By Swapan Dasgupta
This August 15, our world has been turned upside down. For the past two months, the Kashmir Valley has been engulfed in an orgy of stone throwing directed against the civil government and the security forces. It has been widely described as the Kashmiri intifada, a tag calculated to generate oodles of romanticised angst. Nearly 45 people, many of them children, have died as harried security forces have attempted to restore order. Quite predictably, each death has bolstered a caricatured view of brave but desperate protestors being felled by the lathis and guns of an uncaring colonial power.
For the propagandists of the yet unspecified azadi, the upsurge has become the moment of liberation, a time to dispense with ambiguity. Behind the poetic justification of stoning, a romantic exile’s quiet but unmistakable endorsement of the fidayeen gunmen and the ridiculous recourse to pseud-speak (“Life here is Orwellian, Kafkaesque and Catch-22 all rolled into one”) is a more ominous development: the defiant proclamation that a ‘solution’ to the Kashmir problem isn’t possible within the Indian Union and the Indian Constitution.
A position that was once the prerogative of the likes of the fully-veiled Asiya Andrabi of Dukhtaran-e-Milat notoriety—even the stalwarts of the All Party Hurriyat Conference used to camouflage their subliminal desires in the demand for a tripartite agreement—has entered the mainstream discourse.
The Kashmir Valley has always nurtured a core group of highly motivated activists who never reconciled themselves to the accession of 1948. That was always a fact of life which provided succour to Pakistani adventurists determined to complete the “unfinished business of Partition.” Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s Operation Gibraltar in 1965 was prompted by the belief that his tiny spark would light the proverbial prairie fire in the Kashmir Valley. The ISI made the same calculation when it eyed the protests of 1989-90 as an opportunity for an armed insurrection. But somehow, secessionism never got to the centre stage in the Kashmir Valley. Azadi was a template slogan for all occasions, akin to the labour movement’s Inquilab Zindabad . It was poetic rather than literal.
The threat to the Indian Union posed by the recent ‘spontaneous’ outbursts that even left the Hurriyat leadership feeling unwanted, shouldn’t be minimised. The ferocity of feeling and the visible show of hatred against all symbols of authority, particularly the Abdullah family, suggest that the old political recipes to soothe ruffled feathers will carry diminishing returns. No doubt Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meant well when he addressed the all-party delegation from Jammu and Kashmir last Monday. But with the wealth of ground reports at his disposal, he should have known that neither autonomy nor a committee exploring a public sector-driven employment generation scheme would address the situation. The protestors screaming azadi now mean what they shout; their eyes are on what they imagine is a bigger prize.
This grim reality may be unpalatable to those convinced that Kashmiriyat is inherently at odds with the doctrinaire Islamism that will darken the Kashmir Valley if the India link is snapped. This inability to face an awkward truth may explain the appealing suggestion that the stone chucking youth are actually crying out ‘to belong’ to an economically resurgent India and that New Delhi must respond with a kindness, generosity and opportunity.
How the TV chatterati interpret events in Srinagar is of some importance in determining how Middle India sees the Kashmir problem. Since the last thing anyone wants is for youthful over-boisterousness to provoke an anti-Muslim backlash in the rest of India, there may be some merit in squeamishness and even wishful thinking. However, piousness on the air waves won’t change the ground reality. For the impressionable agitators living in emotional ghettos, the PM’s elegy, last week’s solidarity dharnas in New Delhi and supportive noises by Indian intellectuals have prompted one inescapable conclusion: India’s resolve to keep Kashmir a part of the Union is fast waning.
The perception may be a self-serving and a result of mistaking contrition for capitulation, but it nevertheless exists. On Independence Day, it may be time to introduce an alternative understanding of India, an India where indulgence also merges with unflinching resolve.