This story must be told to make the point on how governments allowed a lobby supporting Pakistan in Kashmir to grow big at the cost of the common Kashmiri, who were betrayed and pushed to the wall.
In the 1990s, then MOS home, Rajesh Pilot, was projected as the proverbial carrot of the policy as against the stick of an administration led by Governor Girish Chandra Saxena in J&K.
The illusion of the two being at loggerheads was deliberate. Saxena, whose soft-spoken persona bellied the image of a former RAW chief, was left to deal with terrorism, unrest and growing influence of the pro-Pakistanis in the Valley; Pilot, the politician, would listen to public, appease some, help others and carry a big bundle of applications — for jobs, phone connections and release of arrested men — back to Delhi.
During one of his visits, Pilot asked me and my husband George Joseph to meet him in the Guest House No 5 in uptown Srinagar. I worked for the Tribune while George reported for the Indian Express. We were happy at the possibility of getting a scoop!
Pilot ushered us into the bedroom, probably to create an informal setting. He straightaway asked us: What can I do for you? I found his question strange while George, who failed to get the nuances of Hindi language, replied, “Please make sure we get press notes from the (police) control room on time. Just because we are Indians does not mean we should be the last ones to get it.”
Pilot’s bright expression suddenly looked sullen; he probably expected us to value his authority more than just a supplier of police handout on killings and encounters in Kashmir. He promised to do the needful and after a small conversation, the meeting was over.
George’s demand reflected the level of frustration of ‘Indians’ in Kashmir. We were not the only ones to not believe in the supremacy of the Hizbuls, JKLFs and Pakistan. Many Kashmiri Muslims felt betrayed and abandoned by the System, which appeased the rebels and the ever-burgeoning ‘Pakistan lobby’.
People who were Indians by belief, temperament and through professions or by simply being normal, would face smirks, social ostracism and pressure to ‘raliv, galiv ya challiv’ (join, die or simply vanish).
The word Indian was an invective; it was blackened out from the boards of organisations, restaurants and shops in Kashmir; people who could not compromise on their identity were counseled to keep a low profile.
Hizbul Mujahideen issued a threat to George and me in 1992, asking us to leave Kashmir within 48 hours. Our crime was that as journalists we had reported the fact of Hizbul splitting due to financial dispute between its factions.
Issuing the threat to us was part of the plan to banish Indians from Kashmir.
Many Kashmiris were simply left at the mercy of new jihadi commanders and their suit-wearing embedded omnipresent supporters. They were in offices, hospitals, buses, schools, restaurants and places where media persons met informally. They were feared the most for they always behaved more loyal than the king.
A handful of leftists – poets, writers, thinkers and academicians – were targeted by the new defacto oligarchs in Kashmir. A couple of them were killed in cold blood and others subjected to the humiliation of seeking pardon for their lack of belief in Allah (La-deen) inside the local mosques. This made many others retract into silence while some fell in line.
Nothing in Kashmir was spontaneous; a well-organised plot to create chaos and undermine the State of India was unfolding without any resistance as the elected government had fled and small-time leaders had been silenced by the gun – many of them were killed in cold blood, often after Friday congregation as they come out of the mosques.
Today people in Kashmir are genuinely disturbed by the blockade of mobile and internet services. However, may I remind everyone that the Valley had remained incommunicado for six months in the 1991-92 after Hizbul Mujahidden blew up a transmission tower atop Peer Panjal at Banihal.
In comparison, the miseries of common people were manifold then. Journalists like me had to look for friends, acquaintances or even rely on a stranger flying to Jammu to carry our typed news stories to our local offices. The telegraph machine in the Central Telegraph Office was resting without connectivity.
Indians were treated as second-grade citizens often making them wonder why a State would appease those who were working against it. I remember the words of Rammohan Rao, media advisor to JK government and a seasoned bureaucrat, “Well, India is a soft state; can’t be seen as being harsh to those against us.”
A Jordanian envoy visiting Kashmir had rattled Governor `Gary’ Saxena when he said that ‘India is a soft State, you have no guts to take on the enemy within.’
The envoy was a member of the diplomatic corps invited by the PV Narsimha Rao government to visit Kashmir. He had read local newspapers in his guest house and was aghast to see the anti-India coverage in Urdu and English newspapers. He had thrown the papers at Saxena’s desk and asked him how a government could allow it to happen?
An Israeli high-up on a secret visit to Kashmir in the mid-1990s also told the government that it can never crush terror as long as anti-India supporters were allowed a free run.
Contrary to expectations, the return of an elected government led by Farooq Abdullah was a boon to ‘Pakistanis’; they had turned into power brokers. The new dispensation was too keen to appease them with government bungalows and other largesse.
The man in the street got his clue – it was prudent to be seen on the side of ‘Pakistanis’ for survival.