Jammu & Kashmir

Bankruptcy of policy

Print edition : September 30, 2016

In Srinagar on September 2 at the funeral of Danish Ahmad Haroon, who reportedly drowned in the Jhelum river when he along with other protesters were chased by security forces. Photo: Mukhtar Khan/AP

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh chairing the meeting of the all-party delegation with the Jammu and Kashmir government in Srinagar on September 4. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ram Vilas Paswan are also seen. Photo: PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, then the Chief Minister, at a rally in the Sher-e-Kashmir Cricket Stadium in Srinagar on November 7, 2015. Photo: NISSAR AHMAD

Hurriyat Conference chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani being arrested in Srinagar on August 27 after he defied house arrest to lead a protest march towards the Army headquaters in Badami Bagh. Photo: PTI

Protesters clash with the police  in Srinagar on September 2, when curfew was again imposed in most places of the Valley. Photo: NISSAR AHMAD

The alienation of the Kashmiri people has already reached a point of no return, but politicians continue to mouth platitudes and try to hide the hollowness of their policies with slogans.

Those who conceived and executed the decision to send an all-party delegation to Jammu & Kashmir should not have been surprised at the fiasco that greeted its members in Srinagar on September 4, 2016. It was conceived in evil intent and executed with characteristic clumsiness. The Government of India has no considered, realistic policy to deal with the Kashmir problem, whether in this internal aspect or external aspects; it has no policy to deal with the immediate situation or the long-term problem. Its real aim is to crush the revolt in the Valley by brute force. In this, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has always been complicit. Her remarks on September 6 confirm that.

The parliamentary delegation was a device to conceal bankruptcy of policy and to demonstrate “we did all we could, but they did not respond”. Thereafter, a clampdown could follow, and a smokescreen of metaphors is floated. Hence Mehbooba Mufti’s arrogantly confident assertion to the delegation on September 4 that “the situation would come under control soon” ( The Indian Express, September 5). Sure enough, the first steps were announced on September 6 ( The Hindu, September 7).

Preparations for a clampdown had proceeded in tandem with those of the MPs’ visit. Mehbooba Mufti was in Delhi on August 8 for a day. Present at her meeting with Home Minister Rajnath Singh, very significantly, were Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval. Her speeches became bolder (“5 per cent of the people”) thereafter. She could ride out the storm, New Delhi assured her.

In Srinagar, on August 25, she showed the “iron fist” in the presence of Rajnath Singh, as a daily reported: “The Centre conveyed to her through Rajnath that she must ‘immediately’ put an end to the anti-Indian slogans… and round up the ‘80 agent provocateurs’ fuelling unrest in the Valley (Muzaffar Raina and Radhika Ramaseshan; The Telegraph; August 26).

That very day, she decided to invoke the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA) to imprison 169 people. The Times of India reported (August 27): “Central agencies have identified some 400 local leaders … and have shared their names with the State Police.” It should be done before Id-ul-Zuha (September 13), “ideally”.

Sankarshan Thakur provided the details: “Mehbooba’s thumbs-up endorsement of Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s steel-fist prescription and her scurry to the capital to demonstrate common cause with Prime Minister Narendra Modi have earned her the Valley’s favoured and dubious title far more swiftly than many of her predecessors: Delhi’s stooge. That she petitioned the Prime Minister for dialogue with Pakistan is viewed widely in Kashmir as a rhetorical admission that she herself is at a loss in the realm she rules.

“A long-time associate of her late father, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, told The Telegraph: ‘She has placed herself at the commands and mercies of Delhi.’ Proof? When Rajnath Singh visited Srinagar last week, he handed Mehbooba [Mufti] a list of militants (over-ground workers, or OGWs) and black-balled stone-throwers that the Centre wanted arraigned. Mehbooba [Mufti] took it and promised to comply. … the names are believed to have been handed to the Home Minister by BJP’s [Bharatiya Janata Party] influential point person on Jammu and Kashmir.

“South Kashmir is in frightening revolt, a senior Kashmiri police officer said. It is not about a few people as the government keeps saying, it is about a whole people. Who do you act against, a whole populace?. … A classified police document written at the beginning of 2016 under the aegis of the former IGP (CID) of the State Police, Abdul Ghani Mir, noted how south Kashmir had become the Valley’s chief nursery of militancy by far.

“Of the 156 fresh recruits to militancy the study focussed on, 99 belonged to south Kashmir. Burhan was among those flagged in the list. Many others remain part of those that New Delhi now wants pursued and put behind bars. Simply put: Mehbooba [Mufti] has been sternly tasked to go against her own; and from all the sounds she’s made, she’s willing” ( The Telegraph, August 29).

A “senior Minister” told Muzamil Jaleel of The Indian Express that Mehbooba Mufti was “on the right track” because “only an iron fist can bring normalcy here” ( The Indian Express, August 29). On September 4, the day the MPs landed in Srinagar, the State Police received approval for imprisoning 174 people under the PSA. It has already arrested 1,888 protesters and kept nearly 600 in preventive detention ( The Indian Express; September 5). Did Yahya Khan not keep talking to Mujib-ur-Rahman in March 1971 while planning a crackdown?

Invitation farce

This explains the Centre’s insincerity on talks. Invitations are sent directly; Rajnath Singh did not invite, he tweeted on August 24 an insulting announcement: “I will be staying at the Nehru Guest House. Those who believe in Kashmiriyat, Insaniyat and Jamhooriyat are welcome.” An official explained: “There will be no separate invitation to the separatists but if they want to come and talk to the Home Minister they are welcome. The talks will take place within the constitutional framework” ( The Hindu, August 25). This, to people in imprisonment. How could they have gone?

Mehbooba Mufti extended a belated invitation to six separatist parties on September 3 “in my capacity as the president” of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), not as Chief Minister. Her BJP colleagues were opposed to it. She sent the invites to save face, praising the Centre falsely. “The country’s political leadership has reached out” and with a false promise as well: “This will be the start of a credible and meaningful political dialogue.” The MPs were there to understand, not to negotiate; and she knew that Rajnath Singh’s conditions rendered any dialogue with the separatists impossible. The Centre’s aims are different, as she well knew. If they were at all sincere, they would have released the leaders from imprisonment. Even the British did that in 1945 for Congress leaders to attend the Simla Conference.

Here, the Hurriyat leaders were asked to put on sackcloth and ashes, proclaim acceptance of India’s Constitution and Vajpayee’s triple slogans, and beg for their release to present themselves for an audience with Rajnath Singh, as his tweet required. They would have committed political, perhaps actual, suicide had they done so. They had publicly declared that they would not meet anyone from the parliamentary delegation because their institution, Parliament, had just passed a resolution shutting the doors on compromise.

None of the MPs who were thus refused criticised them. Asaduddin Owaisi even expressed understanding. It was left to Rajnath Singh to make a song and dance over it the next day, citing violations of Vajpayee’s triple slogans. Let alone the leaders, even the traders refused to meet the MPs. The whole exercise had exploded in his face. He tried to save face by contrived fury before TV cameras on September 5. Kofi Annan was jeered in Myanmar on September 6. The United Nations did not censure Myanmar.

Riot of metaphors

All we have witnessed is a riot of metaphors. Politicians are prone to use them to conceal their purpose or lack of it and deceive the people. L. Susan Stebbing exposed this technique devastatingly in the illuminating 1938 Pelican edition of Thinking to Some Purpose. (It can surely do with a reprint now.) She debunked politicians’ technique of presenting “an analogy, or even a metaphor, under the guise of providing us with a reasoned argument”. A.P. Herbert made fun of the habit of politicians to use nautical terms—the Ship of State in dire peril. They sought to arouse. India’s leaders and the ones they installed in power in Kashmir use medical terms in order to evade and deceive.

When the Muftis, father and daughter, spoke of “the healing touch” they studiously refrained from indicating what the malady was and how they proposed to heal it. The simple people who had suffered a lot understood it to mean alleviation of their lot and were deceived. The same is true of Mehbooba Mufti’s oft-promised “balm to the wounds”. She knows precisely what the “wounds” are and how they can be healed; but she will not tell the people what measures she will take to satisfy their urges. Does she suggest a return to the 1947 set-up? Or to 1952? None of these. She will use the mailed fist.

If the vague term “stakeholders” is used persistently without indicating who they are, it is to avoid a commitment to parley with the leaders of the Hurriyat. The Chief Minister relented reluctantly in her invitation to them on September 3 for talks with the parliamentary delegation on the very next day.

The most misleading is the term “dialogue”, used also by well-meaning leaders of the opposition. No dialogue can resolve a dispute or deadlock by itself; it might even harden positions. There must be some understanding on a) the participants; b) the issues to be discussed; c) preparatory soundings to ensure that there is some common ground to build on; d) a willingness to compromise on both sides; and e) ability of both to carry out the agreement arrived at. Both Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi are past masters in this game of deploying slogans and metaphors to evade and deceive. Vajpayee’s famous words “insaniyat, jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat” were used out of compulsion as a smokescreen for a climbdown from a petard on which he had foolishly hoisted himself.

Policy of evasion and deceit

Modi shares Vajpayee’s penchant for slogans and metaphors. They mark his style of governance. “Sab ka saath, sab ka vikas”.

Dalits, Christian and Muslims know better by now not to overlook his depredations into cultural and educational bodies. If on Kashmir he excelled himself, it is because he has no desire to conciliate but only a policy of evasion and deceit. In his radio broadcast on August 28, Modi said: “From the interactions I had with all parties on Kashmir, one thing emerged and it can be put in simple words as ‘ ekta [unity] and mamta [love]’. These two things were the basic mantras” ( DNA, August 29; emphasis added, throughout). He had not met “all the parties”; only the unionists. They are marginal. The Hurriyat and its supporters constitute the mainstream. “Unity” with whom has he in mind and on what? “Love” was not in evidence when he apparently condoned the use of pellet guns and other outrages by the security forces. There was certainly no attempt at “unity” with the Hurriyat. “Mantras” cannot indicate policy.

In his TV interview on September 2 Modi excelled himself: “Kashmir needs vikas [development] and vishwas [trust]” ( Asian Age, September 3).

If this is all what he has to offer, Kashmiris cannot be blamed for retorting— bakwas (rubbish). Even the faithful Omar Abdullah had warned him that development is no solution. What has India done to earn the trust of Kashmiris except set a record of perfidies—1947, 1952, 1953, 1978, 1987, 1989 and the foul deeds of the security forces which continue to this day?

Is this rhetoric designed to cover up a repression that is planned after the parliamentary delegation returns? “We did our best they would not listen, hence the crackdown.” One hopes not, for the consequences will be grave and we shall have passed the point of no return.

The Indian state has a remarkable capacity for refusing to learn from its mistakes. The situation in the months before July 8, 2016, when Burhan Wani was killed pursuant to a decision at the highest level in New Delhi months earlier, gave out all the warning signals that screamed loud and clear since—use of pellets; surge in south Kashmir; swelling of the ranks of militants by local people; their desperate use of Pakistan’s flags and increasing despair among the people. The BJP-PDP pact of March 2015 provided the first trigger; Burhan Wani’s killing, the second. The abject surrender of Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed to New Delhi on a host of issues—Musarat Alam, use of the State’s flag, and so on—demonstrated to the people that a party which they had expected would speak up for them had betrayed them in its leaders’ lust for power.

Ram Madhav, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh [RSS] pracharak seconded to the BJP as its general secretary, boasted that “Our major worry was that we may be able to stitch this alliance but would the Valley accept it? I used to discuss with Mufti Saheb that once we do this, you should be prepared for three-month unrest because people would revolt. But to our surprise it was taken as a natural corollary to the mandate” (Prashant Jha; Hindustan Times; August 30). Events have proved him wrong. But the disclosure proves the Mufti and his colleagues’ lust for power—he went into the deal with full awareness of his people’s opposition to it. He had fought the election campaign to keep the BJP out of the Valley. He embraced it as a partner to cap a sordid record (see Praveen Donthi; Caravan; January 2016).

There was a brief interval in which he held out promise of reform. In October 2008, the PDP published a 40-page pamphlet, Jammu and Kashmir: The Self-Rule Framework for Resolution. In 2014, its election manifesto “An Aspirational Agenda” said: “The Self-Rule document will be the guiding framework for Resolution … make borders irrelevant.” On Article 370, denuded of all content, it promised to “use Article 370 itself to restore the original special status of the State”, that is, as of 1947.

Hollowing out of Article 370

But the PDP-BJP “Agenda of the Alliance” (March 2015) froze Article 370 in its denuded state: “The present position will be maintained on all the constitutional provisions pertaining to J&K including the special status in the Constitution of India.” Its author knew very well that Article 370 had been reduced to an empty shell by the 47 Orders unconstitutionally made by the President of India for 50 years. Two hundred sixty out of the 395 Articles of India’s Constitution were extended to Jammu & Kashmir. So were 94 out of the 97 entries in the Union List—leaving a balance of three for the State to “enjoy”. Twenty-six of the 47 entries in the Concurrent List were also extended to the State. Seven of the 12 Schedules were applied.

It was a systematic hollowing out of Article 370 for Mehbooba Mufti to flaunt now as a badge of “honour”. Far from enjoying a preferred status over the other States, Kashmir has been put in a position inferior to them. For Kashmir, mere executive orders under Article 370 sufficed for President’s rule to be imposed, from July 18, 1990, to 1996. They were dated February 24, 1993, and February 19, 1994. Elsewhere, a Constitutional amendment was required.

The Manifesto said: “Article 370 impacts everything from political discourse to personal responses, from economy to emotions, from society to sensibilities and from institutions to ideologies.” The PDP’s surrender to the BJP on a matter like this exposed the true nature of the deal. The florid prose and the idiom reveal that it is one and the same person who drafted all three—Haseeb A. Drabu, now Finance Minister.

On dialogue with the Hurriyat, the alliance was significantly weak. “The earlier NDA [National Democratic Alliance] government led by Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee had initiated a dialogue process with all political groups, including the Hurriyat Conference, in the spirit of ‘Insaaniyat, Kashmiriyat aur Jamhooriyat’. Following the same principles, the coalition government will facilitate and help initiate a sustained and meaningful dialogue with all internal stakeholders, which will include all political groups irrespective of their ideological views and predilections. This dialogue will seek to build a broad-based consensus on resolution of all outstanding issues of J&K.”

Reaction was swift. The coalition was sworn in on March 1, 2015, and beat a retreat on a host of issues such as Masarat Alam’s release, the State flags, and colonies for Kashmiri Pandits. On April 18, The Hindu reported: “The Valley appeared teetering on the brink of another bout of volatility.” A boy of 16 lost vision in his right eye when he was hit by a pellet that pierced his skull, jaws, lips, nose and brains. “The police fired during a protest in his village, Palhan”—not in self-defence ( The Hindu, May 25).

State Ministers from the BJP broke precedent by refusing to observe the Martyrs’ Day on July 13. Reports came in of young people (in the 17-24 age group) joining militants “every month” ( Asian Age, July 30). Josy Joseph, a distinguished correspondent, was told by “a senior official in the security establishment” that “the overall situation in the State has deteriorated. It has to be blamed on internal issues, not much to do with Pakistan … Violence and strife are going up, not infiltration. Simmering tensions have emerged in public since the change of government” ( The Hindu, October 21, 2015).

Abuses by security forces were also on the rise. In 2014 a study by doctors of Srinagar’s SMHS Hospital concluded that pellet-related ocular injuiries were becoming common in Kashmir. Around 200 patients were admitted between 2010 and 2013, that is during Omar Abdullah’s tenure. Only last April, a girl student in Anantnag told Nirupama Subramanian and Basharat Masood: “When the Army does an encounter they come in hundreds for one militant hiding in a house. Then they destroy that house” ( The Indian Express, April 22). A senior official told them that officials found “gatherings of thousands” as intimidating as a terrorist strike. That explains it—they fire even if their lives are not in danger. Protesting crowds strike fear in their hearts.

The correspondents reported also that South Kashmir’s four districts—Pulwama, Shopian, Kulgam and Anantnag—“had in recent months and weeks seen spontaneous outpourings of support for militants and anger against security forces”. There were “only 200 active militants in the Valley”. But it is not the numbers that are worrying the agencies but “the growing local support for militants in their strongholds” ( The Times of India, May 2, 2016).

It is against this background that Burhan Wani was killed on July 8, 2016, with consequences that are there for all to see. All the signs were there before—surge in local militancy; rise in popular protests; south Kashmir as danger zone; display of Pakistan’s flags; and use of pellet guns. With one difference: funeral processions of slain militants, always large, now became massive. The people shed all fear. No crackdown will bring it back. It will congeal the point of no return to which popular alienation has already reached.

Where then do we go from here? “There has to be a dialogue and we need to find a permanent and lasting solution to the problem within the framework of Indian Constitution,” Modi told the delegation of Kashmir’s opposition leaders on August 22, adding: “All political parties should reach out to the people.” Why does he not pull the strings to ensure that his puppets in power in Srinagar dance to this inspiring tune? He cannot. The puppets dread the people, Mehbooba Mufti especially. She knows that in a very short period she has succeeded in carving her name indelibly in Kashmir’s annals of infamy.

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