Why Kashmiris feel that India and the world have abandoned them

Bharat Bhushan @Bharatitis | Updated on: 2 November 2016, 11:42 IST
Modi govt sees Kashmir as a security issue, not a political one
Modi govt sees Kashmir as a security issue, not a political one (Arya Sharma/Catch News)

The situation in the Kashmir Valley is exceptionally grim. Not that there haven't been protests earlier holding security personnel responsible for civilian deaths. Schools have shut down before. Shops and establishments have also followed a centralised protest schedule dictated by separatist leaders in the past. The State has restricted the movement of separatist leaders many times before and jailed people under the notorious Public Safety Act.

Then why does the current political atmosphere in Kashmir have an unprecedented sense of desperation and despair?

There is a growing sense amongst the Kashmiris that no one in the international community has time for them. The attention of the world is engaged in West Asia where the larger Islamic world is in turmoil. Any misstep by Russia or the US in Syria can lead to unforeseen and disastrous developments for the whole world.

India's growing closeness with the US and its emergence as one of the potential engines of global economic growth has meant that the world wants New Delhi on its side. It is keen to woo India rather than reprimand it for any perceived domestic misdemeanours.

Pakistan on the other hand has become branded as the nursery of global terrorism, and its international credibility on India-related issues is severely reduced. In more proximate terms, the terrorist attack on Uri has damaged Pakistan and Kashmir more than anything else could have. The indigenous dimension of the Kashmir protests has been subsumed under a dominant public discourse of Pakistan inspiring terrorism against India, of which Uri is seen as the latest example.

Modi's Kashmir policy

Within India, the ascendancy of Narendra Modi had initially created some hope among the people of Kashmir as they thought he might take forward the Kashmir legacy of Atal Behari Vajpayee. That did not happen.

The Modi government's brand of politics has instead resulted in a discernible rightward shift in the national social and political discourse. Government policies - whether accidental or deliberate - seem to be moulding India into a national security state. Everyone is expected to be on the same page as the government on security issues - and Kashmir has been reduced from a political issue to one of national security and law and order.

This situation has been complicated by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP) government in Jammu and Kashmir. It legitimised the entry of the BJP into the governance structures of Jammu and Kashmir on the basis of Hindutva ideology. As a result, the BJP thinks it is all right to see Jammu and Kashmir as a Hindu-Muslim problem and the state's governance as contest for loaves and fishes between Hindu-dominated Jammu and Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley.

"Tendency to blame Pakistan for everything ignores the need to recognise disaffection among Kashmiris"

India's problems with Pakistan have further impacted the public perception of the Kashmir situation. Dissident Kashmiris can now be equated with Pakistanis and everything that happens in Kashmir can be blamed on Pakistan. This obviates the need to recognise the disaffection among the Kashmiris simmering for nearly seven decades. Once the discourse is oversimplified and the perception is created that Pakistan pulls all the strings (not that it is uninvolved in Kashmir), then every protesting Kashmiri can be dubbed a pro-Pakistani fifth columnist. It doesn't matter then how the 'enemy' is dealt with shot guns or pellet guns.

The mainstream media - especially TV news channels and the Defence and Home Ministry correspondents of national dailies - have become a force-multiplier for this narrow, self-serving propaganda of the State. Narrow, because it cannot lead to a proper diagnosis of the problem and, therefore, cannot provide any remedies. It is also self-serving, because it helps the political interests of the party in power by boosting its image as the sole defender of national interest. The frighteningly simplistic question every critic of the government gets asked is whether (s)he is with India or against India.

"TV channels and defence reporters have become force-multipliers for the State's narrow propaganda"

The changes that this emerging reality has brought about in Kashmir and its people are profound and worrying.