It was a cold November Sunday, a long decade ago. The then Indian prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, had, to the horror of his larger pro-Hindutva right-wing, announced a unilateral ceasefire against militants in Kashmir as part of a process for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. It was part of a grand design of none other than the prime minister himself for bringing peace to the subcontinent.
Dismissing the euphoria generated by the Indian media around the initiative, one columnist observed: “A real peace process in Jammu and Kashmir cannot be manufactured: it needs to emerge from real political activity, not behind-closed-doors intrigue and diplomatic manoeuvre. It will need mass mobilisation, and the creation of genuinely democratic fora in which issues, not deals, are discussed.” Words of wisdom indeed, these were written ten years ago by the "terrorism expert" journalist Praveen Swami. Kashmir, it must be said, has since pronounced loud and clear that there are no ‘issues’ to be discussed. The only issue at hand, whether India likes it or not, is the issue of Kashmir’s Independence.
Praveen Swami went on: “And it will need to foreground the diverse cultural, economic and democratic aspirations of the peoples of the state, not meaningless clichés. Such a process, sadly, appears nowhere near beginning.” (Emphasis added.) Such a process appears nowhere its beginning ten long years later, even today. Even the ghosts of that Vajpayee initiative of the year 2000 are long dead. In reality, countless such ‘initiatives’ – even when they had the blessings of, and were led by, Indian prime ministers themselves – have been betrayed in Kashmir without leaving even a feather ruffled.
Today, three Indian jokers have come to town with the blessings of one Palaniappan Chidambaram - the current Indian home minister. This, after a summer of bloodshed has already been prolonged into a winter of despair, leaving more than 110 unarmed Kashmiri anti-India protesters – boys, girls and young adults – dead at the hands of Indian troops and police. Is it a wonder that the trio stands rejected by all alike, disgraced before they even set their foot on the ground in the valley? “The political input is missing,” said the Peoples Democratic Party chief and J&K opposition leader, Mehbooba Mufti. She was bang on target.
At Tangmarg, outside the capital Srinagar, where Chidambaram led a part of the parliamentary delegation he was heading last month in September, he was, now famously, told by a youth: “You call Kashmir the crown of India, its integral part, and Kashmiris your own people. How can you not then feel our pain when you inflict wounds on us?” A few more taunts later, Chidambaram mustered some courage and said: “The time for us to talk has not yet come.”
When the time to talk finally came, New Delhi “advised” the state government to immediately release all students and youth detained or arrested for stone pelting and to withdraw the charges against them. New Delhi “advised” the state government to immediately review the cases of all Public Safety Act detainees. New Delhi “requested” the state government to “immediately convene a meeting of the Unified Command and to review the deployment of security forces” in Kashmir. New Delhi “requested” the state government to “take steps to immediately reopen all schools”. As if the scorn that this “request” and “advice” was met with in the valley wasn’t enough, the Rs 5-lakh ex-gratia relief to the families of those killed by the police and troops during the current protests was regarded as an even deeper insult.
However, as should now be evident, the biggest source of disenchantment in the latest 8-point initiative from New Delhi remains the appointment of “a group of interlocutors under the chairmanship of an Eminent person to begin the process of a sustained dialogue with all sections of the people of Jammu & Kashmir, including political parties/groups, youth and student organizations, civil society organizations and other stakeholders.” This is a familiar ploy: the best way for the state to bypass a leadership that has become too powerful for the state to manipulate or manoeuvre. The clumsiness of the language of this clause draws attention to what has been repeated a zillion times: that the interlocutors are going to consult “all” the people – stone pelters, unemployed youth, traders, facebookers, doctors, engineers, lawyers, actors, artists, writers, journalists, chemists, industrialists, shikara walas (boatmen), taxi drivers, bus drivers, their conductors, auto walas, shopkeepers, barbers, grocery walas, fruit vendors, bakery walas, Bihari labourers, pickpockets, north Indian beggars and their dogs – they “all” have to be consulted. Of course, this also flattens the political turf by delegitimising even the leaders who are truly representative of the common people and are inimical to the interests of the state. Do not be surprised if as a result of all this, the pro-Independence Kashmiri leaders - Mirwaiz, Yasin Malik, et al - their servants and the rest are each given a tourist visa to Timbaktoo and sent on a family tour package never to return. For, precisely the intention is that out of “all” the people may well “emerge” a new crop of motley “leaders” that New Delhi will prop up, nurture, nourish and inflate, so that we can spend yet another decade, or fifty years, playing politics over the blood of Kashmiris with a fresh batch of factory-made leaders. The cycle will begin all over again.
There are many "pro-freedom politicians" in this part of the world who have spent a lot of their time in jail under the much dreaded Public Safety Act. It is a familiar mechanism: the state chooses one of its own people and starts treating them as leaders, with little on no real qualification for the job - by arresting them, trying them in court, jailing them for long prison terms - and projecting them as ‘anti-state’ and ‘pro-people’ while, in reality, they use them for their own ends. Many a donkey from the countryside has in the past been picked up and jailed, simply to be released years afterwards with the paraphernalia of a ‘leader’ all in place.
The Peoples Conference chief Sajad Lone said recently: “The choice of interlocutors is insulting to say the very least. It is not their eminence that is ambiguous, it is just that they are the wrong people for the right job.” Insulting doesn’t only refer to the choice of interlocutors. It also covers the intention behind this decision to engage with such a broad spectrum of people. The Indian government can hoodwink with great success its own people over what it is doing in Kashmir. After all, it has been doing it time and again, and with effortless ease. Even if “all the people” met the interlocutors, the political storm that the stone-pelters have created notwithstanding, a genuine pro-independence political mechanism at the grassroots is missing in Kashmir. So there will be no meeting with them.
Not only the Hurriyat has to be held responsible for this. The people are very much a part of this failure, perhaps because such a mechanism doesn’t guarantee them an immediate promise of jobs. The politics of independence is rejected by some because it will strain or destroy their rapport with the establishment. (How else will their daughter-in-law’s transfer to the high school situated just outside the window of her bathroom go ahead?) “Even the people of Kashmir are not serious about a resolution,” said an observer in a recent public discussion held on the lawns of an upmarket coffee shop. Sadly, it is true.
The fact that the interlocutors will still be able to pull some sort of success out of a hat, even after being snubbed by the pro-independence political establishment across the board, must tell us just why a genuine “resolution process appears nowhere near even its beginning.” That could, well, also be the cost Kashmiris pay for playing political double agents; for doing ‘Bharat ka jhanda ye ragda’ (The Indian flag... Here we stamp!) one day and running to India-sponsored election booths like wild monkeys let loose the next. Kashmir needs to realise that it cannot slaughter the Indian cow and milk it too.
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