Aditya Sinha: We should all be crying over J&K
Rahul Gandhi shouldn't be the only one grieving for Kashmir, where there was once the beginning of peace, but now there's burning violence
Protestors in Srinagar demand the death penalty for special police officer (SPO) Deepak Khajuria for the rape and murder of an 8-year-old. file Pic/AFP
In a meeting with chief executives in Singapore last week, Congress President Rahul Gandhi spoke on Kashmir. "In 2014, when I went to Kashmir, I felt like crying," he said. "I saw what a bad decision can do to years and years of policy-making." He was referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's policy on Kashmir that is all jackboot and zero politics. It is a contrast to his predecessors' attempts to build bridges in the strife-torn border state. Rahul had criticised Modi on Kashmir earlier: last September at the University of California in Berkeley he said, "PM Modi massively opened up space for terrorists in Kashmir."
Any Kashmir-watcher could have no disagreement with what Rahul said, though there were other comments of his that were problematic. For instance, he said that in 2004, when the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) came to power it was "given a burning Kashmir". Not true. Externally, a cease-fire came into effect in 2003, negotiated through spy chiefs CD Sahay and Lt Gen Ehsan-ul Haq. It worked pretty well until Modi came to power, and last month, for the first time since 2003, cease-fire violations spread from Poonch and Rajouri sectors to Uri.
Internally, AB Vajpayee's government initiated talks with separatists; deputy PM LK Advani, in his last official meeting with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference leaders had asked for a roadmap. Vajpayee remained a popular leader with Kashmiris years after he lost power; during the 2014 parliamentary election campaign, Kashmir chief priest Mirwaiz Umar Farooq publicly hoped that Modi would resume Vajpayee's policy in Kashmir.
The other problem with Rahul's comments regards bridge-building. "You engage with people..., you trust people. It works," he said in Singapore. That may have been Dr Manmohan Singh's intent, but had it worked then India would have reached an agreement with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf in 2006-07 (the separatists were on board); the Amarnath Yatra land transfer wouldn't have resulted in an agitation in July 2008; and 112 youngsters would not have been killed during the stone-pelting protests of June 2010.
The blame for what some Kashmiris refer to as Dr Singh's "lost decade" can squarely be laid on his bureaucracy. It did not seize the concessions that Musharraf offered; it had no focused plan to "build bridges" resulting in dissipated energy; and when Dr Singh had gotten his nuclear deal with the US out of the way and refocused on Pakistan at Sharm-el Sheikh in July 2009, it got cold feet. The fact that his UPA-2 government, made nervous by a surging Modi, suddenly hanged Parliament attack conspirator Mohd Afzal Guru in February 2013, earned him no goodwill among Kashmiris.
But Rahul is correct; despite the blemishes on the UPA record, the temperature in Kashmir did come down. After witnessing the past four years, no one will dispute this. It is not just Modi's cavalier attitude to Kashmiris after the hugely damaging floods of 2014, or the threat to erode Kashmir's special status as guaranteed by Article 35A of the Constitution of India; it is not just his dismissal of the Hurriyat and Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) as Pakistanis; it is not just his public snub of former CM Mufti Mohd Sayeed's call for talks with Pakistan (considering how much personal prestige the late Mufti staked on forming a coalition with Modi, it's no surprise he never recovered); and it is not just the widening chasm between the Valley and the Jammu plains that Modi has actively encouraged.
Modi's policies led to the nightmarish summer of 2016, when a Facebook terrorist's killing burst the Kashmiri dam of insecurity, anxiety and anger, leading to protests and the pellet injuries of hundreds of Kashmiris. It has led to a new face of terrorism in Kashmir.
Now when an eight-year-old girl is abducted, raped and killed, Modi's people support the accused (who confessed) because he's a Hindu openly pursuing ethnic cleansing. When the army lately committed excesses, the BJP took umbrage at the police investigation and had the FIR quashed. When last week, the army killed six people in Shopian calling them terrorists, and it turned out that they weren't, then the army and the BJP shrug and say the victims were overground supporters of terrorists.
In Delhi, all this is seen as a sub-plot to the main event. Following the terrorist attack last month on the Sunjuwan military camp in the Jammu region, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman promised that Pakistan would pay for it. Some speculate this points to a limited war in October, before possible elections in November-December.
Even if that isn't so, the point is this: no one is building bridges with Kashmiris. Therein lies the core truth that Rahul Gandhi spoke in Singapore: considering what's been going on in Kashmir since 2014, a true nationalist could only feel like crying.
Aditya Sinha's crime novel, The CEO Who Lost His Head, is available now. He tweets @autumnshade Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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