Jammu and Kashmir is suddenly on the edge. The Amarnath Yatra has been called off; tourists have been asked to go back; a large number of additional troops have been inducted; and fearing a major crackdown, the people are stocking up essential commodities. Meanwhile, there is talk in the air that the central government intends to unilaterally abrogate Articles 35 A and 370 that govern key elements of the state’s accession to India.
It must be clearly understood that a political solution to resolve the Kashmir problem cannot now be imposed unilaterally on the people of J&K — a political solution has to be negotiated with the elected representatives of the people of the state and their sense of alienation from the mainstream has to be addressed.
Unprecedented: Kashmir is suddenly on the boil. Special arrangements were made to swiftly evacuate tourists. (Photo:Reuters)
The security situation in the Kashmir Valley has continued to remain under control over the last decade, with tension simmering just below the surface and sometimes erupting into violence, but only for short durations.
However, it could easily boil over into large-scale violence being triggered by a relatively minor incident that is perceived by the people as a transgression of their human rights or religious freedom. The resultant wave of violence would leave the government facing an explosive situation that may resemble other movements or even revolutions in recent memory.
First Time: Calling off the Amarnath Yatra has never happened before. The political leaders of the state are clueless. (Photo: Reuters)
In February 1986, the Filipinos restored democracy through the People Power Revolution. In 1989-90, Lech Walesa’s Solidarity Movement in Poland beat back the mighty Soviet Union’s tanks. The citizens of Czechoslovakia shook off the totalitarian communist rule in the Velvet Revolution. The victory of the Ukrainians' Orange Revolution represented a new landmark in the history of people’s movements for democracy. The Cedar Revolution in April 2005 ended the Syrian military occupation of Lebanon after 30 years. The Nepalese revolution next door was another manifestation of the power of the people. Last month, protesters in Hong Kong occupied the legislative assembly building and blocked roads for several days.
Clearly, there is a lesson in all of this for India.
People power in Hong Kong: There comes a time when the state can no longer manage it. (Photo of Hong Kong anti-extradition bill protesters: Reuters)
If some of the disaffected Kashmiri youth come out on the streets of Srinagar, Baramulla, Sopore, Kupwara, Anantnag and half a dozen other towns like they did in 1988-89, in today’s mega-media age that is dominated by social media, it would be almost impossible to keep Kashmir by force as international human rights watchdogs and NGOs begin to scream murder.
Brought up during the two decades of violence, under the shadow of the guns of the security forces as well as the terrorists, the hopes of the stone-pelting students remain unfulfilled.
They are educated — but they are jobless. And, they are angry. While some of these protesters are no doubt being paid to shout slogans demanding 'azadi' and hurl stones at the security forces, many of them are genuinely concerned about the lack of resolution of the core issues and the government’s inability to resolve the socio-economic challenges facing the state.
It is not that the governments in power in the Centre have not tried.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee had expressed himself in favour of negotiations under the ambit of 'Jamhooriyat, Insaniyat aur Kashmiriyat'. Manmohan Singh had realised that it was time to deliver in Kashmir and had come out strongly in favour of a healing touch. He has spoken of feeling the people’s ‘dard aur mayusi’ and had expressed his anguish over the killings in the Kashmir Valley.
It should be clear by now that except a very small minority that has been deeply influenced by radical extremism, the Kashmiris do not wish to either join Pakistan or opt for independence — despite such slogans being shouted by the stone-pelters in recent years. Creeping Talibanisation in Pakistan goes against the grain of Kashmiriyat and Sufi culture and it has not gone unnoticed.
If we dialogue now, after very hard and acrimonious bargaining, the Kashmiris will ultimately settle for unadulterated autonomy, which will allow them the right to rule themselves, within the Indian Union — they will accept that the central government continues to deal with defence, foreign affairs, currency and communications while the J&K Assembly is left free to legislate on everything else. This should not be viewed as an out of the way concession as federalism forms the basis of the Indian Constitution. If some sections of the Indian polity think that is too much to concede, they need to consider the alternatives — each of which is too horrible to contemplate.
Reach Out In Time: It is still possible to dialogue with the disaffected of Kashmir. (Photo: Reuters)
The late Prime Minister PV Narsimha Rao had said the “sky is the limit” for autonomy.
When asked whether he was proposing to hold talks within the framework of the Constitution, Vajpayee said that he was willing to host talks within a “humanitarian framework”.
Manmohan Singh had made a pitch for “mutual tolerance, understanding and accommodation” in his first term.
All-party talks must be held to evolve a national consensus on resolving the problems in J&K.
As for the security forces, they must be allowed to conduct their counter-insurgency operations against Pakistan-sponsored terrorists in accordance with the well-established rules of engagement — but they must do so with a sense of utmost restraint.
It is time to stop inflaming passions on vote bank-based party lines of the past and to act in a statesman-like manner in national interest.
The integrity of India as a nation state must remain inviolable.