For a humane, reconciliatory approach

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Yousuf Tarigami Photo: THE HINDU

Interview with Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, State secretary of the CPI(M) and MLA from Kulgam.

Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, four-time MLA representing Kulgam in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, views the present situation in the State with legitimate concern. He said the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) decision to pull out of the alliance with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was deliberate although the coalition was in itself untenable. Excerpts from an interview he gave Frontline:

How do you view the overall political situation in the State, especially after the collapse of the PDP-BJP government and the imposition of Governor’s Rule?

The State has undoubtedly been thrown into a period of political uncertainty. A vacuum has been created following the collapse of the PDP-BJP coalition, which we believe was part of the BJP’s strategy of polarisation for bigger electoral gains in 2019. There is an apprehension that this vacuum may lead to more problems. In any case, this coalition, which was untenable from the very beginning, proved to be disastrous for the State; the anger and alienation in Kashmir Valley has got exacerbated, the security situation has deteriorated, and a stark communal polarisation has been created not only between the Jammu and Kashmir regions but also between the two large communities in the State. The State has been ruined because of the misrule of the two parties.

Did you anticipate the collapse of the coalition? Were the reasons given by the BJP for pulling out credible?

Given the untenable grounds on which the coalition was formed and given the disagreements over important issues between the two parties, it was not a surprise at all. What was surprising was that the two parties spent three years together in an alliance. The reasons given by the BJP for pulling out are not credible. The BJP cannot escape blame as it is in power at the Centre and was an alliance partner in the State. But despite the use of all measures of force, the alienation has only increased on the ground. In 2014, we witnessed massive voter participation in both the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. Violence had by and large subsided, but look at the situation now.

The PDP chief and former Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, criticised the BJP a full five days after the collapse of the government for its president Amit Shah’s remarks that Ladakh and Jammu were neglected. Is there any truth in her criticism?

As if things in Kashmir are any better. In the Valley, there is so much of discontent and a total breakdown of law and order. We saw the killing of civilians and the blinding of teenagers in huge numbers in these three years. For the past one year, elections have not been held in southern Kashmir’s Lok Sabha seat. If there are issues on the ground, whether in Kashmir, Ladakh or Jammu, it is primarily the BJP that has to answer as it is ruling at the Centre and bears responsibility for the current turmoil in the State. For the current mess in the State, the BJP is answerable not only to the people of the State, but also to the whole country. The real issue is that on the political and governance fronts, the PDP-BJP alliance failed to deliver on its promises, and the much-hyped Agenda of Alliance was never implemented.

Do you think such statements by the BJP president contribute, or have contributed, to a polarisation in the form of a “Hindu” Jammu and a “Muslim” Kashmir?

We believe that Amit Shah’s remarks give us a clue about the BJP’s time-tested formula of polarisation. There was some amount of polarisation between the two regions and the two communities in the State before, but the PDP-BJP coalition reinforced that to greater levels although former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed would have said that it [the alliance] was meant to bridge the gap. But where do the two regions stand now? The fact remains that both these parties fought their last elections on the plank of polarisation, which unfortunately pitted Kashmir against Jammu and vice versa. From there on, there was no hope of reconciliation.

Several experts on Jammu and Kashmir have pointed out in their writings that Governor’s Rule in the past had only made things worse. What is your opinion?

History does tell us so, yes. We firmly believe that the democratic process is important. Only a democratic process combined with a serious initiative towards dialogue can lead to a resolution of issues. We have said earlier that an elected government is any day better than Governor’s Rule and bureaucratic rule. There should not be any vacuum left to be exploited by inimical forces. Governor’s Rule is not going to have any positive impact on the situation. In the past, whenever Governor’s Rule has been imposed in the State, the alienation has only grown because of the absence of the political process. The final aim should be the restoration of political process in the State.

As a four-time MLA and as someone who has been attacked by terrorists several times, do you think the present situation will lead to a normalisation of life in the Valley, restore confidence, reduce alienation and reaffirm faith in Indian democracy?

Despite the current gloomy conditions in the State, especially in the Valley, with the high level of violence, it is an obvious reality that people in the State yearn for peace. It is for the ruling dispensation at the Centre to concretise the people’s general desire for peace and reconciliation. The essential problem in Kashmir is not related to security; it is a purely political one based on political aspirations of the people who have only received broken promises. There is, and there has existed, a genuine aspiration for the resolution of the issue through political dialogue.

There seems to be a divergence of opinion in the country on “stone pelters”. Some see them as agents provocateurs of terrorists; others view their acts as a genuine expression of resentment to the overwhelming presence of the armed forces in the Valley and describe them as part of the political struggle. Has the Government of India lost the plot vis-a-vis gaining the confidence of Kashmiris as a people?

The creation of rigid binaries and labels is a dangerous proposition, especially in the context of the sensitivities attached to the Kashmir issue. The campaign of vilifying and portraying all Kashmiris as “terrorists” or “terrorist sympathisers” in the frenzy of jingoistic nationalism must stop. I want to ask all those chauvinists: How come those who put great trust in Indian democracy and republicanism by participating in huge numbers in the elections of 2008 and 2014 turned into “terrorists” in a span of three and a half years? Through this disparaging brand of nationalism and politics of hate, the trust of Kashmiris in India’s republicanism and secular democratic polity is shattered.

It is imperative to address the essential political question of Kashmir as the dignity and security of Kashmiris is attached to it. There needs to be a humane and reconciliatory approach towards these angry youths. That can begin by giving them a patient hearing.

Kashmir represents a syncretic tradition and even in the worst years of militancy, the communal fire was not allowed to be stoked. Today with a certain kind of polarisation being witnessed in the country, is there a possibility of such polarisation in the State?

We are of the belief that it is the secular and democratic foundations that bind India and Kashmir. Thus, resolving Kashmir is also a great test of the secular, democratic and federal nature of the Indian republic. With the patronage of Hindutva forces, the non-stop vilification campaigns against Kashmiris must be stopped immediately. Harassment of Kashmiri youth in other parts of the country by security agencies and right-wing goons must be investigated and the culprits punished. There is also a need for all political parties, especially the current ruling party, to delink Kashmir from domestic politics by not deriving electoral mileage out of the issue. Polarisation only helps extremist constituencies on both sides, which would greatly damage peace and reconciliation efforts.

There is a certain shrillness in the narrative about Kashmir today; it is an either “you are with us or you are with them” syndrome. Issues of identity and economic and political displacement have become sharper in the prolonged conflict situation.

Instead of delving into the sharp shrill rhetoric, one needs to be open in calling out the problems as they exist, many of which have been unleashed by those who were entrusted or at least supposed to provide fulfilment of promises, dignity and security. Dignified solutions can be found by taking into account the genuine political aspirations of the people and keeping in view the diverse, plural and secular order of the State without taking recourse to a redrawing of geographical contours.

Kashmiri Pandits, too, have their own issues regarding displacement. Is it possible to settle all this without an implosion? After all, Kashmiri Hindus and Muslims did live amicably for years, sharing cultural attributes, too. Is there a danger of all that coming apart for various reasons? How does one counter this narrative of dividing people and the supremacy of identity politics, which is being used by some sections.

Kashmir is a tragedy after all and the displacement of Kashmiri Pandits in the most unfortunate circumstances in 1989 was another tragedy that this State faced. The ethos and soul of Kashmiri society is incomplete without Kashmiri Pandits. In any case, the test of any plural society is the condition of minorities. The tragic issue of the Pandit displacement needs attention in a humane way. We are of the opinion that together with the process of political dialogue and reconciliation, dialogue between communities is a must. This should be supplemented by concrete steps by the government for a dignified return and resettlement of Kashmiri Pandits and all other migrants to their original places of living.

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