When I met the Hurriyat patriarch Syed Ali Shah Geelani at his palatial home in Srinagar a few years ago, he promised me lunch. “We make excellent beef biryani at home. Come and have lunch tomorrow,” he invited. “I would love to,” I answered, though I didn’t go. There is nothing called a free lunch. The takeaway, no pun intended, was that he labelled me a Hindu first and an Indian later—Kashmir’s problem in precis. Its politicians and separatists see the abrogation of Article 370 as a conspiracy to dilute Kashmir’s identity as the only “Muslim majority” state.
In Constitutionally secular India, is there place for a state whose character is defined only by religion? Is there space for a political structure which insists that Pakistan must play a role in Kashmir talks? Is there space for state governments which have turned a blind eye to ethnic cleansing of non-Muslim Indians in Kashmir? Is there space for a Constitutional provision that protects this perversion of federalism? Neither the Congress nor BJP 1.0 could summon the will to remove this abomination for fear of endangering minority vote banks and losing face to Amnesty International and Pakistan in the UN.
But is blanket secrecy and the confinement of Kashmir’s democratic leaders “the beginning of a long night in Indian democracy” as an anguished op-ed writer feared? Will anti-Hindi Tamil Nadu be made a UT without consultation? Will Mamata Banerjee be jailed for her defiance of BJP? The parameters of such doomsday predictions are not in sync with the Valley’s status change and the manner of execution.
In Kashmir, no chief minister can survive without separatists’ support. No politician can contain their communal nationalism. Stone-pelters caused Omar Abdullah’s fall in 2014. Burhan Wani’s death in 2016 paralysed Mehbooba’s administration. Mosques in the Valley are hotbeds of armed fanaticism, egged on by ISI and Saudi Wahhabi largesse.
A Patelian solution is the need de jour. According to an account by Rajmohan Gandhi, the Sardar told Socialist leader Achyut Patwardhan, “I can solve Kashmir in six months. I would send Sikh settlers to the Valley.” In fact, Kashmir was part of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Sikh Empire from 1820 to 1846. In 1949, after India lost PoK, Patel informed Dr Rajendra Prasad: “Kashmir too might have been solved but Jawaharlal did not let the troops go from Baramula to Domel.”
Article 370, a toxic by-product of Partition, has been a virus in the national bloodstream. In 1947, HS Suhrawardy, the Muslim League Chief Minister of Bengal, exhorted Muslim rioters in Calcutta saying “bloodshed and disorder are not necessarily evil in themselves, if resorted to for a noble cause.” The constitutional demonetisation of Kashmir’s touch-me-not status shows that the evil that bloodshed brings can be extinguished by a noble cause which dilutes the communal nature of Kashmir’s identity.