The game plan of terrorists in Kashmir is crystal clear. They will terrorise the population into submission to their reprehensible programme of creating a Wahhabi society in the state. This should not be allowed at any cost. It will sound the death knell of Kashmiryat as we have known it and also perhaps of Jamhooriyat in the state for a long time to come. Insaaniyat is nowhere in sight in the Valley anyway.
The current crisis in Kashmir has a very long history. My memory goes back 45 years. I returned to Lucknow in 1971 disillusioned and despairing. I had been away for eight years and wanted to learn Urdu in order to assimilate with the ‘Lakhnavi’ society. My teacher, also my bespoken mamujan, was Naseem sahib who also happened to be the head of UP branch of Jamaat-e-Islami. He told me in 1972 that the Jamaat, together with its Pakistani counterpart, was working to establish a ‘pristine Islamic’ society in Kashmir. This was the only Muslim majority state in India but where Muslims, influenced surely by Dara Shikoh’s legacy, not only happily co-existed with Hindus but also adopted Sufism and looked for spiritual inspiration from other diverse sources. This rank revisionism needed to be ‘set right’. Never mind the human costs, resources and time it required. The Wahhabi project of radicalising Kashmir started during the 1970s. Authorities in Srinagar and perhaps in Delhi have either been unaware of it or have ignored it. The costs are now too evident.
During Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed’s prime ministerial days, between 1953 and 1964, it was routine practice for Delhi to transfer slush funds to Srinagar to keep him and his henchmen happy. My granduncle, an ICS officer, served as Secretary Kashmir Affairs in Nehru’s government. Making this monthly cash transfer was one of his less desirable ‘official’ duties. This practice, I am told, has continued unabated. Delhi effectively tried to bribe the Kashmiri political leadership on the one hand and impose the iron hand of armed forces, backed by AFSPA, on the ordinary Kashmiri on the other. A deadly mixture that has palpably failed the Kashmiri people who neither received any of the slush funds nor could escape the armed forces’ occasional ham-handed behaviour. Clearly, Delhi has, for the last four decades, effectively condoned and perpetrated unconscionable malgovernance in Srinagar. This must change now if the situation has to be retrieved
Kashmir is perhaps the oldest jihadi project in the world, predating all others in our neighbourhood and West Asia. It has gathered strength due to the sheer incompetence and cynical corruption of the ruling elite in Srinagar. Omar Abdullah had the best chance to reverse this noxious cycle. He blew that chance and should consider himself culpable for ensuing loss of human life and contributing to the de-legitimisation of the state in Kashmir. The people have nowhere to go. Willy-nilly they fall prey to the jihadis.
The people of Kashmir, caught between unrelenting violence by jihadis and brazen corruption of the ruling establishment in the state, seem to have lost all faith in India’s democracy, which in the past they supported at the risk of their lives. No wonder a collective suicide wish seems to have overtaken them. Kashmir is at the edge of a precipice. Urgent action is needed.
In the absence of any real interlocutors, further talks with sundry groups of disempowered civil society groups are meaningless. The government must act with all urgency and resources at its command to address the twin cancer of radical Islamisation and malgovernance in the Valley. This alone will give the people the much needed space to revert back to their pre-radicalised lives when purdah was voluntary, cinema halls were full, women education was the norm, the Shiva temple up the hill from Dal Lake had both Hindu and Muslim devotees, and Sufi songs drifted across the Valley in the morning.
The current ruling coalition can neither deliver good governance nor effectively fight the jihadis. The Centre must take the direct responsibility through President’s Rule for delivering an honest administration that responds sensitively to Kashmiri people’s pressing needs. The state needs a new beginning in which the people benefit from honestly and efficiently delivered public services rather than see all income transfers from Delhi being gobbled by the rapacious ruling elite and the armed forces.
Sustained good governance will provide the space and opportunity for weaning back the population from the jihadi and Wahhabi dogma that is being forced on them. This should not be seen as mission impossible. This pernicious ideology is alien to Kashmiris. However, a sustained effort will have to be made to resurrect and propagate the Kashmiri traditional culture and folklore that has been suppressed. The Sufi tradition will have to be brought back in all its glory and given official patronage and encouragement.
The victory over jihadi forces will only be complete when the Indian state with necessary cooperation from Kashmiri people is able to rehabilitate Kashmiri Pandits who were ousted from their homes in the only act of ethnic cleansing in South Asia with official connivance or neglect at the very least. India must do whatever needs to be done to restore Kashmir’s composite culture and unique identity.
The author is founder director of Pahle India Foundation and Chancellor, Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics