An Indian paramilitary trooper stands guard outside a polling station in Chadoora, in Budgam district near the main city of Srinagar, on April 13, 2017. Photograph: (AFP)
Imagine the response by any of the previous Indian governments on Kashmir if today's situation had come to pass. Emissaries would have been activated, delegations would have camped in the valley, some would have received invites to come to Delhi and reassurance would have directly come from the Prime Minister’s office. None of this has happened.
The unique form of protest--pelting of stones, participation of students, schools and hospitals being shut--is a feature consistent for almost a year now. And this has happened in a regime which started with the process of reconciliation and meeting of two ends of political spectrum, that being Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the People's Democratic Party (PDP).
But the dream went bust and the government was accused of not reaching out. The fact that the current collapse of civil administration receives a mute response from the Centre is because it suits its larger politics. Kashmir, instead of being treated as a people’s problem, is being played out as a theatre for a type of nationalism which BJP has successfully churned for electoral politics. It is for this reason that for the first time, "human right" as a word is also being used for the army and paramilitary forces.
But this did not happen overnight.
The voices supporting talks or reconciliation in the national narrative have been sidelined as the weak liberal category
The voices supporting talks or reconciliation in the national narrative have been sidelined as the weak liberal category, making any pitch on their part feeble and without public support. It is in this climate, Kashmir continues to bleed and Kashmiris refuse to participate in hope for the announcement of a grand gesture. Unfortunately, the gesture will not come because the government has already handed over a choice between terrorism and tourism to the people. The government has already thrown in its towel, realising that every attempt by the Home Minister Rajnath Singh has failed.
It is for this reason attempt made by BJP leader Yashwant Sinha did not cut any ice with the Centre. Since the government runs the risk of looking weak, the matter has been parceled to Home Minister Rajnath Singh, whose political capital runs shallow. To expect a package or a complete U-turn by the government on this issue would be to fool oneself. What is evident is that the Centre has dug in its feet on Kashmir and has decided to tackle it from the angle of nationalism.
Now the question is, how will this approach evolve in the long run? The approach rests on the premise that the protest run out of steam and players will come back to the talking table tired, sooner or later. But the risk of this strategy is higher than those tried before.
Today Kashmir has a plethora of street fighters who are children. None of them are getting integrated into the state and political structure of the government.
How will the state then deal with this generation when it gets out of the school and colleges without any sense of engagement with the mainland?
Many in the ruling dispensation argue that the situation is not as bad as when Kashmiri Hindus had to leave valley. At that point of time, the migration represented failure of the state to give security to the minority, and civil society, at large, did not attack Hindus. Today civil society is not only alienated from the state but it has bankrupted local political players of credibility and gravitas, creating consequences for Delhi in long run.
For this very reason Kashmir, today, is very different from the Kashmir of the past. There is a departure from the cycle of violence which the Centre is used to. The new generation is asking fundamental questions on article 370. The article 370 is a commitment made by India at the time of accession. India agreed for a Kashmiri exceptionalism. Whether we like it or not, the fact that we are far removed from Kashmir when we talk about changing the alignment destroys our own credibility. The symbols of unity act as instruments for further violence and divisive politics.
The fact that the mainstream discourse challenges the unique identity of India has itself become a political problem. Indian politicians and resurgent middle-class need to rise above the cacophony of nationalism, homogeneity of symbols and concept of India First in which instead of people, territory comes first.
It is not possible for the Centre to hide behind the logic of normal Ladakh and Jammu. It cannot afford to have an ego with its own people even if empathy has died a slow death in popular discourse. The former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee understood it well. It is for this reason he continues to be the most remembered leader in the valley. He understood the power of hope.
Vajpayee’s narrative rested on it. This similar narrative was used by late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. He raised the bar of hope when he formed the government in Srinagar. People felt that Mufti would usher certain long pending changes. The change didn’t happen, and he passed away creating anger, resentment and rage. It is for this reason PDP leaders came under attack from its own people.
It’s not PDP alone. The mainstream parties in Kashmir today stand discredited. To begin with, we can restore some credibility to them by giving into some of their civil administrative demand and make people in the valley feel that it is their representative who is ruling them and not the political players associated with Delhi durbar. Lastly, what works in the rest of India may not work in Kashmir or North East.
Instead of treating Kashmir as a people’s problem, it is being played out as a theatre for nationalism which BJP has used successfully