Aneri Vora and Niranjan Deshpande
Speaking at a lecture organized by the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, G.D Parikh Centre for Educational Studies, and Vicharvedh, Mr. Bashir Manzar, the editor of a leading Kashmiri newspaper Kashmir Images, said “If the BJP were to go by the common agenda of governance with PDP stated in the Agenda of Alliance, the situation in Kashmir would improve greatly.” He further added, “Terrorism for Kashmiris is not a matter of choice but a reaction to the alienation experienced by young Kashmiris since decades.” Manzar was speaking on ‘Bleeding Kashmir: the Land of Khakhi, Stone pelting and Hope’. Held at the G.D. Parekh Hall, on 8th June 2017 in University of Mumbai, the lecture was attended by about 150 people and the participants consisting of academicians, activists and media persons along with university and college students.
Adv. Irfan Engineer, Director, CSSS, Mumbai, gave a brief context to the lecture. The lecture emphasised the disconnect and alienation that the Kashmiri population feels vis- à- vis the government and the security establishment and the inaction by the Central government in reaching out to the people. Manzar emphasised the need to implement the terms of the Agenda of Alliance that are the guiding principles of the BJP-PDP coalition.
According to Manzar, the agitation that began in 2016 traces its roots to an incident in 2010 when 4-5 people were killed by the army who branded them as militants. It was later discovered that those killed were local Gujjar boys and the officer concerned had killed them for personal gains and a promotion. This triggered an agitation which led to the entire state being shut down for 7-8 months and the state police ruthlessly trying to contain the unrest which led to hundreds of innocent civilians being killed in various operations. The Central government, in order to diffuse the tension, sent a team headed by the then Home Minister P Chidambaram and also sent a three member team of interlocutors who submitted a report to the Central Government. The team worked in Kashmir for over a year and met various stakeholders to thrash out solutions to the problem. However, the Central Government did not even read the report. No action was taken and the situation was left to simmer. Yet, the people of Kashmir gave the government another chance and the 2014 elections saw a turnout of 65%. The two regional parties National Conference and PDP, fought elections with the promise to keep the BJP out but the region of Jammu voted entirely for the BJP while Kashmir voted for the PDP and Ladakh, which has negligible seats, voted for the Congress. This led to the BJP and PDP forming a coalition government. According to Mr. Manzar, the youth of Kashmir all voted for the PDP with the aim of keeping the BJP out and when PDP joined hands with the BJP, felt severely betrayed. However, this coalition was necessary as keeping the BJP out would mean keeping the entire Jammu region out without any representation. From day one, the BJP started implementing its own agenda. Mr. Manzar recounted how, in the 65 years that he had lived in Kashmir, beef eating was never an issue until two years ago when a truck driver was burnt alive for possessing beef. The youth who voted for the PDP trusted Dr. Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, but soon realized that the PDP was reduced to playing the second fiddle. The BJP pushing its own agenda in Kashmir along with events taking place in other parts of the country such as lynching for beef possession, love jihad etc added to the frustration and anger of the Kashmiris. The Central government on the other hand made no effort to reach out to the people and ignored the simmering frustration. The killing of Burhan Wani was only a trigger to the pent up anger among the people. The human rights violations by government forces such as the use of pellet guns led to children as young as 10 losing their eyesight which were not used in any other agitation which was equally violent such as the Jat or Patel agitation. Mr. Manzar pointed out that New Delhi approaches Kashmir with a mindset which is very different from the way it approaches the rest of the country. The security establishment approaches Kashmir with an anti insurgency mindset looking at the situation in Kashmir as a fight against terrorism.
Mr Manzar pointed out that the Agenda of Alliance, which formed the basic framework of the BJP-PDP alliance was not being followed by the BJP. If the BJP were to go by its own document which it had promised to adhere to, the situation in Kashmir would improve greatly. There are four basic points in the Agenda:
- Delhi will enter into a dialogue with all the stakeholders in Kashmir including the separatists
- Article 370 will remain undisturbed
- A review of AFSPA will be carried out
- All hydro power projects will be handed back to the state government.
Mr Mazar also spoke about the incident where a civilan was tied to a jeep and used a human shield by an army major. According to Manzar, when an army chief defends and awards such an officer a message is sent that the government could care less about Kashmiris. It cares not about the Kashmiri people but about Kashmir as a geographical territory. He also spoke about Kashmir being a Muslim majority state but never being Islamic. Today however, one can see voices being raised in support of ISIS, Al Qaeda, dying and killing for Islam. Common Kashmiris have been caught between two narratives: one,of the government which refuses to listen to any authentic narrative on Kashmir but rather continues to believe in a false, constructed narrative on Kashmir. On the other hand the narrative that it is no longer a war for the separation of Kashmir from the Indian mainland but a war to protect the principles of Islam. He also criticized the media for portraying the entire Kashmiri population as terrorists while actually about a hundred boys may have taken up arms. According to Mr. Manzar, this exaggerated narrative suits New Delhi to get the support of the rest of India. He blamed Pakistan for sponsoring terrorism in Kashmir, complicating the situation and called out on New Delhi’s policy making. The stone pelters have often been accused of taking money in return for indulging in stone pelting activities. Mr. Manzar countered this by saying that the Kashmiris were relatively well off and no young man will risk his life for a paltry sum of 500 rupees. There were genuine grievances which led people to take part in protests and demonstrations. While he accepted the fact that top leaders and militants may accept huge sums of money, the common population was out on the streets purely due to anger and frustration. Mr. Manzar also spoke about the role of Pakistan and did not discount the fact that Pakistan plays its part in fomenting unrest in Kashmir but as an ordinary Indian citizen, he could not challenge Pakistan as he and no authority to do so. It was the responsibility of the Indian State to wean the population away from Pakistani influence. He also said that while it was easy to procure guns if one wanted what was important was that there must be an incentive, a root cause to the discontent which forces people to take up arms. One can have access to arms in any state of the country be it Rajasthan or Karnataka but these states are peaceful because the people there have no reason to take up arms and guns. The common civilians value peace above anything else and indulge in violence or protest only when pushed to the brink. Mr. Manzar pointed out how PDP Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has been begging for opening communication channels and said that the only way to achieve a solution to the dispute would be to engage with the Hurriyat Conference which would act as a buffer between extremism and peace in Kashmir. The government has consistently refused to deal with the Hurriyat Conference accusing them of being extremists and separatists but the Hurriyat was the only bloc who believes in the use of non violent means to express their discontent and ignoring the Hurriyat would only lead to more disillusioned youth joining the ranks of militants using terror tactics. Mr. Manzar also said that Mr. AB Vajpayee was highly respected by the Kashmiris even today because he was the only Prime Minister who admitted that the Kashmiris had been wronged and had never seen a free and fair election. He undertook a number of confidence building measures and entered into a formal ceasefire agreement with Pakistan in 2003, greatly improving the lives on those living on the borders but the same NDA with a ruthless majority is blocking all communication channels. Prime Minister Modi, while inaugurating a tunnel in Kashmir, asked people to make a choice between tourism and terrorism, however, we have to understand that terrorism is not a choice; it is a reaction to the alienation that the Kashmiris have been suffering since decades. Tourism and terrorism cannot be alternatives to each other.
While there is nobody asking stone palters why they pelting stones, there are more than a lakh security forces for hundred militants. Many young Kashmiris like Ummer Fayaz are ready to join the Indian army and study in Indian educational institutions, but it is New Delhi which is alienating them because it suits their narrative to say that they are anti Indians. Mr. Manzar rightly said that the government cannot allow the anger the simmer and must send a message to the Kashmiris that it cares for them by adopting the Agenda of Alliance to start with.
This was followed by an interactive question and answer session wherein the members of the audience brought in their perspectives and concerns into the discussion. The questions touched on the issues of integrating the Kashmiri Pundits, human rights violations by the Army, Article 370, the role of various stakeholders such as the central and state governments, Pakistan, separatists, militants etc. On the question of the Pandits, Mr. Manzar wholeheartedly agreed that they had been wronged and that he felt the pain of the Pandits. However, he pointed out that as an ordinary Kashmiri, he was helpless in the face of threats by the militants on the one hand and lack of protection by the government on the other. He also felt that Mr Jagmohan alone could not be held responsible for the situation and the New Delhi should have taken more responsibility. The law and order situation was fragile and there were threats to the life and person of the Pandits but the then governor Jagmahon’s solution of transporting the Pandits out of Kashmir by busloads was not the correct approach. They should have instead been protected where their homes were and the State should take the responsibility of ensuring their return to the Valley.
Manzar proposed a number of steps that the New Delhi could take to restore peace in the valley. The government has to begin by winning the hearts of the common people of Kashmir by undertaking a series of confidence building measures such as entering into a dialogue with the Hurriyat as mentioned in the BJP-PDP Agenda of Alliance. Once their hearts are won over, the government could proceed to further undertake measures within the ambit of Insaaniyat, Kashmiriyat and Jamhooriyat. Mr. A B Vajpayee was the prime example of this approach as he undertook a number of steps to improve the situation in Kashmir such as opening of bus service between Delhi and Lahore and also promoted cross border trade. Dialogue with Pakistan would as be unavoidable as it has always been an important stake holder in the Kashmir dispute. Such small confidence building measures could lead to long term dialogue and more complex issues could be tackled. Opening up of trade routes and greater people to people contact on both sides of the border would also help greatly. However, the need of the hour was to go at least begin implementation of the Agenda of Alliance.