THERE could be nothing, I insist, nothing, that Kashmir is unfamiliar to. Kashmir and the Kashmiris have witnessed many transitions and transformations in the past. The one it is going through at the moment, could, at best, be described as a role reversal.
Not so long ago, Kashmir witnessed some unprecedented violent agitations which consumed hundreds of young lives. The trauma of these violent agitations was even more horrifying as there was hardly anyone who was not affected by the violence in one way or the other.
Then there were certain times when people, mainly the youngsters, would indulge in violence without any provocation. Reason or no reason, they would simply go all out for violence. On Eid particularly, the youth would indulge in massive violent protests without any provocation. Violence became a state of mind. You did not need a trigger. You simply used it, just for the sake of it. Stone-pelting after Eid-prayers was a given. Authorities controlling the levers of power would simply accept it as fate-accomplice. They had to deal with it. They could not avoid it either. It became normal to witness heavy stone-pelting even after Friday prayers.
Mehbooba Mufti, when she was the Chief Minister, had once famously said that Fridays had been reduced to stone-pelting days in Kashmir. Well, it is an altogether different issue that her entire political empire was built on violence and violent clashes.
Though Kashmir is no stranger to upheavals and turbulences, but by its own tumultuous standards, the violent clashes post Shri Amarnath Shrine Board land row of 2008 were unprecedented, and which actually led to the culture of stone-pelting, apparently under the garb of non-violent protests. The then President-cum-Army Chief of Pakistan, General Parvez Musharraf was the architect of this violent, ‘non-violent’ agitation in Kashmir. I have given a detailed account of this in my first book ‘K File – the Conspiracy of Silence’. Even ace thinkers and writers would argue that this violence could not have had an end and could not be controlled because, as rightly said, it was a culture embraced by a generation conveniently. The situation was such that clashes would erupt whether you allowed Eid and Friday prayers or not. Clashes would be there if you allowed Eid Prayers in Eidgah Srinagar, and clashes would definitely erupt if you didn’t. But we as thinkers, writers and commentators form opinions essentially on the basis of a given situation. Most of us are tempted to analyze a situation through the application of the principle of causation in an attempt to see everything as per the simple laws of cause and effect.
Kashmir, however, surprises everyone.
During the 2010 agitation, the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed would strongly argue with his party colleagues and friends alike that the agitation would not die down and that New Delhi would have to concede to the demands of the protesters. These protests, a result of the death of 17-year-old Tufail Mattoo in police firing, left around 120 people dead. The demand for revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and withdrawal of security forces from civilian areas was gaining momentum. On September 15, 2010, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh proposed an all-party meeting in Jammu and Kashmir, saying that dialogue was the only way to find lasting peace, and “we are ready for dialogue with anybody or any group that does not espouse or practice violence”. An all-party delegation was sent to Kashmir. Members of the 39-member delegation included Home Minister P Chidambaram and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley (BJP), Basudeb Acharia (CPM), Gurudas Dasgupta (CPI), Mulayam Singh Yadav (Samajwadi Party) and Ram Vilas Paswan (Lok Janshakti Party). Following this visit, the government announced a slew of measures to defuse the tension. However, a shrewd politician like Mufti was confident that the agitation would yield the desired results for him as well as for the general public. He was confident that Omar Abdullah would step down from chief ministerialship, which would be a huge thing for the PDP, and that the Manmohan Singh government would finally take a call on the revocation of the AFSPA and the withdrawal of troops from the civilian areas in Jammu and Kashmir. Kashmir experts in media and civil society wrote so much on the expected outcome of the agitation; they were damn sure the agitation would show results. Perhaps all of them, including Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had the 2008 Amarnath Shrine Board land row agitation on mind. The opinion, therefore, was based on the ‘cause and effect’ theory.
The demand for revocation of the AFSPA and withdrawal of troops was soon met with stiff resistance from many stakeholders, particularly the Army. It was for the first time perhaps that the Army Chief took a position on the issue quite opposite to that of Defence Minister A K Antony, and who, on the floor of the Parliament, said that the issue of revocation of AFSPA from areas of Jammu and Kashmir was under active consideration of the government. It was from here that the optimistic political class of Kashmir, which included the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, too looked withdrawn.
However, the broader issue we are discussing is how the situation changes not because of the measures of the State but essentially because how the people change with the changing realities. Again, an interesting story – I was closely associated with Mufti Mohammad Sayaed in 2008 (not Mehbooba Mufti, as she was never comfortable with me for my views). On the issue of withdrawal of support to the Ghulam Nabi Azad Congress-PDP coalition government, Mufti would consult his party workers almost on a daily basis. Barring late Abdul Aziz Zargar, a veteran politician from South Kashmir, Muzaffer Hussain Baigh, who was the then Deputy Chief Minister in Azad-led coalition government, and late Qazi Muhammad Afzal, every party worker and leader was in favour of withdrawal of support. To cut the long story short, Mufti finally withdrew support to Azad. And PDP carders and workers celebrated the move. In fact fire-crackers were burst by PDP workers in Srinagar and other towns. Now, the interesting part of the story is that those very people, who were vociferously supporting the exit of Azad as chief minister, would, merely a month after, cry before Mufti that they were left disempowered and that nobody was listening to their plight in the Governor’s administration. This is how things change, which ultimately leads to the reversal of roles. We have witnessed this reversal of roles at the very beginning of the creation of the “conflict” on Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Pakistan has been consistently demanding a plebiscite in Kashmir whereas India has, all along, maintained that Kashmir is non-negotiable. This is no news and no one is even interested in this. What is, however, more than interesting is that both India and Pakistan initially held polar opposite stances in 1947. In that year, just a few months after the birth of the two dominions, it was India that proposed a Kashmir plebiscite and it was Pakistan that rejected it. That is why I keep insisting that Kashmir has so much to offer to scholars and researchers.
How the eventualities look like and how the events unfold thereafter, is quite fascinating, actually surprise one and all. Another interesting anecdote I would like to share with the readers is that before the inception of armed insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir in 1989, nobody among who’s who of Kashmir would ever think of the constitution and political integration of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir with the Union of India. The two dominant discourses were – 1. separation; and 2. complete restoration of the spirit of Article 370 of the Constitution of India. The armed insurgency was launched for the separation and the voices demanding restoration of autonomy went into hibernation. Opinion leaders, intellectuals, journalists, political figures and even the people in the establishment would recommend everything under the sky to douse the flames of violence which had engulfed this region. Amidst all these noises about “sky is the limit”, a legal luminary from Kashmir told this scribe in 2001 that the armed insurgency had thrown “complete integration of Jammu and Kashmir with the union of India” as an option before the people of Kashmir. This is how thought processes are shaped.
The current situation in Jammu and Kashmir is under total control of the State and its institutions. Just five-six years back, one would not have imagined that the State would ever make a comeback in such a big way. And when did the State bounce back? After the infamous and the bloodiest agitation of 2016 when the discourse set by the separatists and their ideological progenies in media and civil society was “abhi nahin to kabhi nahin” (now or never). Wow, this is something beyond the comprehension of even the finest minds.