BJP’s arrogance is costing peace in Kashmir

Congress understood that people have grievances and it sought to address those grievances with a time-bound programme for socio-economic stabilisation

Salman Nizami

The sudden turmoil in the Kashmir, though it appears is a reaction to Burhan Wani’s encounter, has much deeper roots. The hyper nationalist rants of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in particular its misleading propaganda in Kashmir, has created a fear of persecution among the politically sensitive people of Jammu Kashmir.

Burhan’s death only provided people an outlet to bring out what had been simmering beneath the surface ever since the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and BJP joined hands to form the government in the Himalayan state.

The tension in Kashmir is always simmering beneath the surface because there is no political dialogue involving all affected parties. In the dialogues that take place, voice of the youth and their aspirations are not adequately represented.

The national media is playing the role of a spoilsport by depicting the Kashmiri’s in a rather distasteful manner, which is further alienating the youth of Kashmir from rest of India, and it is also creating mistrust in the Kashmiris. Under these circumstances, it is but natural that an incident like Burhan Wani’s killings will kindle the resentment that is present underneath.

The BJP is immensely disliked in Kashmir and its ascent to power itself had created near alienation in the people. Though the youth would like to believe in the political leadership of the state and join the mainstream in order to become a part of the progress story of India, the BJP’s posturings undid the years of hard work of the previous Congress disposition.

Before the turmoil first started in 2008 (in recent years), the Ghulam Nabi Azad led government had achieved massive success in winning the trust of the people. He had convinced them to look up to India’s participatory politics. Azad is still remembered as the Chief Minister who worked at the ground level and connected to people.

During Azad’s time, a slew of measures were initiated that aimed at the socio-economic emancipation of the youth in Kashmir. Winning people’s trust in a conflict region is an extremely painstaking task, but Azad made some very good advances. That was a time when people were trying to come out of the shadow of the 1990s. People were fatigued and wanted new opportunities after a decade and half long turmoil.

Congress was in power both at the Centre and in the state that time. It started a dialogue with the youth. We are not saying, stone pelting did not happen in those years, but the Congress never reacted with a muscle-flexing nationalism. Congress understood and acknowledged the fact that people have grievances and it sought to address those grievances with a time-bound programme for socio-economic stabilisation.

Had it approached the issue with a “Bharat Mata ki Jai” theatrics, crushing every opposing voices, people in Kashmir would not be able to come out from the pessimism and outrage of the 1990s. But, the Congress reached out to the protesters with the spirit and large-heartedness of a mature democracy.

Resisting the urge to take people to task, it accelerated efforts to provide them the best amenities, bring a change in their lifestyle, and thus, control the situation.

Azad in the state and PM Manmohan Singh at the Centre opened new colleges, new hospitals, and a host of other civic facilities. People were given the impression that they are indeed the part of a progressing economy. Their cities were improving. New gardens were added. Azad built so many new districts and the existing ones were given a facelift. New scholarship programmes meant that the youth who was going stray now found hope for a better future.

Intervention was also made in the lives of the poor. The services of casual labourers were regularised; new jobs were generated. Industrial units were launched, and loans were provided to small scale business start-ups on a subsided rate. Women were absorbed into lucrative jobs in the Aanganwadis and they were also provided employment through projects like Udaan and Khidmat.

NREGA also generated jobs. Slowly but steadily the mindset of the people began to change. People in Kashmir started thinking in terms like, this government is working. Let’s give it a chance. Of-course the Amarnath Yatra row in 2008 was a setback.

But in a display of unparalleled grace, Azad resigned as CM no sooner than three lives were lost in the clashes between protesters and forces. Which other political party will show such principle? Least of it is expected from the BJP, which is furthering the agenda of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), even though the latter has absolutely no mandate to make policy decisions.

Even when the National Conference (NC) formed the government in Kashmir, Congress continued to play a constructive role as an ally. There were summer unrests in 2009 and 2010 but the reason why people pacified at the end and normalcy returned, was because the Congress treated the protesting crowds as mere protesters rather than bay for their blood and dub them anti-nationals. This is the fundamental difference in the approach of the Congress and the BJP.

The Congress wants to talk, listen, co-exist amid differences. For the BJP, either you join them in their so-called nationalist rants or you go to Pakistan. There is no possibility for a debate, and consequently, no scope for a peaceful settlement of differences.

Ever since it came to power in Kashmir, it is doing everything that will send the Kashmiris back to the uncertainty of the 1990s. It debuted in Kashmir with a sinister beef ban drive. Any Kashmiri will vouch that mutton and chicken are the primary diet and beef is eaten by a small section of people.

But it seemed the BJP was only espousing this campaign to incite violence against the Muslims in JK. And violence did surface, finally. One Kashmiri truck driver was ghastly set ablaze in Jammu. His fault was that he was rumoured to have been cooking beef. First of all what is the incentive of banning beef in a Muslim majority state, if not for sheer domination?

The BJP’s vile agendas didn’t stop here. It brought in the RSS cadre in Jammu. The RSS soon intensified its activities in Jammu where the Muslims already live in a perennial fear of being subjugated. The RSS cadre marched through the streets in Jammu with weapons in their hands. Which democracy in this planet will allow such a spectacle? But, BJP deliberately did this to send in a message to Muslims in JK that their days as free and equal citizens were over. In the name of women emancipation, the RSS started imparting arms training to females.

The outcome of all of BJP’s nefarious designs and activism was that the Muslims in the state, in particular in Kashmir, started harbouring a latent resentment against the state. Just think of the damage it did to Azad’s and Congress’ re-conciliatory measures of a decade.

The mutiny was building and the killing of Burhan provided the final trigger. Eighty nine killed in last 82 days and yet people are not retreating from the streets that have almost become warfields. This is so because while in the times of the Congress, the protesters had some hope that the government will sit on the negotiating table and hear their grievances, the crowd now is totally disillusioned, thanks to BJP’s muscle-flexing ways and Hindutva posturing.

While we do hope the violence subsides, the fascist tendencies of the BJP may just invite a repeat of 1990, with India’s image as a secular, democratic nation taking a great beating at the world stage. To control the current situation in Kashmir, the pellet guns should be banned; high handed ways should be avoided. Government should see that those who killed 88 innocent Kashmiris in last two months be immediately punished by fast track courts, that would make up for the great mistrust this present PDP-BJP govt has generated.

Most importantly, National media should give some platform to Kashmiri’s to air their version of the story too, instead of continuously demonising them.

Author is associated with Congress and can be mailed at [email protected]