What is the way forward in Jammu and Kashmir? The question may look strange, funny or even cruel at this point in history. With the entire country, well almost, in the throes of celebration of what it believes is the ‘final solution’ to the Kashmir problem, do we need to think of any other way forward?
And in the part of the country numb to this celebration, disconnected from the rest of the world, caged within what it calls home, in the midst of a blind rage, how can we think of any future?
Yet, we must ask this question. We, the citizens of India, who have stood for the idea of Kashmiriyat. We, the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir, who have invested in the idea of India. If only to get our bearings in this long, dark tunnel that we all have entered, if only to find which hand to hold in this impossible journey towards light.
Who stands to gain?
Let us begin by putting the spotlight on all the key stakeholders in this human tragedy: the people of Ladakh, Hindus and Muslims of Jammu region, Kashmiri Pandits, the residents of Kashmir living outside, and, of course, the Kashmiri Muslims. An honest answer must begin by noting that none of them stands to gain from the recently announced grand solution.
Ladakhis may be the only exception. Let us admit that Ladakh was, for all practical purposes, a separate region, an invisible and unwilling partner in this hyphenated arrangement between Jammu and Kashmir, and a collateral of this turbulence. Let us acknowledge that the Shia Muslims of Kargil have much more in common with the Buddhists of Leh than they have with the Sunni Muslims of Kashmir. For the people of Ladakh, this may be good riddance and a new journey forward, if they can be assured of a democratically elected and empowered assembly.
For the rest of the stakeholders, the new arrangement means a net loss. The Hindu and Muslim populations in the Jammu region stand to lose their protected land rights, their claim over government jobs and their special citizenship. In all probability, their lands, natural resources and livelihoods would be the first and, given the volatile situation in the Valley, perhaps the only casualty of the predatory capital invasion from the plains.
For Kashmiri Pandits, the gain would be no more than a psychological compensation for their forced exodus and the sufferings thereafter. Given the unimaginable risks of separate settlements, their just demand for a dignified return to their homeland is now more remote than before. For Kashmiris residing outside the state, the prolonged and visible conflict would mean greater vulnerability to targeted violence and exclusion.
For Kashmiri Muslims in the Valley, the abrogation of Article 370 and overnight downgrading of the state is a political and psychological catastrophe. It means not only a loss of land-protection and other special rights, but also a loss of (the little remaining) trust, a loss of voice and a loss of any hope. To them, the ‘final solution’ looks like a final betrayal. They are pushed back to the tragic days of the 1990s. The moderate opportunist leaders who could be a bridge to the Indian Union have been discredited, those citizens who took the idea of India seriously have been pushed to the wall, and the dying stand of the separatists has been given a fresh lease of life. It spells a new spiral of alienation, violence and repression.
Let us state this plainly: except Ladakhis, the new structure brings no hope to the key stakeholders. This is not a new road. This is a dead-end with a trail of blood and pile-up of corpses of militants, of ordinary Kashmiris, of security forces as far as one can see.
‘Azaadi’ is a mirage
Let us also admit that ‘Azaadi’, understood as a demand for an ‘independent nation’, is also not the way forward. It needs to be said that this demand professed by the separatists and often endorsed by ordinary Kashmiris is a mirage. Given the geostrategic reality of the 21st century, a new independent Muslim majority country in this part of the world is a non-starter.
Both Indian and Pakistani governments view Kashmir as no more than a property dispute. In the foreseeable future, no Indian government can even consider giving up its claims on the Valley. Pakistani establishment would stoke this demand, but would never agree to surrender its ownership of “Azad Kashmir”. Given how the Chinese treat their Muslim minority, they would not permit a new Muslim state in the backyard. And the US would definitely veto such a possibility.
Anyone who ignores this writing on the wall and still pushes for politics of national self-determination is not a well-wisher of the Kashmiris. No one can deny anyone the moral right to self-determination, but anyone who promises this to Kashmiris in a foreseeable future is leading them away from a possible, although difficult, goal of peace and stability in favour of decades of bloodshed with ‘Azaadi’ nowhere in sight.
Need to redefine ‘azaadi’
Is there another way? We believe there is an alternative, even if the road is narrower and the journey more difficult than ever before. Such a path would be premised on the rejection of the first two paths mentioned above: erasure of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status as recently done by the BJP government or the violent pursuit of a separate nation-state as preached by the separatists in the state.
We must also accept that the Line of Control is for all practical purpose the international border between India and Pakistan. Any solution to the Kashmir issue has to be thought through on this side of the border. The resolution to the part of Kashmir that lies with Pakistan will have to be thought through in Pakistan. In this context, ‘Azaadi’ would mean real exercise of democratic power by the people of Jammu and Kashmir through their elected representatives within the frame of the Indian constitution, with due recognition of the special status of the state that was promised at the time of accession. This would require demilitarisation of the region and withdrawal of central security forces from local policing.
This would be a long haul. The first preliminary step here would be an immediate release of all political leaders, both arrested as well as detained, withdrawal of virtual curfew, restoration of communication and resumption of full civil liberties enjoyed by the rest of the country.
This must be followed by restoration of the full statehood to Jammu and Kashmir (minus Ladakh). This state must not be an ordinary state of the Indian Union. It must get special protection that has already been granted to Nagaland and Mizoram under Article 371A and 371G. Provisions should also be made for regional autonomy of Jammu and Poonch-Rajouri regions (as recommended by Balraj Puri committee) on the lines of Article 371C for Manipur Hills. Kashmiri Pandits must have legal protection for their return to their homeland, with special powers to the Governor in this respect.
At this moment, such a proposal may appear no more than a fond hope. Clearly, the present regime would not wish to entertain anything like this. This third way would need an alternative kind of politics.
Battle is not against India
It requires a language to communicate to common Kashmiris that their battle is not against India but against an ideology represented by the RSS-BJP. The sentiment of ‘Azaadi’ in Kashmir must result in a movement for ‘azaadi from the Sangh’, a battle that Kashmiris are not fighting alone. Similarly, a new language needs to be evolved to communicate to an ordinary Indian that if Kashmir is an “abhinna ang” (integral part) of India, then they must feel the pain and suffering of the people of Kashmir.
Such a journey can take inspiration from the path shown by Sheikh Abdullah and Jayaprakash Narayan and could adopt the slogan given by Atal Bihari Vajpayee: “Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat, Kashmiriyat”. This is the only path that can lay the foundation for a peaceful Kashmir and restoration of the idea of a democratic and a secular India.
Mujeeb ul Shafie is a Kashmiri and a national executive member of Swaraj India. Yogendra Yadav is the national president of Swaraj India. Views are personal.