Kashmir: Government need to do more than slogans

Students of Jammu University shout slogans during a protest rally in Jammu on April 7, 2016

Source: PTI

When some people, particularly those who have come to be known as bhakts, think of India, they probably see the shining image of Bharat Mata and her lion. To see India as it is, a somewhat battered entity, struggling to overcome the burden of poverty, would, no doubt, be considered unpatriotic.

Yet that is what Bharat, that is India, looks like. It is, a country where 30% people are illiterate, where a third of the children are stunted because of malnutrition, where in nearly 75% of rural households, the main earning member makes less than Rs 5,000 per month and more than half of them have no land, but get their income from casual manual labour.

That is the socio-economic reality, there is also another reality, of a country where large parts of the country — in the northeast, Central India and Jammu & Kashmir are racked by violence arising from separatist and revolutionary movements. Pakistan may be providing aid and comfort to many of these movements, but let us be honest — the roots of the troubles lie within.

The task of any government — state or union — is to overcome these challenges which are truly enormous and will take decades to overcome.

Government by slogans

Unfortunately, what we have been witnessing is an attempt at governance by slogans, a troubling incompetence of those in charge of the government, and dangerous brinksmanship on the part of the Bharatiya Janata Party which is trying to trigger off a wave of what can only be called pseudo-nationalism in a bid to mobilise the electorate in its own favour.

The big casualties in this have been the universities of the country. We have already seen how concocted videos and irresponsible handling of Jawaharlal Nehru University and Hyderabad Central University have roiled the atmosphere of two of India’s finest universities. Now we have the incident of the NIT in Srinagar where a local versus outsider narrative is being encouraged with that same pseudo-nationalist dangerous incompetence that led to the breakdown in JNU and HCU.

However, the challenge in NIT is more complex because it takes place in the context of the troubles of the state. Anyone familiar with the recent history of Jammu and Kashmir knows that it is only with the greatest difficulty that the state was brought back from the brink. People were not just supporting cricket teams and waving the Pakistani flags, but had taken up weapons to fight against the Indian state.

Contrary to what pseudo-nationalists may believe, J&K was not recovered by the use of the guns and tanks of the Army. The armed militancy was suppressed by the Army and the same J&K Police which is being attacked today played a heroic role in defeating the militancy. But more important was the political effort on the part of the mainstream parties — the Congress and BJP — the Union government in New Delhi, the state parties like the National Conference, the People’s Democratic Party and the governments they have headed since 1996.

The less said about the police action, whether in Delhi, Hyderabad or Srinagar, the better. Policing in India is a brutal affair as protesters of any hue in the country know. When the police lathis fly, they do so with utter ruthlessness, striking down men, women, old and young, teachers or students, sadhus and workers — or whoever. For some reason, the Indian State has ensured that modern methods of crowd control are simply not taught to the police.

Poor handling

As for the NIT in Srinagar, it has been around for a while and it has had thousands of students from “India” — in fact, an overwhelming majority — in its student body. Yet there have never been incidents of the type we have been witnessing in the last few days. One can only assume that this is because of the poor handling of the situation.

Even so it would be folly to see the Srinagar developments as a face-off between patriotic Indian students and anti-national Kashmiri ones. But that is how it appears to be treated by the Union home ministry which apparently ordered the Central Reserve Police Force to take over the security of the campus from the J&K Police. The human resource development ministry which played a significant role in messing up the JNU and HCU, is now suddenly all attention and care, and has sent down two officials to check up on the state of affairs. If this does not give the wrong signal to the Kashmir Valley that it is treated as a colony of Delhi, then what does?

It would be an even greater folly to accede to demands to shift the NIT from Srinagar to Jammu, as is being demanded by some. That would only feed into the narrative of discrimination and neglect of the state in the Valley. What the authorities need to do — and it is going to be a hard task, given the emotions now – is to bridge the divide that has opened up between the locals and “outsiders”. This is not an unusual thing in universities across the country (barring the JNU), but it does require some subtlety and leadership qualities on the part of the authorities.

Difficult challenges

Meanwhile, in keeping with the tendency to throw petrol on to the fire, the Jammu and Kashmir BJP spokesman have warned that Kashmiri students elsewhere will be affected by this incident. Well, he should have been told that reports of Kashmiri students being harassed in other parts of India have been around for a while. Recently, a dozen or so students were attacked by a mob for cooking meat in Rajasthan and instead of being protected by the police, they were arrested, allegedly for their own good.

India faces difficult challenges of separatism and violence. Chanting slogans will not help us to overcome them. There is need for the government and the political leadership to understand that the need of the day is astute and sensitive political leadership. The Kashmir problem was not created today — nor will it go away in a hurry.

Unfortunately, in the past two years we have seen little signs of the Modi government applying its mind to the Kashmir issue. True, Modi was instrumental in pushing the state BJP to tie up with the PDP. This averted political instability in the state which already seems to be divided between its Muslim and Hindu areas. However, the Union government has not taken up the larger dialogue which had been initiated by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and followed up by Manmohan Singh.

Like it or not, a resolution of the Kashmir issue requires a settlement between India and Pakistan as well as the Union government and the State. On both these tracks there has been some progress in the past, but at present there seems to be a stasis. This does not make for a particularly happy situation — and things are being allowed to drift once again.

This commentary originally appeared in Scroll.in.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s).

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Manoj Joshi

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