Some things never change. Once more a prime minister of India has visited Kashmir, and once more he has been greeted with sullen rejection. Now this is a reaction provoked by every high-profile visit from India, but this time it assumes even greater importance because of the personality of the incumbent. Besides the taint that the recently-elected PM already carries, which makes him anything but popular among Muslims, his government has demonstrated an imperious attitude towards Kashmir from the very start. The visit by the prime minister has all the trappings of an imperial visit, including a pointed snub of the local vassals. It reeks of arrogance – the arrogance of a conqueror.
Whether the Instrument of Accession that binds Kashmir to India is legal, binding and above everything else, final, may be a matter of debate but that the people of Kashmir have never really taken to this idea of accession is a fact that cannot be denied. The common man in Kashmir may not be concerned with the intricacies of politics but just scratch the surface and there it is – a deep seated mistrust and antipathy towards India. Decades of being exploited on the basis of this sentiment by all sorts of parties may have led to disillusionment and even scepticism but the undercurrent of resentment towards India is still very much there.
No doubt the rallies of most, if not all, mainstream political leaders show a considerable response, but the turnout for the funeral of a slain ‘foreign’ militant is no less, and that too without free bus and free lunch. People have been expressing their disillusionment towards those who sought to ‘liberate’ them, privately and in public as well, having been repeatedly let down and exploited by them. Yet one rallying cry and there they are on the streets with their near-hysterical cries for freedom. And when it is something like a high-profile ‘government’ visit, the whole place shuts down.
Unreasonable. Isn’t it? Why is it that the people of Kashmir are always willing to be led against India? It may be an open revolt as represented by the militants and the separatists or a covert exploitation of this very sentiment by the mainstream regional parties! Is it that the people of Kashmir are gullible enough to be swayed by the same slogans every time? It has been more than six decades since the separation of India and Pakistan and the genesis of the Kashmir problem but the antipathy towards India hasn’t abated, notwithstanding the paradox of many an election in between, and not all of them rigged.
Then again there has always been a trend even in the electoral politics of the state to vote for a local party as against any ‘national’ party which is perceived to be more ‘Indian’. In old times people had a Hobson’s choice in this regard, the only party with any significant base being the National Conference. It is a fact that in spite of his being active in politics for decades, the windfall in favour of Mufti Sayeed came only when he severed ties with the Congress and launched a regional party.
No doubt the sense of betrayal that resulted from Indian leaders reneging on their promise of holding a plebiscite in Kashmir is a historical fact and also that there is an inherent affinity of the Kashmiri people for the country across the LoC, but at the same time this also is a fact that India’s unpopularity has largely been a result of its wrong policies in Kashmir. India has knowingly or unwittingly always played the role of an imperial conqueror in Kashmir. There has been very little by way of promoting any bonding with the people of Kashmir. New Delhi has invariably foisted unpopular puppet governments on the people of Kashmir to further its own agenda. No wonder that people have always felt sidelined and consequently disenchanted with what were perceived as stooges of a foreign power.
Even a religious experience like the ongoing pilgrimage to the holy cave of Amarnath has been turned into an aggressive assertion of suzerainty. The proposal of settling migrant Kashmiri Pandits in a separate homeland is another issue in the making where the centre seems determined to disregard the local sentiment and further vitiate the air for the two communities.
In fact, with the present government at the centre, and the near-absolute mandate that it enjoys, India’s overbearing attitude towards Kashmir is going to get even worse as is already becoming evident. The coming times, instead of bridging the gap that already exists between Kashmir and New Delhi, will see a further widening of the same as a combination of underhand measures and brute force will be used to further subjugate the local population.