America's present need is not heroics but healing; not nostrums but normalcy; not revolution but restoration.” Warren G. Harding, US President (1921-1923)
The choir of contradiction is resounding through the hills and vales of Jammu and Kashmir, six months after Parliament altered its contentiously calamitous geographical identity. Kashmir is looking forward to rapid restoration and neo-normalcy, traumatised by ipseity issues. But as the snow starts to melt, optimism is sunny. Traffic is back on the roads. Schools and colleges have started to function.
Markets are open for business. Government employees have started moving files and even embarking on new work. The cacophony of protests and stone pelting has vanished from the blighted streets. Provocative babble from mosques has fallen silent. Above all, since the past six months, terrorists are not getting the same collaborative access as before to bomb and murder at will. New Delhi has been on a PR drive, escorting handpicked foreign envoys and journalists for conducted Valley tours. Barring a few exceptions, international media is either schtum or is writing glowing accounts about the K-situation.
The number of local youth joining terror groups is on a downward decline. In this new enclave of healing where the latitude of identity and the longitude of governance meet, common sense dictates that letting moderate leaders out of Statesville back into state politics would be the Centre’s final healing touch. Yet, something is rotten in the actual state of the Valley. Last weekend, the local administration, led by its Lt Governor, decided to extend Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti’s detention for six more months under the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA).
Both leaders, along with 250 of their ilk such as Kashmiri nationalist nabobs, coalition colleagues and slogan salesmen, have been in the cooler since August 5, 2019 when Article 370 was tossed into history’s trash can. Perhaps for the first time since Independence, three former chief ministers are being kept in the clink on charges of posing a threat to law and order. The cell doors stayed shut for Omar and Mehbooba after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in the Lok Sabha, questioned their rebellious statements making it daylight clear that the two were sabotaging Kashmir’s development.
The BJP’s message to the youth is that Article 370 is guilty of denying them jobs, access to world class infrastructure, better health and education facilities and facilitating the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few political families. It has never forgiven Valley’s Muslims for forcing the tragic exodus of Kashmiri Pundits and mutilating the region’s secular character. Apparently, the prolonged incarceration of the old leadership is part of Plan Modi to forge an alternative political architecture, which is not dependent on the Mufti-Abdullah dynasties.
The Congress is decimated having failed to establish credible political roots in the region. Since the BJP exists only in a few pockets in Jammu, it is aware of its limitations and knows that saffron would never emerge as the dominant force in the Muslim-dominated Valley. Its historically ideological stand against Article 370 has kept away local Muslim politicians. Jammu is its only palatine. The few Muslim netas it adopted failed to get local endorsement. Hence the BJP’s solution is to create rifts in the NC and PDP ranks by selectively releasing middle-level leaders and conferring state awards on some others.
Modi has ordered over 40 of his senior ministers to go on a massive local contact drive to explain to local youth and the intelligentsia about the economic and social advantages of becoming a genuine part of the Republic. Young Kashmiris are being taken to various parts of the country to participate in cultural programmes and are given preferential treatment for admission to professional colleges. The government’s idea is to reap dividends in the long run by wooing the Valley’s inspirational youth. But Kashmir’s perilous past could come in the way of its future’s redemption. Its strategic location, which is surrounded by India’s hostile neighbor, prevents the Hindutva machine from making inroads into the social order controlled by Islamists.
The BJP’s attempt to generate a new socio-political eco-system by immuring the Abdullahs and Muftis can succeed only if locals feel safe and free. It must remember that the Congress could rule the Valley only by jailing or co-opting local leaders. Jails are the best incubation chambers for the birth of leaders. Only those who have experienced the inclement hospitality of bastilles have made it to the catbird seat in politics and government. All doyens of the Independence movement, who spent time in jail, went on to become prime ministers, presidents, ministers, governors and key players in the system. Regional veterans of jail became CMs like in Punjab and Tamil Nadu.
The canny Sheikh Abdullah, who conned Nehru by projecting himself as a nationalist Kashmiri, grabbed state power and ensured his dynasty’s perpetuation for the next three decades. His jailhouse blues became music to his genetic successors and made him the fez-capped Caesar of secession. Political bedfellows such as the Nehru-Gandhis and the Abdullahs rarely make intimate sunsets; Mufti Mohammed Sayeed jumped the Congress ship when VP Singh appointed him as his Union Home Minister with, don’t hold your breath—BJP support.
Over 25 years later, his daughter Mehbooba, too, became J&K CM on BJP crutches. Omar was also a junior minister in the Vajpayee government and Farooq came close to being the BJP candidate for the Vice President of India. Both dynasts are the political progeny of the two national parties — Congress and the BJP. Imprisonment and denial of freedom of movement and expression will not marginalise them.
On release, they would regain credibility and legitimacy, which had become casualties of their political folly. Kashmir needs full restoration of normalcy. Otherwise as someone said, the current “Normalcy is an illusion. What is normal for a spider is chaos for the fly.” Nietzsche’s maxim that one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star can be adopted for current situation. In Kashmir’s case, it could well be the Danse Macabre in this carnival of trial and error.
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