It is perhaps the shock at the suddenness of the outbreak of public demonstrations in Jammu & Kashmir that led a number of people to succumb to the notion that the only issue in Kashmir is India’s ‘imperial’ design, and that if the state would abandon the idea of inviolability of India’s territorial integrity, there would be peace all around.
It is an extraordinary turnaround because only a few months ago the media’s coverage of Kashmir was exceedingly positive: violence was down by almost 70 percent; tourists were returning in large numbers; ordinary Kashmiris were tired of the culture of gun; there was a palpable yearning for peace and that Kashmir was marching towards reclaiming its position as “paradise on earth.”
So what has changed in the last two months? Actually, nothing. No rigged elections; no staged encounters; no discovery of mass graves; and no firing on public demonstrations. No doubt, the crowd management could have been better but there has been no repeat of Gawakadal incident of 1990 that fuelled massive anger against the Indian state.
Instead, what has happened in Kashmir is a classic case of manufactured anger—surely, even the most ardent Kashmiri chauvinist cannot plausibly argue that a transfer of mere 100 acres of land in an uninhabitable area is attempt at demographic transformation? Not least when the Indian state policy has gone to an unprecedented extent to preserve the Muslim majority character of the Kashmir valley. Add to it the usual mixture of administrative bungling, political brinkmanship and competitive intolerance. In other words, just another day in India.
Over past six decades, the Indian state has won over disaffected populations by employing a mixture of democratic flexibility and coercive power. India and all its people are unambiguously better off because the Indian state chose to sustain the dream of a multi-cultural, multi-ethic and multi-religious India. Kashmir is difficult but not irretrievable. Surrender is not the solution. Strength, resolve and imagination are.
…For years, we have called Kashmir to be an integral part of India, and yet the highly illiberal Article 370 belies our own words. By making it a political untouchable the political establishment is being highly paternalistic to the minorities of this country. The demographics of all states from Maharashtra to West Bengal have changed, and some locals have resented that, but that does not mean they should be granted such a parochial-minded “autonomy”.
For lasting peace and prosperity, the focus should be on the future, and not the dogmatic legalities of the past. India must privatise government lands, convert government-run religious institutions into completely independent fiduciary trusts, replace religion-based funding of institutions with a broader secular funding, repeal Article 370, reinstate private property as a fundamental right, remove the word “socialism” from our constitution, allow trade across the Line of Control with Pakistan, and yes seriously consider banning road-blockage as a legitimate form of protest.
The question is, do we really believe in liberalism, secularism and federalism or are they just homilies? We must realise that even today, the moral advantage lies with the idea of India—we just need to get that idea working in full measure.
In the world of space exploration, spacecraft convert the potentially lethal pull of an outer planet’s gravity into a speed-boosting slingshot by timing their approach carefully. In Kashmir too, India has an opportunity masquerading as a problem. Can our polity seize it?
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