After being released from detention in the Srinagar subsidiary jail at Hari Niwas where he had been held for over seven months under the Public Safety Act, former J & K Minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said: “We have to first fight coronavirus. Second, all of our people who are incarcerated in jails, within or outside J & K in these difficult times, the Centre should release them and bring them home”.
He needs to be complimented for this remark. It is, of course, difficult to say when PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti and others would be released by the Centre. We keep our fingers crossed and avoid any guess work on Kashmir’s complexities. As it is, there are wheels within wheels and we cannot be sure which wheel is set in motion by the powers-that-be.
Still, I feel that the political complexion of Kashmir would undergo dramatic changes during the months ahead. Farooq Abdullah is now a free man, though for the present he is lying low. Nearly 4,000 political workers and young men who are said to be “stone-pelters” are still under detention. This gives us mixed signals about Kashmir’s normalcy.
Farooq Abdullah (83) is, of course, the tallest living mainstream Kashmir leader. Son of Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, I have known him personally as a leader of substance who invariably battled for India within his own state and at international fora. He tried to move the state away from its “conflicted past” in the face of politico-religious voices which opposed Kashmir’saccession to India. In the process, his visible popularity among the people reportedly suffered considerably.
Most of the time, Farooq stuck to his pro-India position. New Delhi actually put him globally on the forefront on the human rights issue in Kashmir. He was once a part of the team to Geneva led by the then Opposition leader, Atal Behari Vajpayee. It was then reported that Abdullah had given a tough time to the Pakistani side, claiming to be Kashmiri by asking them: “Can you speak in Kashmiri”?
To me, Farooq Abdullah has a multi-dimensional personality. At times, I have felt that he is a staunch nationalist, grounded in secularism. He would flaunt hissecular credentials even by singing bhajans at Hindu religious gatherings. He also would have no hesitation in saying Bharat Mata Ki Jai. He did so during an all- party prayer meeting for former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee!
He hardly felt upset when he was later heckled by his Kashmiri people during Eid prayers. His statements often shocked his supporters and baiters alike over the years. However, he has perfected the art of playing double-edged politics. Soon after Kashmiri militant Afzal Guru was hanged in 2013, Farooq Abdullah said Guru had got a fair trial, overturning in the process his son Omar Abdullah’s statement decrying his execution.
Farooq Abdullah is also known to have once praised Narendra Modi. He defended him after the 2002 riots while addressing a gathering in Ahmedabad. Interestingly, he then said he longed for the day when he would see Allah in Modi’s eyes and in turn Modi would see Bhagwan in his eyes! What a powerful statement coming from a Kashmiri leader!
Against this backdrop, I sometimes wonder why Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP establishment persons acted against Farooq Abdullah and detained him under the PSA (Public Safety Act) provisions. Did they fail to assess him correctly? Why did they overlook the fact that he could with ease owe allegiance to India while putting pressure on separatists for an acceptable solution to the Kashmir issue?
I know that tackling the Kashmir issue is not all that easy. It, however, must be said that the PSA politics has given a new twist to Kashmir affairs. The BJP talks of “Naya Kashmir”. I am not sure of the BJP’s range and dimension of “Naya Kashmir”. It has tried to make Kashmir’s old-time politicians irrelevant to the futuristic scene. This is easier to talk about than make it operational on the ground.
‘Autonomous Kashmir’ of yesteryears, was a different game. The ‘political space’ then was flexible and wide open both for stooges and separatists, which kept an open space for Pak-sponsored militants and separatists.
Pakistan then had virtually a free play for the politics of the gun. But following the scrapping of Article 370 by the Centre, things have changed drastically in the Valley. Ladakh is now no longer at the whims and fancies of the ruling lords in Srinagar.
The people there are now enjoying a new sense of freedom as Union Territory. The same is the case of Jammu, which has always felt social and economic discrimination as dictated by the ruling clique in Srinagar.
I am firmly of the view that both Kashmir and Jammu should have been recast as separate states, and not as Union Territories. The label of ‘Union Territory’ was actually an insult to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
The problem with the Central leaders of the BJP is that they give the impression that they know answers to Kashmir’s problem. But, alas, they know so little! For that matter, neither Congress leaders nor other opposition leaders hardly know how to deal with the complexities of the Valley. They have all been gropingin the dark for years.
I must restate that merely changing governors or power brokers does not constitute a policy or strategy. We did not have a coherent policy in 1947 under the Nehru regime. We do not have one today. In its absence, we look towards the poltroons, strutting about in the streets of Srinagar, to bail us out of the impasse we have landed ourselves in.
As for those who are entrusted with Kashmir affairs at the Centre, their thoughts are concentrated on their rating with their seniors in New Delhi, and not on what is good for the country or the people. Such exercises can only be futile.
Jammu and Kashmir as a whole is rather unique. It contains three distinct ethnic groups. May I ask: Why did the state not get trifurcated during the reorganization of states on the basis of language? Perhaps, this was part of the concession given to Sheikh Abdullah by Jawaharlal Nehru? The rulers, apparently, did not have the courage of conviction and allowed Kashmir matters to drift.
It is no use going into the ifs and buts of history. We have already paid a heavy price for our past mistakes and blunders. Our leaders overlooked the fact that Kashmir has been part of the Indian civilization from time immemorial. So was Kashmiriyat. The fear of losing Kashmir’s identity, as propagated by separatists, has been nothing but a false alarm and part of the pressure tactics by those who are opposed to India.
It is true that the Valley had not been communalised during Partition. But after that, the National Conference and the Congress in their competition for power contributed to the politics of communalism. Even Sheikh Abdullah did not hesitate to make communal appeals.
In fact, Kashmir’s is a tragic story of the failures of our leaders. As for Pakistan, it added a new factor of terrorism in the name of “Operation Topac” organized by General Zia-ul-Haq as part of his wanting to take revenge against this country.
In today’s situation, we can easily fix Pakistan. We must realize that time does not resolve complex problems. Only political will can. For that we have to learn from our past failures. Mere shadow-boxing cannot take us very far.
Equally crucial is the adoption of a tough posture towards the cult of the gun so that the people in the Valley feel reassured about a shift away from the militant umbrella! Finally, a genuine people’s democracy is the only answer to Kashmir’s complex problems.