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Posted at: Sep 8, 2019, 7:37 AM; last updated: Sep 8, 2019, 7:37 AM (IST)

The limited options in Kashmir

Saba Naqvi
Saba Naqvi
It is pertinent to ask whether there is a timeline to restore all communication, freeing political prisoners, and eventually holding elections to the newly formed union territory
The limited options in Kashmir
Are we moonwalking or marching onwards in Kashmir? Reuters

Saba Naqvi

We should be proud of being one of the few nations in the  world to try and land a spacecraft on the moon. But have we landed on our feet in turbulent Kashmir? There are some questions to which we have no clear answers, so let’s give readers multiple choices and allow them to choose the correct answer. It’s been over a month since Jammu and Kashmir became two union territories, and its special status was withdrawn. By now, it should be clear to all of us who have covered Kashmir or engaged with it, that the Centre has no plan to win over people in the Muslim-majority Valley — it intends to wear them out. Those who support the recent scrapping of Article 370 say it was not working anyway so why not make it clear that the “new” New Delhi does not pander to the “old” order in Kashmir. There is now no way but the Delhi way, explains a BJP strategist. 

It is an iron fist policy for Kashmir with the velvet gloves off. Those gloves were useful in the age when we postured as being secular and declared Kashmir as the showpiece of that value. There is one thing to be said about the current BJP leadership: there’s no hypocrisy about secularism. It’s pretty openly about Hindus first, and many people seem to like that. It’s the one thing that’s working for the government at a time when the economy is not.

If we were to let the imagination flow, one could see parallels in ancient kingdoms of myth and legend led by a powerful ruler. In mythology, fairy tales, cartoons (and real life apparently), when the rains failed and the people suffered, the king organised a huge spectacle and made a sacrifice of the wicked people in the land. And then, the people would be happy for a while and the king would rule ever after.

To return to Kashmir, the argument also goes that the world is in too much chaos to make much of a fuss over Indian moves, and Pakistan is a discredited nation anyway. So India has a free hand. Indeed going by the Prime Minister’s recent trips to the UAE and Russia, much of the world does not seem to be batting an eyelid over Kashmir. Never mind Bernie Sanders. 

But the primary question is what next in Kashmir? Does the state have a timeline for restoring all communication, freeing political prisoners, and eventually holding elections to the union territory? No, apparently not. New Delhi has plunged in like it did with demonetisation, and we will discover the consequences as we go along. Sources in government say that the strategy includes controlling the media narrative. That’s been difficult with the foreign press  but easy with the mainstream Indian media. The part of the media strategy, seen as being hugely successful, is getting a counter narrative put out.

The second part of the strategy is to tire out the people in the Valley and exhaust their inner and outer resources to fight back. It is actually psychological warfare applied by nations across the globe to subjugate troublesome populations. After keeping people in a state of misery for a while, the psych-ops would involve trying to make them grateful for some mercy. But will it work, given that Kashmir also knows how to survive long lockdowns? Indeed over telephone, residents of Srinagar share accounts of a new collective will emerging and of people sharing food and resources.

So here come three multiple-choice answers to the question: what next in Kashmir?

  • Most Kashmiri Muslims, even those from national parties, whose landlines have become operational, say the Valley will explode at some point in future. People feel humiliated, and are, therefore, more alienated. As the “collaborators” of the Indian state, such as the Abdullahs and Muftis, have also become powerless, more people believe they have nothing left to lose. When this involves losing fear of death, then the experiment in controlled psychology, they say, adds to danger instead of containing it.
  • The version of a majority of Indian TV channels is that people are liberated; they love the Army; huge investments are coming to Kashmir; and we could all soon be vacationing in the state where tourism will boom. Presumably this version is based on the belief that people would recognise that they have no choice but to make peace with the Indian state and subsequently prosper. 
  • The Valley has endured lockdowns in the past, and this is just magnified to the power of ten. But it’s also a miserable extension of what we have already seen in the recent years: huge military presence, spurts of what passes for normalcy, interspersed with continued warfare. Choose one answer, or none of the above.
To conclude, I’d say that a moonwalk is a dance in gliding motion in which a dancer appears to be moving forward but is actually moving backwards. Are we moonwalking or marching onwards in Kashmir? 


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