The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, October 7, 2001

This is about Kashmir in fiction form
Review by Mohinder Pal Kohli

The Srinagar Conspiracy: A Novel
by Vikram A. Chandra. Penguin Books, Delhi. Pages 292. Rs 250.

TERRORISM has weakened the socio-political fabric in Jammu and Kashmir. During the past decade or more of gun culture nearly 30,000 persons have lost their lives, including over 13,000 terrorists, about 13,000 civilians and about 4000 men in uniform. Lakhs of people have been rendered destitutes and homeless, refugees in their own country. Property worth millions of rupees has been damaged. The social foundations have been so badly affected that it will take decades to become normal.

The Srinagar Conspiracy: A NovelIt is in this woeful background that Vikram A. Chandra provides a peep into the working of the minds of those striving to achieve their ends through violence. The novel "The Srinagar Conspiracy" is based on, the writer says, true events. But he has employed the writer’s licence to build a smooth narrative. Set against the backdrop of insurgency and turmoil in Kashmir, the novel is a brilliant expose of some of the crucial issues, which our administrators, unwittingly perhaps, have disregarded.

A chapter "Us and Them" sets the political tone of the novel. Educated and enlightened Habib, listening to the Jamait loyalist Karim’s vituperation against the Central Government, asks him: "What exactly is it that you want?" "An armed struggle," comes the reply, "we must get arms and ammunition, and then drive the Indians from Kashmir. Because they stole our land in 1947.


Because they will never give us equality. And because they are Hindus and we are Muslims." "Oh come off it..." counters Habib. "After all Kashmir did voluntarily accede to India... and the Indian Army only came in to knock out the Pakistani invaders when your friends in the Jamait are so fond of. Yes, Delhi does periodically misbehave with Kashmir and I get as angry about it as anyone else. But that happens with other states as well." "These states," maintains Karim, "do not have the history which Kashmir does. And these states are not Muslim majority (ones)."

Another radical Qureshi tells Habib that he was the son of Kashmir, "born of the mountains, lakes and the rivers" and yet he had not realised that he was a slave in his own land... a subject living in chains under the rule of an alien people from across the mountains who "rape and defile our motherland". Habib responds to that ill-defined essence of Kashmir identity, a fusion of liberal Islam, Sufi beliefs and vague nationalism. He "learnt with anger" the discrimination they had suffered at the hands of the Dogras who ruled Kashmir for more than a century. Added to this identity problem, there was anger against corruption, against bad roads... against government employees who do not work and against unemployment... all too easily transformed into secessionism... It becomes us and them... no use hanging around with kafirs. People have been screwed for long by them.

In a well-knit plot, Chandra traces history since the Pakistan sponsored invasion in October, 1947, and brings into bold relief the reality through Hindu-Muslim relations based on what is generally termed as Kashmiriat, the migration of Kashmiri Pandits, the mounting hatred and killings of Hindus, rapes, arson and the growth of terrorist groups. I believe that Chandra is not fixated with any particular ideology, nor does he indulge in mawkish sentimentalism to establish his secular credentials.Vikram draws a graphic picture of the Pan-Islamic movement and its influence on Kashmir.

We have a comprehensive account of the involvement of Pakistani and Afghan militants in the movement. In such a fluid situation, the ISI established the Markaz Dawar, a centre for worldwide Islamic activities with Maulana Zaki as its spiritual leader, who declared that the trainee’s destiny was to liberate the land of Allah from infidels. About one thousand Afghan mujahideen, zealous soldiers of God, were sent to Kashmir. Lashkar-e-Toiba set up more than 2,000 training camps to wage a prolonged jehad. Hizbul Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Al Badr recruited mercenaries to fight in the valley. Darra, close to Peshawar, emerged as a market for arms and ammunition. These nurtured the killer instinct.

Then came fidayeen, the suicide squads. Jalauddin, an Afghan, remarked: "I thought the jehad was over. The Russians have left and now our brothers are killing each other... No, this is a new jehad against a new enemy." Langryal intervened: "I am going to Kashmir... We beat the Soviets. How much trouble can a bunch of Banias be?"

In the madrasas run in Pakistan thousands of young boys are taught to believe that salvation lay in the holy war and the greatest honour was to die in jehad, dreaming of the imminent break-up of India and absorption of its fragments into Pakistan.

There is a mention of a conspiracy to kill President Clinton while he addressed the Indian Parliament. The conspirators occupy a farm house on the outskirts of the capital! And, of course, our intelligence agencies work.

The novel is replete with scenes of killing and butchering the members of the families who do not subscribe to separatist ideas. There are sad moments too. There are characters like rationalist Habib who are physically battered and ideologically defeated, kneeling every morning near the increasing number of graves!

Writing on contemporary issues is a hazardous task. It calls for a keen sense of observation and a practising eye to follow the chain of events. Also it needs some research and analysis in sorting out the material. I must say that TV journalist Vikram Chandra has presented the pathos of the lacerated valley through its meandering history.