After Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah were allowed to meet their party workers over the weekend, there is now talk that New Delhi is allowing some breathing room for mainstream Kashmiri politicians.
One canard being constantly spread about Kashmir is that there was a “pro-India mainstream managing the problem” for New Delhi and that in detaining these folks under the Public Safety Act (PSA), India has scored a self-goal. This is highly contestable, and amounts to a false narrative that has misguided the Indian debate for far too long.
From Sheikh Abdullah to his son Farooq Abdullah and grandson Omar Abdullah to Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti – the so-called mainstream politicians of Kashmir – no one has ever actually been “pro India”. They have at best vacillated between trying to get into Pakistan’s good books and not opposing India, while peddling all the time the Pakistani line: ‘talk to the Hurriyat, talk to Pakistan’.
Sheikh Abdullah, for example, did not spend time in jail for being pro-India. Both Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi put him behind bars for trying to get the Pakistanis, Americans and the British involved in Kashmir. But then this would swing wildly because Indira Gandhi foisted him as the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir after the 1975 pact, even though Abdullah’s National Conference (NC) did not have a single MLA while Gandhi’s Congress had 61 of the 75 seats.
Then there’s Mehbooba Mufti, who began her political career by calling Pakistan-backed militants in Kashmir “freedom fighters”, extending condolences to the families of slain militants by visiting their homes, and her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed thanking Pakistan soon after his party’s election to power in 2014. When the Centre banned the pro-Pakistan Islamist organisation Jamaat-e-Islami after the Pulwama suicide bombing in which 44 CRPF soldiers were killed, Omar Abdullah batted for them asking the government to review its decision.
There are many reasons for this perfidy among Kashmir’s mainstream politicians, but the primary one is that Pakistan has all the sticks and India all the carrots.
In militants’ good books
Since 2002, many of the workers of NC and PDP have been regularly targeted by militant groups, but not the leaders of these parties.
After all, the militants would have targeted them if they are really “pro India”. Basically, Pakistan has demonstrated its ability and willingness to kill anyone it suspects of disloyalty as it did with Hurriyat leader Abdul Ghani Lone and Kashmiri leader Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq. In the last two decades, Pakistan never found the need to criticise or show hostility towards the dynasts of Kashmir. Why would it when they sound exactly like Pakistani press statements? Having graduated now to quote the Muftis and the Abdullahs to make its case about Kashmir, Pakistan quoted Omar Abdullah in its latest report presented at the United Nations to showcase how India was oppressing Kashmiris.
India, on the other hand, has followed the model laid down by former Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) chief A.S. Dulat, and attempted to co-opt anyone opposing it through money, essentially carrots without major sticks.
This means what is referred to as “mainstream” in Kashmir is anything but “pro-India”, save for some rudimentary oath-taking to the Constitution, never reaffirmed in public thereafter. Even Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani took the oath to be able to occupy his MLA seat, for that matter. As former RAW chief Vikram Sood told me, “The first thing ISI tells them when they meet is to go report to IB (Intelligence Bureau) and RAW and offer to turn double agent.”
Bringing ‘radicals’ into mainstream
Now let’s look at how these dynasts “managed the problem” for New Delhi, economic incompetence aside. The case of Burhan Wani is one that demonstrates how the “mainstream” enabled militants and disabled the effectiveness of the armed forces. Farooq Abdullah started recruiting teachers affiliated to the Jamaat-e-Islami into government schools under a scheme called Rehbar-e-Taleem launched in 1998. It was done at the behest of local advisers in the belief that it would placate the situation. Since then, every government has only accelerated the process, taking the number of teachers now to well over 2,000, according to Intelligence Bureau chiefs and police officers who dealt with these issues during the course of their duties. Muzaffar Ahmad Wani, the father of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani who wanted to establish Caliphate in Kashmir, for example, is one such Jamaat-affiliated government teacher.
This is particularly important because the Jamaat functioned for the Hizbul Mujahideen as Sinn Féin, a political party in Ireland, did for the Irish Republican Army. This Janus face got institutionalised when the PDP, which initially had no cadre, fuelled its growth by recruiting from the Jamaat. In effect, this was just one degree of separation away from directly being controlled by the Hizbul Mujahideen. It was this same PDP, in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which announced in 2015 the release of separatist leader Masarat Alam, the founder of Jammu and Kashmir Muslim League for whom Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafeez Saeed had held a rally in Lahore that year. Alam’s “welcome home procession” for Geelani triggered the next phase of violent extremism in 2016 culminating in the death of Burhan Wani.
In short, both the NC and the PDP kept inducting radicals into the “mainstream”, telling people it would incentivise and de-radicalise them. Instead, it shifted the “mainstream” to heavy dependency on radicals and empowered these radicals with the tools of the state administration.
Demoralising police force
On the other hand, the “mainstream” was also instrumental in demoralising and decreasing the efficiency of the forces, while passively (but intentionally) strengthening the militancy. For example, the forced demolition of several bunkers and outposts critical to counter insurgency served no purpose but to help militants. Recruiting stone-pelters to government jobs only encouraged more stone-pelting. Similarly, Omar Abdullah’s mismanagement of the alleged rape and murder of two women by Indian troops in Shopian ended up being a warning shot to the police, demoralising them completely. There were scientific and initial medical evidence but these were seemingly ignored to jail innocent policemen – all done to stoke bloodlust for political gain. Despite the CBI concluding that there was no rape and murder, mainstream media still mentions it as a crime that took place.
A “pro-India mainstream” in Kashmir is one that wouldn’t be blatantly anti-India. They were the problem not the solution, despite what the beneficiaries of their taxpayer-funded largesse in the “mainstream press” would have you believe.
The author is a senior fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. He tweets @iyervval. Views are personal.