As far as Prime Minister Narendra Modi is concerned, it's the season of him breaking his long-held silences. After speaking out against gau rakshaks and delivering a stern message on cow vigiliantism in India at his inaugural town hall address in the national capital, the PM today finally opened about the K-word. No not Khadi, as many would expect, but Kashmir, and Kashmiris.
In a passionate appeal, the prime minister said that "every Indian loves Kashmir" and that he promised that "the azadi that every Indian has, Kashmir can have too". The PM's words came after a month of the Valley erupting in large-scale protests and violence in the wake of the death of Burhan Wani, a 22-year-old Hizbul Mujahideen commander in an encounter with the Indian armed forces on July 8.
Every Indian desires to go to Kashmir, every Indian loves Kashmir: PM @narendramodi— PMO India (@PMOIndia) August 9, 2016
गुमराह हुए कुछ मुट्ठी भर लोग कश्मीर की महान परंपरा को कहीं न कहीं ठेस पहुंचा रहे हैं : PM @narendramodi— PMO India (@PMOIndia) August 9, 2016
With the death toll at 56 and the number of injured having crossed over 5,000, with hundreds of young Kashmiris blinded by the controversial pellet guns, the prime minister's "healing touch" could be read as better late than never. His insistence on the Kashmir policy espoused by former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee - consisting of insaaniyat (humanity), jamooriyat (democracy) and Kashmiriyat (being culturally Kashmiri) - may well be the balm that the wounded Valley needs desperately at this delicate point.
We welcome it. We feel that PM's address today is beginning of a fresh healing touch for Kashmir: Naeem Akhtar, PDP pic.twitter.com/0BFemjmFDk— ANI (@ANI_news) August 9, 2016
But is it really so? We list five reasons why the prime minister's words were basically just that, mere words.
|Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends a meeting with Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti.|
People over territory
That it took the PM over a month to break his silence is indicative of how Kashmir, for New Delhi, has been always more about the territory and less about its people and their grievances.
For over a month, the people of Kashmir, especially South Kashmir, have suffered a near curfew, seen deaths and a spike in violence that is reminiscent of the super volatile mid 1990s. Young men and women have died, and have been wounded, but the PM remained aloof, preferring statecraft over heartfelt outreach.
When PM broke his silence, we expected that there would be a concrete,tangible, political outreach- Junaid Mattu, NC pic.twitter.com/N3SH3CS2zY— ANI (@ANI_news) August 9, 2016
He tweeted about tragedies in America, France and Germany, meanwhile. But Kashmir was the problem child that India could only be harsh and punitive with and its PM silent about.
|Kashmir has been ravaged by violence for about a month now.|
Rule of the gun
The heavy presence of the Indian Army and the paramilitary forces in Kashmir Valley has been seen as a security necessity, which has only ended up alienating the Kashmiris. AFSPA and its draconian realities have ensured that ordinary Kashmiris have died and been maimed, caught in the crosshairs of counter-terrorism operations as well as political protests. Between July 8 and August 9, 56 Kashmiris have died in the violence ensuing from mostly spontaneous protests after Burhan Wani's death.
Our flag inspires the people to change the future of India. It inspires desh-bhakti in us: PM Modi pic.twitter.com/lEVe6ofNQa— ANI (@ANI_news) August 9, 2016
Kashmir wants peace. Whatever Kashmiris want for betterment of their livelihood, the Centre will help. We want development for J&K: PM— ANI (@ANI_news) August 9, 2016
If the PM meant what he said, why are Kashmiris being forced to live under the fear of the gun? Why can a Kashmiri mother not look out of her window when she hears a commotion for the fear of being hit by a pellet gun? If the PM loves Kashmiris, shouldn't that basic courtesy be extended to them? And if Kashmir remains as heavily militarised, how can the Kashmiri expect the courtesy, the love that every Indian ostensibly has for them?
|The most militarised zone in the world is under a virtual curfew for the past 30 days.|
Good Kashmiri versus Bad Kashmiri
The PM said he wanted the Kashmiri youth to come and join him in making Kashmir into a paradise on earth. However, the political identity boxes that the Indian Union and its ideological state apparatuses - such as the mainstream and social media, think-tanks and policy makers - want to put the Kashmiris into are reductive and caught in a dangerous binary.
Boys who should be holding laptops, bats, balls in their hands & dreams in their hearts are ones carrying stones: PM Modi on Kashmir— ANI (@ANI_news) August 9, 2016
Even arch terrorist Burhan Wani himself is an example of how India has been misreading the Kashmir story. Once a brilliant student from Tral, Wani took up arms and embraced the terrorist outfit Hizbul only after having been embittered with the Indian Army, losing his elder brother to mindless and avoidable violence.
Wani used social media to communicate with Kashmiri youths like him because many have had similar experiences as him, facing ritual indignities, suspicion and other forms of humiliation, when not faced by an intimidating military weapon.
Hence, the binary between a "good Kashmiri" such as the IAS topper Shah Faesal, who wrote a passionate indictment of hypernationalism of some section of the media and political sphere, and a "bad Kashmiri", such as Burhan Wani, is circumstantial at best, and mostly, a spurious distinction.
|Death of Hizbul militant Burhan Wani has sparked a wave of unrest and a spiral of violence in J&K.|
PDP-BJP and politics of peace
The PM said: "Kashmir wants peace. The citizen of Kashmir wants to earn more money through tourism." It is true. However, it's a partial truth.
मैं कश्मीर के युवकों को आह्वान करता हूं, आइए हम मिलकर कश्मीर को दुनिया का स्वर्ग बनाने के सपने को लेकर चलें : PM @narendramodi— PMO India (@PMOIndia) August 9, 2016
Peace cannot only be an economic project, when the very dreams and freedoms of the people are being trampled at every step. The PDP-BJP alliance, in itself, was the economic-political compromise that the state's political leaders, particularly the late chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, had arrived at in order to buy peace.
Kashmir wants peace. The citizen of Kashmir wants to earn more money through tourism: PM @narendramodi— PMO India (@PMOIndia) August 9, 2016
But that compromise has been too much of a price to pay for. The Indian Union's heavy-handedness and the din of hypernationalist jingoism have estranged Kashmir further, which found full vent in the wake of Burhan Wani's death. There had been protests in Srinagar before that, on the unfurling of the national flag at its NIIT campus issue, and with Wani's death, the situation just exploded.
Be it the J&K Government under Mehbooba Mufti or the Central Government, we are finding solution to all problems through development: PM— PMO India (@PMOIndia) August 9, 2016
तिरंगा झंडा हम सबको जोड़ता है, बलिदानियों की याद दिलाता है, भारत के भाग्य को बदलने की प्रेरणा देता है : PM @narendramodi— PMO India (@PMOIndia) August 9, 2016
Peace in Kashmir is entirely at odds with the Sangh Parivar's larger Hindutva project. Even as the PM says Indians love Kashmiris, how can a chest-beating majoritarian population be loved back without any reciprocal criticism?
|Late CM of Kashmir, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, was a better bridge between Kashmir and the Indian Union, observers say.|
Much like the JNU students union president, Kanhaiya Kumar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi ensured that "Kashmiris should feel the same azadi that Indians feel everywhere else". Distinguishing this "azadi" as one "in India" rather than "from India" is perhaps the obvious subtext.
The freedom that every Indian has also belongs to every Kashmiri. We want the same bright future for every youth in Kashmir: PM Modi— ANI (@ANI_news) August 9, 2016
However, if that azadi "in India" is equivalent of what a non-Kashmiri Muslim feels when s/he's stopped from eating beef under cow protectionism, or what a Dalit in Andhra Pradesh feels when s/he is forced to commit suicide after acute disenchantment, like Rohith Vemula, or flogged in public in Gujarat for skinning a dead cow, is that azadi "in India" really a freedom after all?
If India wants to ensure that Kashmir "is" Indian territory, military might and crushing of political views and dissent may not be the best way forward. They haven't been for the past 69 years.