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Time for PM to say 'No azaadi'

September 20, 2010 20:38 IST
Frankly, who does Prime Minister Manmohan Singh want to talk to and what is his big magical prescription for a Kashmir 'breakthrough,' asks Sanjay Jha.

Prudent writing demands you build a credible case before making your judgment; but as far as Kashmir is concerned, strangely enough, the reverse applies after several decades of flimsy endeavours.

The only way we will actually move forward on the Kashmir problem after 63 years of wasted opportunities, mindless deaths, massive defense expenditure, three wars and a Kargil, and continuous tensions, is if India has a prime minister who has the honesty to state the obvious publicly: 'There will be no azaadi; Kashmir is and will be under any and all circumstances a full and integral part of India. Now let us talk.'

By choosing to postpone the inevitable over several years, the Indian government has actually created a false hope of nationhood among the Kashmiri people, which will inevitably lead to disastrous political consequences. It is already happening.

Frankly, who does Prime Minister Manmohan Singh want to talk to and what is his big magical prescription for a Kashmir 'breakthrough'?

If despite having a legitimate elected presence in the Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly and an apparently young and pragmatic member of the Abdullah family at the helm we have achieved a huge naught, other than a day of sunshine sight-seeing of the Dal Lake, what really is meeting the 'average Kashmiri in his own household' really going to achieve now that the all-political party delegation has descended on Srinagar?

"I have a huge double-storey mansion in Srinagar. It has over 12 to 15 rooms, which is no big deal. We have not lived in it for two decades now. What do we go back for? No, the cops, security forces and militants are not occupying it. It is lying idle, depreciating away into nothingness. I visited it some time back, and all I came back with was memories. Of a family and a home that was once ours."

This is a statement of a Kashmiri Pandit who spoke to me a few weeks ago. He fled the beautiful Kashmir valley when restrained tolerance transformed into virulent hatred for the 'minority community'.

I write this because the divisive forces have since even threatened Sikhs into leaving their ancestral homes. And expectedly the acquisitive, two-faced Chinese are calculatedly adding fuel to fire.

India, largely through its extraordinarily unimaginative and uninspiring Kashmir policy and myopic reactionary attitude, is creating a smoldering problem at its doorstep. It is time to act. Conflagration tends to spread rather rapidly, even to neighbouring states.

Just why are we perennially prevaricating on Kashmir?

Is it really such an unmanageable complex puzzle or are we plain incompetent in handling a delicate situation which requires judicious, astute thinking, singularly missing in our political leadership?

Was Prime Minister Singh tactically thoughtless in succumbing to the good old soft talk of 'limited autonomy under our Constitutional framework' to assuage stone-pelters and an assortment of disgruntled militant groups?

Just why can't the Indian government ever learn from its mistakes?

Our biggest drawback: No consensus

The crucial difference between our difficult neighbour and us is that the Pakistani establishment has an uncomplicated united stand on Kashmir; there are no fractured internal differences of the kind we face.

In India, we present an incoherent picture, pregnant with not just a confused stance, but worse, a politically divided fraternity.

The opportunistic ultra-vocal 'Azad Kashmir' proponents have been blatantly exploiting this wide crevasse over several decades. They know we have serious ideological conflicts within that provide them with sufficient fodder for political manipulation.

The way out, honestly, is an all-India national consensus on the practically obsolete yet strangely treated as a consecrated edifice: Article 370.

Our political leadership appears characteristically muddled, hence the insouciant ease with which multiple militant groups have dexterously incited Kashmiri anger at will, parading their inflammatory cries before international TV crews and human rights groups, exaggerating every minor incident, frequently faked, into a national calamity.

There is an overt attempt to make Gulmarg into Gaza.

When our house internally is not in order, we are highly susceptible to external incitement. And we have still done nothing.

It is up to the BJP and the Congress party

The two principal parties of India -- the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party -- need to do a serious assessment on Kashmir devoid of vote-bank politics. For heaven's sake, we are talking national security and geographical transgression by inimical neighbours here, aren't we?

In simple brass-tacks, we need to re-look at Article 370.

The major political parties need to recognise that the need of the hour is Kashmir's inevitable integration into India while simultaneously assuaging a natural resistance from a misled population, and not entertain impractical deliberations on a separate identity.

Article 370 has actually led to Kashmir's isolation from mainland India and a creeping proximity to Pakistan on account of both contiguous borders and common religious faith. Frankly, this myopic policy (hurriedly conceived) engenders a perpetuation of the Kashmir problem.

Sixty-three years is ample testimony of a failed policy.

The story of two Abdullahs

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's rather farcical solicitude for Abdullah Ahad Jan, the celebrity shoe-thrower, revealed the synthetic forces in command operation in Kashmir.

Omar considered the televised forgiveness as his project of public reconciliation, when he should have been fully aware that such token symbolism is only a momentary distraction for hard-boiled diabolical anti-national forces operating from behind dark veils and dishing hate speeches using modern technology.

A few hours later Ahad Jan was unabashedly showcasing his immoral, deceptive charade before cheering crowds as the inspiring face of Azad Kashmir. In recent times, one of the most repugnant double-faced about-turns that I have seen.

Some legacies are an insurmountable baggage perhaps and maybe Farooq Abdullah's motorcycle rides in Pahalgam with Bollywood heroines while Kashmir simmered is still etched deep in many minds.

Farooq's mystifying underestimation of the common man's grievances has been often articulated. Omar needs to realise he is battling an elephantine negative 'family' perception, but being hamstrung by one's own inner demons does not help.

A leader who does not take risks is like a swimmer who does not kick his legs in water; certain drowning can be forecast.

Hugs and cuddles will not be enough

All those over-excited Kashmir analysts -- who say a few body hugs, hospital visits, warm arm over-the-shoulder expressions of compassion and semi-circle meetings will solve the Kashmir problem -- miss the core essence of people engagement.

Sure, one needs to show genuine concern, but a sympathy drive is a two-way street. Kashmir needs reciprocal ground-level understanding for both innocent victims and hapless security forces.

We need to empathise with both our security personnel for their difficult day-to-day existence facing incessant treacherous attacks from well-protected adversaries, and the ordinary Kashmiri who feels the State has become an impersonal leviathan, a cold military establishment.

Empathy, though, like charity, begins from home.

We need to rotate the Kashmiri defence postings at a higher frequency to reduce fatigue and job stress, which can lead to serious lapses. The defence forces should also receive appropriate training to handle various forms of people-protest, after all every situation needs a different panacea.

Can anyone guarantee peace if the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is even partially withdrawn? Are we perhaps playing into Pakistan's hands, and those hard-line groups in the valley?

Dreaded corruption

A contemptible self-inflicted failure has been the alleged corruption in misusing local resources and government funds allocated for developmental and distributive purposes. Successive ruling formations have allowed their credibility to be eroded on account of disingenuous ham-handed governance.

Kashmir needs a strong Lokayukta with wide-ranging powers for a pro-active intervention; a trouble-shooter for attending to local grievances beyond the current administrative structure.

Instilling confidence is an immediate and long-term requirement.

The chief minister's entire schedule must be spent on touring the valley and holding both pre-organised and impromptu meetings with the common man.

Good intentions need to be effectively practised, or else the middling vacuum is conveniently occupied by militants. The latter are the new powerbrokers, whose black Kalashnikovs could surface the moment AFSPA is withdrawn.

Empower the CM

The chief minister should not be seen earning frequent flier points en route to Delhi; this has been Kashmir's perpetual grouse. In fact, it should be the other way round. If the Abdullahs are seen as 'Delhi's agents', let us truly accord reverential status and instead strengthen the hands of young Omar.

Let the prime minister visit Kashmir at least twice a year and the home minister once every quarter. Delhi needs to strengthen Abdullah by being his guardian angel and not just a numbers-based political ally.

Noted columnist Prem Shankar Jha's suggestion to impose governor's rule should teach us all a clear lesson: Kashmir is a tricky terrain and even veteran Kashmir experts are prone to a suicidal somersault over the precipice.

I disagree with Jha: it would make a mockery of the democratically held state elections and push India into the same turbulence of the mid-1990s. It would be like walking into a lion's den with full fanfare announcing imminent arrival.

Media is a crucial stakeholder

The media was once blamed for only reporting government-sponsored stories. It has now, unfortunately, swung to the other side of the pendulum. I think the security apparatus is continuously castigated for its occasional excesses, without fair trial.

Just because the Border Security Force and the Central Reserve Police Force jawan holds a gun does not necessarily make him a deliberate violator instigating trouble.

Let us be honest, for every incident of alleged indiscretion, aren't there several cases of calculated framed propaganda against the law enforcement personnel with damaging repercussions on their morale, like false rape claims?

Are we presuming our defense teams guilty now by sheer default following an accusation?

To every supposed carnage, there are always two sides -- the provoked and the provocateur.

The government must engage the private media channels through frequent dialogue to ensure transparent media dissemination to prevent disinformation and unwarranted panic.

Create a minority Muslim task force

The government could create a strong Muslim Task Force from all fields, comprising teachers, scholars and intellectuals, media professionals, authors, religious leaders, businessmen, social activists, student leaders, sports stars, even Bollywood actors and well-respected politicians.

I think the best emissary of a secular India is someone like Azim Premji, founder of Wipro, a shining manifestation of the country's rising new graph.

This task force could embody assimilation through dialogue, discussion and debate and balance out the misguided message from the militants'wild rhetoric.

The average Kashmiri is much better off than his Muslim counterpart elsewhere in any state on per capita income basis. Is he even aware of it?

Why are we so acutely defensive in promoting our secular qualifications?

The Kashmir valley will always be India's

The truth is that the prime minister's Independence Day speech talking of limited autonomy once again revealed our tactlessness in handling Kashmir.

The PM, on the contrary, must repeatedly reiterate at every potential opportunity that Kashmir is non-negotiable and that azaadi is nothing but a hollow cry by disaffected elements seeking narrow parochial gains in the most pampered state of our country. That they are living in a fool's paradise needs to be unequivocally communicated.

There is evident softness in our approach and thus multiple militant outfits outgun each other contemplating their own designs of a national flag at Srinagar one day.

Kashmir needs a strategic overview from the highest levels in India, not just short-term tactical reactionary ploys.

Public-private participation will help economy

Kashmir will benefit more from a public-private partnership model than merely state investments; it will facilitate greater inclusion.

The net accretion to Kashmir's growth can be enhanced manifold if it benefits from India's giant strides in the economic/commercial sphere.

It is preposterous to believe that mere tourism and local crafts can sustain an economy; its youth need multiple new vistas for livelihood.

I think the high-powered panel named to look into job creation is a correct step, but they must revert within defined timelines.

Later on, I asked my Kashmiri Pandit friend: Which Kashmiri restaurant do you recommend for a visit in Mumbai?

He scratched his head before saying: There is one. Just one, really, which is truly Kashmiri.

In Mumbai, our great national melting pot, there is just one Kashmiri restaurant in its crowded suburbs. In most parts of India, you will find none. And therein lies a tale.

Sanjay Jha is a consultant and author and co-founded the political blog, www.HamaraCongress.com The views expressed are his own.

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Sanjay Jha