will India show the same indifference if New Delhi’s Sansad Marg is continually flooded by peaceful Kashmiri protestors? Will India afford the same indifference if Washington is continually flooded by peaceful Kashmiri protestors? And if London? Moscow? It is not that the world is bothered. But how it is seen on the streets of Washington and around the world is something that does matter to India. If India doesn’t wake up to reality in Kashmir, why not shake it up around the world?
But before the Hurriyat could even fathom to undertake the job of taking Kashmir overseas, it could well recognise the need to first entrench itself as a grassroots institution in the valley rather than being a forum for useless meetings that end up only with hartal. And even as it asserts that it holds the key to the mood on the streets of the valley, it could well look over the Peer Panjal and beyond the Zoji La to bring people on the other side of the political divide as active stake holders of a just resolution of the Kashmir dispute.
That a genuine, robust political mechanism is set in motion is all the more necessary since New Delhi’s policy of denial and procrastination bears an ever looming threat of a return of the gun. In fact, India would be more at ease with such an eventuality. The state government should have ensured that the “peace process” didn’t fizzle out at any cost. Sadly, the Omar Abdullah-led administration has shown an utter disdain to this role. It follows that, albeit elected by the people, the state government for all practical purposes is nothing but a working municipality. In that case, it better act like one.
Nawaz Gul Qanungo is a Srinagar-based journalist. He was formerly based in New Delhi with Business Standard. His work has appeared in Business Standard, Down to Earth, Tehelka, Kashmir Times, Rediff.com, Kashmir Life and several other newspapers and websites. Follow him at www.drqanungo.blogspot.com