K B Jandial
Amidst increased pressure on militants with the elimination of 125 militants this year,Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti made critical statements on J&K’s special status last week, somewhat identical; many have called these provocative and threatening. Whether these are the outcome of competitive regional politics to pander to the separatist sentiments that are more pronounced in Kashmir today than before or speaking out their mind positioning against anticipated BJP’s move against Special Status need to be seen. Anti-Delhi threats are not new as it is Kashmir’s politics of survival. Whenever leaders face crisis or threat they turn their ire against Delhi. They adopt the alternate narrative of championing the impractical idea of free movement of people between two parts of Kashmir. At times, they prefer to shower praises on separatists to keep themselves relevant. In normal course outbursts of Omar and Mehbooba could be viewed in this context but these “threats” have caused immense anger in Jammu and to some extent in the country where Tricolor enthuse respect and emotions besides keeping Kashmir’s fire ablaze.
Often calling Kashmir as‘quom’ not necessarily because of its special status, Omar made it known at a seminar hosted by Bureau of Research in Industry and Economic Fundamentals (BRIEF) that to talk of dilution or even “debate” on special status, warning the Group challenging Article 35A in SC as “playing with fire”. He thinks it would open the issue of Kashmir’s accession with India. It is a bizarre argument coming from a liberal mainstream politician who otherwise champions transparency and freedom of speech and expression.
Father son duo as also Mehbooba have been relentlessly advocating dialogue with ‘enemy’ (Pakistan), even when it continues to bleed J&K and the rest of India profusely. But Omar now wants a ban on internal debate on a constitutional provision (Article 370) on which the people don’t have clarity and proper appreciation. Some may call it political hypocrisy but one should not be surprised as political leaders of Kashmir do target Delhi or a particular party and rake up emotive issues. But to be fair to Omar, he as Chief Minister, had in Legislative Assembly called J&K’s accession as “conditional” one.
Almost identical views but with reinforced argument were expressed by Chief Minister at same seminar when she warned against tinkering of Kashmir’s special status. She articulated sorely, “if special rights and privileges to the people of J&K are tinkered with, then there would be no one in the state to hold the Tricolor. Perturbed over the challenge to Article 35-A in Supreme Court by an NGO, We the Citizens, and being pursued by Sangh Parivar’s J&K Study Circle, she said “my and other parties who carry the national flag in Kashmir despite all risks... I have no doubt in saying that there will be no one to hold it."
But the fact is that there is hardly any Kashmiri nowadays seen carrying the National flag (not even State’s flag and the only visible flags are either Islamic or Pakistani as seen in Jammu and rest of India. One can draw an inference that probably she is referring to the support to the idea of India, accept Kashmir as part of Indian union and participating in all activities including elections, forming governments, following Indian and state constitutions, Indian laws etc. And again presumably the ‘threat’ could be that mainstream parties may not be able to hold brief for India anymore. The fact remains that workers of mainstream parties like NC and PDP, (earlier KPs also) had been the target of terrorists for supporting India.
These emotive statements appear to be a response to Attorney General K K Venugopal who told Supreme Court the Government’s desire to have a “larger debate” on Article 35-A. The SC has given six weeks to 3-Judge bench to complete the hearing and the decision is expected by the end of September this year which they anticipate to be adverse. A Muslim lady too has approached SC against Article 35-A which has disenfranchised her.
Mehbooba who is politically beleaguered in Kashmir for forming coalition government with BJP and subsequent prolonged unrest in the aftermath of elimination of Burhan Wani that accounted for nearly one hundred deaths, rightly feels that such developments would strengthen pro-Pak separatists who have poisoned Kashmiri mind against Delhi’s insincerity towards Kashmiri Muslims and are selling the dream of Azadi. The mainstream parties in Kashmir would be weakened. But at the same time, doesn’t her statement strengthen anti-India constituency in Kashmir?
Mehbooba’s strong disapproval of NIA suggestion to close Cross-LoC trade for being used for hawala money to fund terror, however, got immediate assurance for its continuity. Now the Centre would put in place stringent measures to choke money trail and terror through it.
Addressing an impressive gathering on PDP’s 18th Foundation Day, Mehbooba distanced herself from NIA’s first ever strong action in terror-funding cases after media’s sting operations and subsequent arrest of some separatists. On the contrary, she threw a bouncer by saying “such action will not kill the idea.
In an upfront manner, she said, “You cannot kill an idea, you cannot jail an idea. An idea can change into a better idea.” She even said that “Kashmir is caged”, and wanted it to be freed by “opening roads between two Kashmirs for Kargil-Askardu, Jammu-Saikot and Leh- Xingjian.” She and late Mufti Sayeed had been strong votaries of “making borders irrelevant” by opening cross-LoC roads at various points to facilitate movement of people of both Kashmirs. Gen Musharraf too had floated this idea.
Mehbooba’s assessment might have merit even though most of Indians react adversely to her outburst. She feels, somewhat right, that today Kashmiri youth is not scared of Task Force (JKP’s counter militancy squad), police or army. It is because of the “idea” that has emboldened the youth to pelt stones or use gun. She attributed Kashmir turmoil to this “idea”. In her perspective, this along with reconciliation and dialogue with Pakistan and Hurriyat, would lead to lasting peace. Is it so?
Analysing dispassionately, Mehbooba’s standpoint has merit, especially in the context of unending three decades of turmoil with ups and down in Pak abetted militancy and now, belligerent separatism with stone pelting to help the escape of besieged terrorists. Many initiatives and military options have failed to yield the desired dividend. But is it possible when the people of Kashmir are more alienated than before and Pakistan is reeling under her political crisis with Nawaz Sharif having been divested of power by judicial diktat and his successor yet to take over. Pak army has always been calling shots and would not allow any civilian government to succeed in making friendship with India.
Has earlier opening of LoC at two points for trade and movement of people done any good to the State, its people or the country? The popular view was that cross-LoC trade, designed for exchange of local products, was in fact a proxy trade in which huge non local products are exchanged from both sides. Instead of benefiting local producers, it was the big sharks, some from outside the state who were benefitted. Now, NIA investigations have found this ‘CBM’ being used for hawala money to fund terror. This is a matter of serious concern for everyone, if not for Mehbooba who has political compulsion to position herself against action for such activities but Modi government appears to be determined to take it to the logical end for the first time.
What is this “idea” Mehbooba is referring to? Obviously, it is idea of “azadi”. One of her trustworthy colleagues, Naeem Akhtar explained to a Delhi daily the essence of Mehbooba’s peace plan. According to him denying or curbing the idea of azadi will not help. “We can only do so through dialogue and discussion. We need discussion with those who believe in the idea of Azadi. We need to talk to them and discuss the feasibility of Azadi, the idea of Azadi the way they envision it – and tell them how it is not feasible in that form.”
Itsounds quite logical and favourable for their constituency but who will convince the hardcore Pak proxies the futility of pursuing the “idea of azadi”? First of all, the dialogue would start to debate the practicability of “Azadi” of Kashmir and if they are not convinced then what next? Does it mean that India gets convinced of their “idea” and allows secession of Kashmir irrespective of the unalterable provision of J&K Constitution of State being integral part of India, of which even SAS Geelani had taken oath at least three times? Mehbooba could not make separatists and NC convinced of India’s plan to resettle uprooted Kashmiri Pandits or for creating separate colony for Kashmiri Sainiks. And still they think of convincing separatists against their “idea of azadi”. If PDP leaders are so sure about convincing separatists of changing the idea, why don’t they start the process and prepare the ground for final round. BJP cannot be expected to be part of this dialogue for larger adverse ramifications.