Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has just returned from Kashmir. He appealed for peace and requested the “separatists” to return to the negotiating table. He held a series of conferences with the officials and political leaders. And as expected, he announced over Rs. 1000 crore sops to the state. Importantly, to score some misplaced points, he threatened the armed forces to behave properly in Kashmir, forgetting the fact that but for those forces he, or any Indian Prime Minister, would not have been able to land in the Srinagar valley.
But one fails to understand what did the Prime Minister achieve overall from his two-day Kashmir visit in concrete terms? Well, the media, both national and international, went overboard. The press in Pakistan, where our homer minister and foreign secretary are heading later this month, got enough material to comment on. But the separatists have not been impressed. And what is worse, the security forces have been greatly demoralized. It has become now quite routine for the civilian regime and elites in Kashmir to effortlessly raise their fingers at the Indian armed forces for all their troubles, thus providing fuels to the extremists and separatists. And on the flimsiest of pretexts, officials of the military and paramilitary forces are being framed and suspended.
It has become now quite routine for the civilian regime and elites in Kashmir to effortlessly raise their fingers at the Indian armed forces for all their troubles, thus providing fuels to the extremists and separatists
Ironically, the Prime Minister has not deemed it fit to travel to other, and in a sense more turbulent, part of the country – the North East, particularly Manipur and Nagaland. People there have been facing a blockade for more than two months now. The government has totally mishandled the Naga issue, of late. If any part of the country needed the presence of the Prime Minister to assure the affected people and encourage their morale, it is North-East. But, Singh and his advisors do not think so. And that is perhaps due to the fact that a visit to North East will not attract headlines the way a visit to Kashmir will.
I have no problem with the “news-worthiness” of Kashmir. But what is worrying is that the central government and the dominant section within the strategic community in the country find it politically incorrect to reveal the real problem in the Kashmir valley from the viewpoint of India’s national interests. And that real problem is the growing Islamisation of the valley, which, in turn, makes any negotiated settlement of the Kashmir issue almost impossible. An “Islamic Kashmir” will have nothing to do with India. Let me explain this point.
Over the years, Kashmir has been witnessing what Bangladeshi scholar Abu Taher Salahuddin Ahmed says three principal trends – Indianness, Kashmiriness and Muslimness. The Indianness has been propagated by the federal forces of the country, be it the central government or national parties like the Congress and BJP. However, the problem in the state is due to the tussle between those believing in Kashmiriness and those loyal to Muslimness. Kashmiriness is an offshoot of the much talked about Kashmiriyat, which, while coexisting with Indianness, talks of inclusive or composite identity, binding all groups together and not offending any section. No wonder why despite being a Muslim-majority area, beef-eating, until recently, was virtually non-existent in the valley.
Of course, some scholars now point out that there were always differences between Muslims and Hindus (essentially Kashmiri Pundits) in their interpretations of the concept of Kashmiriyat. But those believing in the concept did promote coexistence. Majority of the Kashmiri Muslims, therefore, had no problems with the Hindus or for that matter with the Buddhists. And the important factor key to the success of the Kashmiriyat was the fact that overwhelming majority of the Kashmiri Muslims believed in Sufism or what is said the “Rishi tradition” that believed in saint and shrine worships. Of course, it was greatly facilitated by the fact that as was the case in other parts of the subcontinent, Muslims were essentially converts from the fold of Hinduism.
Needless to say that almost all the separatists and terrorist, including the so-called moderate separatist elements like Huriyat Conference, belong to the school of Muslimness. They have nothing to do with India.
In contrast, the Muslimness always advocated the exclusive concepts in the valley. Promoted by the Wahhabi and Ahl-i-Hadith sects, this school relies more on the authority of the Quran and Hadith and totally opposed to the concept saints and shrine worships. This tradition or school has always been in minority in Kashmir, but it has been there always. It was behind the oraganisations like Muslim Conference and Kashmir Jamaat (KJ).
Needless to say that almost all the separatists and terrorist, including the so-called moderate separatist elements like Huriyat Conference, belong to the school of Muslimness. They have nothing to do with India. They believe in the theory of “Kashmir for Muslims”. Their essential argument is that they cannot coexist in a Hindu-dominated India.
Interestingly, these elements became active in Kashmir only after the 1979 Iranian revolution. It was after 1979 that one heard more and more of “liberation of Kashmir” and “Islamic revolution”. These elements became more vocal in politics also and formed many small political outfits. In September 1985, twelve such outfits came together to form the Muslim United Front (MUF). Soon the MUF claimed to provide an alternative to the National Conference of Farooq Abdullah on the ground that he “sold out” Kashmiris’ interests in the Accord with the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Since then, the political Islam has made firmer roots in the valley. The Pakistani support and assistance to the cause has greatly facilitated the cause. But what has really helped the Political Islam in the valley is the virtual politics of appeasement on the part of the central and state governments to the separatists. The likes of Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh have wrongly believed that by pandering to the demands of the Huriyat and civil right activists, the situation will improve. But appeasement will never work with forces of “Muslimness”; it will rather embolden them and strengthen the cause of “Kashmir for Muslims”. Did not we hear the likes of Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah even saying during the agitation over Amarnath Yatra last year that Kashmir must not compromise its Muslim character?
The political Islam has made firmer roots in the valley. The Pakistani support and assistance to the cause has greatly facilitated the cause.
Fortunately, even today the majority of the people in the state would like to remain part of India, as evident by the recent opinion poll, conducted by Chatham House (UK) on either side of the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir. The poll said that showed that only 2 per cent of the people of J&K want to be part of Pakistan. As many as 58 per cent of the 3,774 polled, in J&K and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), are ready to accept the LoC as a permanent “soft border” — an idea dating back to the famous “Simla Agreement” of 1972 between Indira Gandhi and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
That being the case, it is high time the Indian Prime Minister, whichever party he or she may belong to, stopped inviting the separatist leaders to the negotiating table. Because, any amount of concessions will not satisfy them. They just need to be ignored and their militant supporters need to be disciplined. They do not represent the majority. If they are imposing the so-called bandhs and people are listening to them it is mainly because of the fear they have generated in the people’s hearts and the self-imposed helplessness of our security forces.
The Prime Minister and the Chief Minister need to appeal directly to the people through good governance. And more important, our secular Muslim leaders from the mainstream must be encouraged to visit Kashmir more often to impart the message that Muslims are more secure in India than in Pakistan. That is the best way to fight the Islamisastion of the valley.