Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What ails Kashmir

And to the manner born, it is a custom
More honour'd in the breach than the observance.
Shakespeare Hamlet

There was an angry stir in Kashmir this time. Rebellion was rife in the August air. People hollered quite a lot. Newspapers wrote in wolfish Urdu. There were protest marches and corteges. Flags were fiercely fluttered. The rage was alarming. What began as a minor land row has snow-balled into a major controversy. It has split the two main regions of Kashmir and Jammu across communal lines and galvanized the entire populace of Kashmir into almost hysterical calls for Azadi [Freedom]. All of a sudden!

So what went wrong. And so suddenly.

For once India’s Kashmir policy is flawed. Two, the Indian leadership is plain dumb. They should never have allowed things to come to such a pass. The rot could have been stemmed right in the beginning. But hindsight is always 20/20. Yes I can say these things now but the truth be told, one just can’t fathom why India gets it so wrong in Kashmir, always.

Not withstanding the diplomatic language -- that Kashmir is an integral part of India, we need to do a little introspection here. The valley is -- almost always -- on a slow sauté. India understands that but deludes itself in choosing to ignore it. There is a history to the disenchantment of the Kashmiris, kept alive in their memories by a string of rigged elections, broken promises and a spate of terrible human rights violations. Tulip gardens can’t meliorate the hurt. It is quite deep and dark.

Rather than talk to the people of Kashmir, New Delhi got busy with gloss work. Energy was spent on conducting the national games in the winter resort of Gulmarg and erecting lush parks in Srinagar. The sentiment was left unaddressed. Unattended it festered and festered. The Amarnath spat provided the spark. Kashmir was suddenly on fire again.

Being in Kashmir during the latest rounds of protestations, I was caught completely off guard by the people’s power. So was the administration. They ordered the police to fire on un-armed people. 29 innocent people lost their lives. Tempers frayed and emotions swelled further. The Hurriyet grabbed the God-sent opportunity to channelize the sentiment. They are the one’s who call the shots now.

New Delhi, lackadaisical as ever, should have reined in the right winger hoodlums in Jammu and never allowed an economic blockade of the valley, for however small time, in the first instance. The blackmail sent a very wrong signal. Politicians played politics, as they are often wont to, in that small time span. The separatists swiftly made plans for Muzzafarabad. The effort was more symbolic than practical but it was a political masterstroke. That one single call for march undid a lot of achievement. All good-will went down the drain.

Whoever is responsible for administrating Kashmir is a bad administrator. I think the current governor -- a good old retired civil servant -- fumbled. Either don’t let the people assemble at all [easily achievable] and if you do then don’t allow your cops to fire in their chest. Brute force was used to quell protests and that is not done. You can't afford to do that, as a democracy and you don’t do that on people, some of whom think that you are an occupation force. If the intention is to win hearts then you don’t fire on the heart, right?

So how do you fix the blame? Who do you blame? Is it Azad, the supremely dis-connected congressman, who failed to read the writing on the proverbial wall? Is it the Abdulla’s who created the shrine board problem in the first place? Is it Mufti with his dual stances? Is it the stupid fat ex-governor? Is it the wily separatists who upped the ante? Is it the Jammu based Hindu right wingers who are non-players in the entire issue? Who is the culprit? Who do we blame? Perhaps none.

Methinks there is no alternative to dialogue. New Delhi should talk to the leadership in Jammu and Kashmir, across the board. It should have a bold, progressive Kashmir policy. Alleviate some unfounded fears that they harbour. The gloss work should be halted and the main issue addressed.

For once, the sentiment, however irrational, must be considered. Junk the damn funk, as they say.