By Muneeb Yousuf
The snow has melted and the spring has arrived in the valley. The spring brings in the tender hopes of peace and happiness. However, this is not the case in Kashmir. The valley is again caught up in the situation of death and fear. It appears that it is being slowly eaten up by a killing machine which in actuality behaves like a machine with no remorse at all. With more than a hundred killings in the summer of 2016, the spring of 2017 does not show any good indications.
An uncanny thought is driving me towards the past. That is, a past which is the byproduct of the undying obsessive attitude of two nations towards Jammu and Kashmir and also a game which served the interests of the bigger nations. After being denied of their victory in the ballot process and harshly dealt for taking part in the electoral process, the youth of the valley in 1ate 1980s took up the arms.
The youth of the valley are again picking up the arms. A sea of people is attending the funerals of slain militants with great reverence. It seems that valley is heading back to the 1990’s. There are other dangerous indicators. People, particularly in rural areas are coming in hordes to rescue the trapped militants without caring for their lives. This trend has increasingly become a norm now. As a result, death has become a daily affair.
In terms of “mainstream” spectrum, their electoral politics harps upon the conflict in Kashmir. But, afterwards, their politics reflects adherence to and reliance on New Delhi.
Consider the following factual. National Conference dominated the main stream politics in Kashmir till the end of the twentieth century. In the aftermath of Sheikh Abdullah’s imprisonment, the post 1975 period saw the National Conference’s increasing efforts towards attainment of pre-1953 position which is also referred as autonomy. Autonomy still seems a distant dream in a structure which is determined to erase every special position that Kashmir has in terms of its politics, culture, education, food, and so on. Over the last few years, there have been excessive attempts from the centre to alter the little left over position of Kashmir in relation to India.
In 1999, a change swept the “mainstream” politics of Kashmir. The change in the course of mainstream politics was brought by the emergence of new political party– the Peoples Democratic Party. Eight members of the congress party in the Assembly headed by Mehbooba Mufti came out of the Congress to form this new party. Often termed as a ‘’soft separatist party’’, it strived for certain degree of separatist cause to make itself relevant in the mainstream politics which had almost failed in delivering any sort of positivity towards the resolution of Kashmir issue. In an environment of intense counter insurgency which had led to killings of thousands of Kashmiris, PDP made herself appear in a manner which deliberately blurred the boundaries between the separatist and mainstream discourse. Such appearances enabled the PDP to achieve greater attention from the people adversely affected by the conflict Terming its ideology as people friendly, the PDP initiated a policy called ‘’healing touch” that aimed at providing relief to common Kashmiris adversely impacted by the conflict situation.
The PDP also talked of the need to enter into dialogue with the militants, separatists and Pakistan to resolve the conflict and establish peace. In its set objectives, it sought to mobilize public opinion so as to persuade the government of India to adopt a policy of understanding and reconciliation. It demanded restoration of rule of law, withdrawal of extraordinary laws, restraining the security forces, freeing jailed political prisoners, dissolving the infamous Special Operation Groups(SOG), curbing abuse of human rights and rehabilitating the militants and their families..
PDP (1.0) began its first innings in 2002 by forming a government with the Congress party. This phase is considered as good in terms of governance and rule of law. It is important to mention that this phase also falls in line with NDA Government’s initiatives for Peace. While the NDA Government’s principles of Insaniyaat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat along with bringing separatists into peace talks with Pakistan marked the hopes for peace, alongside PDP’s healing touch gave relief to the common men. In relation to healthy Indo-Pak dialogue, PDP started talking about demilitarization, self rule and other confidence building measures. Moreover, these initiatives led to frequent debates in the Legislative Assembly regarding the removal of AFSPA, issues of the killing of innocent civilians in fake encounters and others.
Beginning its Second innings in 2015, the PDP (2.0) came under heavy criticism for making an alliance with one of the extreme right political party of India– the BJP. It is considered to be a marriage of unequals; with contrasting ideologies and goals. The important thing to observe in PDP 2.0 was the ‘’battle of ideas’’ theory which was merely rhetoric for PDP and was hardly implemented on the ground. During this stage, the intolerance debate had begun across India and the Modi Government was being criticized throughout barring PDP’s late chief patron Mufti Sayeed.
After the demise of Mufti Sayeed, the alliance hung for over a period of about two months. The delay over the government formation remained the centre of attraction and state was even put under Governor’s rule. There were several reports of fissures within the PDP. In addition, the trust deficit of Mehbooba Mufti over agenda of alliance came into the surface for which she demanded assurance of Confidence Building Measures (CBM’s). Which CBMs Mehbooba Mufti demanded from the BJP government and which were accepted are yet to be known.
On April 5, 2016 Mehbooba Mufti was sworn in as the first female chief minister of the state. Just a week later, Kashmir came into the news for alleged molestation of a college girl by an army personnel. This led to the outpouring of anger in the form of protest. Army resorted to firing, killing three innocent civilians. The sad part of the story came into surface after weeks of how state employed different means to persuade the girl and his family to drop off the charges against the army man.
Peoples Democratic Party, for all intents and purposes, seems to have deviated from the path of being ‘’soft separatist’’ and there are indications that it has largely lost the mandate of the people. After the incident of Burhan Wani, despite taking strong measures, PDP has remained unsuccessful in restoring the control over the valley. PDP has lost the complete grip over the valley and particularly its main constituency–South Kashmir. The various statements by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti clearly are antithetical to the ‘’idea of PDP’’. With the advancement of the tenure of the PDP-BJP alliance, there has been further widening of the gap between Jammu Province and Kashmir valley.
As the recent trend of more youth joining militancy along with people helping the trapped militants in escaping is becoming a norm now, the PDP has so far failed to check this norm and it appears that the valley is heading for a dreadful decade of 1990s. One cannot completely put the onus over PDP for the uprising of 2016 which jolted the Indian state. Other factors have also played their role in the arriving of the present situation. The events do not happen in a vacuum. Under the National Conference leadership, Jammu and Kashmir also witnessed an uprising. And importantly, the failure of the central government to revive the peace process with Pakistan also has a role in the current situation in Kashmir. One cannot overrule the coming of BJP party into power which is viewed as threat to the special identity of Kashmir. Ever since the BJP has come to power, incidents have taken place particularly in Jammu which reinforces the threat to the Kashmiri identity.
PDP has not only resulted in the dilution of National Conference but it has also made the irrelevance of bringing separatist cause into the mainstream politics. These circumstances have led to the greater attraction of separatist politics and their increasing relevance in an existing state of affairs. Instead of healing the wounds, PDP is adding salt to the wounds with its statements.
For many observers, entry of new political parties in the political sphere, larger voter turnout in the assembly and Panchayat elections are the indicators of enlarging democracy in Kashmir. Does this make the politics of separatism irrelevant? More often, it has been said that by voting, people of Kashmir choose their leaders to fulfill various demands related to development and welfare however it does not signify their allegiance towards India.
Separatist politics has functioned parallel to “mainstream” politics in Kashmir. Whenever the “mainstream” politics has failed to deliver, separatist politics has become more important and relevant. The PDPs failure in relation to its goals has transformed people’s perception towards the “mainstream” parties. It is also being said that BJP has dominated the present coalition government and PDP has less authority over decision making. Moreover, Mehbooba Mufti lacks the political acumen that her late father had.
PDP emerged as an alternative to the NC in 2000. It was successful in hoodwinking people for it echoed the separatist tone to some extent. But, now the reality is in front of masses. From hope in 1.0, PDP(2.0) has sailed through a boat using rhetoric as an oar, reached a place where a huge gap between promise and delivery is quite visible.
—The author is a Research Scholar at MMAJ Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org