Burhan Muzaffar Wani and his comrades were born and died in the phase of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir that symbolizes the watershed in politics in J&K; pre and post 89-90. Unlike in the past, indigenous militants now neither travel to Pakistan for guns or for arms training. Armed resistance and its indigenous roots are etched on the faces of these young men. Burhan’s killing on July 8 and following that the turnout at his funeral as well as the protests that broke throughout the state have rekindled memories of early 90s, especially the death of Ashfaq Majid in 1990, which too had seen mass outpouring of rage. Burhan and his comrades knew they would not survive for long; seven years is the average life span of a militant in Kashmir, as Burhan’s father poignantly stated long before his death. Admittedly, not because that was their own choice, but the choice offered to a people was set by a ruthless military suppression which refused to accept that there was even a popular demand for right of self determination.
Indians remained ignorant of the depth of the passion for ‘Azaadi’ from forced union with India, as was being imposed in myriad ways. The policy of land grabbing to settle non-state ex servicemen (an old project of RSS), allowing non-state subjects unhindered access to land for industry, real estate, mining, for setting up fortified colonies for migrants; where control of the state government, especially Kashmir based ruling parties, over levers of administration has always been circumscribed by New Delhi; and financial dependence compounded by autonomy of military from purview of representative government, all point to the fact that reins of government are ensconced in New Delhi.
IF into this vortex we add the role played in past as well as in recent times by Hindutva forces in J&K then it would have to be a stout but closed mind, who will not fail to see the consequences of our own folly. Just as obduracy of the Government in 1986-89 created the conflict situation, the brutal suppression let loose since 1989-90 has transformed J&K, turning Kashmir in particular into a military garrison. They are everywhere, present in bunkers, check posts, drop gates, behind concertina fences, camps, cantonments, fortifications, on roads, bazaars…an all too visible presence.
What saddens me most is that Indian intelligentsia, with honorable exceptions, have been mired in dogma and “nationalist” ideology, communal or secular, both unequivocally wedded to nation-state and its inviolability, that they have blind themselves from realizing Indian State’s own primary responsibility in bringing things to this pass. Wahabi Islam is blamed but no one bother to ask how come preachers of Wahabi Islam entered Kashmir? Why did every successive government patronize this so called foreign funded project all these decades?
Also we rarely interrogate the role of HIndutva and its patronization in J&K by the military and establishment and the state government? What about the training and arming of 29,000 armed Village Defence Committee members drawn from Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena in Jammu region? How come in a “Disturbed Area” they are allowed to brandish their weapons? Or for that matter how do we reconcile our claims to secularism when the Press Information Bureau of the Government of India claims that undertaking a pilgrimage to Amarnath is a fitting solidarity with Indian soldiers fighting for the nation? Is it? So why should Kashmiri Muslims repose confidence in the secular democratic India where RSS-BJP rules the roost?
The point is that the tattered nature of Indian secularism with institutionalized discrimination of Muslims, the persecution of Muslim youth, and indifference to crimes committed against them, denial even of compensation (as in Akshardham case where highest court had found fabricated evidence and rapped the then Gujarat home minister Narendra Modi for “non-application of mind” giving sanction to such a case) and the filthy campaign launched by Hindutva hordes does not inspire confidence among Indians how do we expect it will inspire Kashmiris? So those who blame Kashmiris for being religious and therefore fanatic, must first answer if presence of RSS in power at Centre makes all of us Hindutvawadis? The point is that every time we raise a question about Kashmiri Muslims a question is posed to us. Of course there are radical Islamists present in Kashmir, but they are not in power in J&K and their capacity to cause damage is far less than that of Hindutvawadis who control the levers of power today. Yet we do not seem to despair as much over this threat to the “mainstream” India, and we want Kashmiris to enter this cesspool?
Elections every six years (as in J&K) are not the sum total of politics. Participation in elections is nothing more than a compromise in daily life to make survival little less onerous. Recall what AS Dulat, ex RAW chief wrote in his book on his years in Kashmir that even an old woman who goes and casts her vote will not give up asking for “Azaadi”. Why should they? Each time officials turn to distant causes never once accepting that hearts and minds of the people are not with them in Kashmir, the value of armed resistance scales up.
Scholars who write on strategic matters appear to be wiser. Generals who have served in J&K have reminded us that there can be no military solution to Kashmir dispute it needs a political resolution. Scholars have brought home to us the actual reality on the ground under COIN. EPW’s own pages have in recent times carried insightful field studies of Counter Insurgency in J&K. They point out that even local people who praise the army for their social work, are one in describing them as an occupation army and want azaadi.
So let us look ahead and see what awaits us. One fallacy of COIN is that they have to engage in psychological warfare, for perception management. The authoritarian origins of this concept, the cold war propaganda about Soviet Unions “brain washing” and counter charge of the same by US imperialism, should be borne in mind. But as part of this they have to blow hot and they have to blow cold. They have to appear to be triumphing while at the same time keep the fear among rebellious population and insecurity among Indian public high, to legitimize the bloody suppression. As a result we move from triumphalism, having defeated and suppressed the “separatists”, to consternation when mass upsurge takes place, blaming Pakistan for fomenting this.
Not often do we ask that if J&K has been in administrative control of India for nearly seven decades, we have deployed more than 600,000 armed soldiers comprising army, para military and armed state police forces with a regular army comprising renegades, spread over J&K, possess stringent laws in addition, then how come Pakistan finds it so easy to stoke fires of rebellion in Indian administered Kashmir? If elections, electoral turnouts are markers of people’s choice, then how come the very same people join the funerals and gather at encounter sites?
To blame “radicalization” on outside agencies has been a tried and tested myopic approach. However, to deny their indigenous roots is a fatal flaw. Pakistan has been enabled to ‘fish in troubled waters’ by Indian government virtually closing all avenues of protest and expression, by lack of any political initiative, jeopardizing right to life of people by giving legal immunity to the military to kill on suspicion, resulting in unsolved cases of custodial killings, torture, rape, disappearances, and then pushing people on to the social media as well as driving them towards taking up arms again. The fact that Lashkar or Jaish have reactivated themselves is because young people after 2008-2010 began to slowly drift towards militancy after the bloody suppression they experienced 2008,2009 and 2010. In 2008 there was a discernible shift away from guns and towards mass unarmed protests, today that has swung decisively back towards armed militancy. Instead of seizing the moment in 2008, the UPA I and II squandered that opportunity which had come by. Reason was that GoI had nothing to offer. Offer of autonomy is an old record brought out whenever conflict escalates. There are no takers for it anymore because no one takes it seriously. The issue of state subject-hood in J&K is no different than elsewhere in North East or in forest areas of India. Beyond this GoI has ensured that they will continue to call the shots in J&K.
Former CM Omar Abdullah nailed the truth when he said that Burhan dead will galvanise militancy. The spokesperson of ruling People’s Democratic Party and the state police have asked parents to prevent their children from joining protests. Which parent would like to see their child go out to get killed? But when people of every age group are joining protests then to ask parents to stop their children is for the officialdom to grab at straws and is evidence of Government’s miscalculation. We have entered a new phase of militancy and one should expect to see a perceptible rise in their numbers, force multiplied by a defiant people .Note what took place at Tral on July 9 at Burhan’s funeral. The town ringed by security forces and police camps could not prevent 40,000 people to attend his funeral, young volunteers manned all entry points and obstructed the movement of vehicles of security forces. And Hizbul Mujahideen militants gave him a 21 gun salute. The depth of anger has to be understood in conjunction with what has happened in past 26 years and issues thrown up by it, and the conspicuous lack of any effort to seek political resolution.
Enlightened self-interest would be a courageous road to take. Tragedy is that the situation is made worse by the presence of a dogmatic and ideological party in power in New Delhi. And what was bad has been made worse by the Prime Minister who publicly declared in Srinagar last November that he needed no advice on Kashmir. So the hackneyed approach of sending more troops, strident support for legal immunity for security forces, just days after the apex court had raised very uncomfortable question about armed forces definition of ‘enemy’, “internal disturbance”, rights and liberties of civilians even in “disturbed areas”, the “indefinite” time take to restore “normalcy” etc, appear to be ‘water off ducks back’ and have brought no salutary impact on the Government. A closed mind brooks no dissent. So, ‘cry my beloved country’, because instead of arresting this slide towards renewed cycle of bloodletting, the government is rushing us towards it. The consequences are grim, and we can no longer duck a hard look at ourselves.