India is failing the test on Jammu and Kashmir
There was no animosity between the stone-pelting youth of Kashmir Valley and Thirumani’s family. His death was, what is heartlessly called, collateral damage.
Security forces stand guard at a site of stone pelting in Drubgam village of south Kashmirs Pulwama district on Monday. (Express Photo By Shuaib Masoodi)
Mr Ram Madhav is the pointsman of the RSS and the BJP-led Central government for India’s foreign relations and Jammu & Kashmir. (Is there an irony in that?) On the government’s J&K policy, he once said: “The government will stand firm, eruption or no eruption.”
Mr Madhav is safe and secure at his residence and offices in Delhi, and I wish him well. Rajavel Thirumani, 22, was not. He is dead, killed by a stone pelted by thoroughly misguided young men. It was an unpardonable crime under any circumstances. Thirumani’s mistake: that he and his family had joined a group of employees, availing of their leave travel concessions, to visit Kashmir as tourists.
There was no animosity between the stone-pelting youth of Kashmir Valley and Thirumani’s family. His death was, what is heartlessly called, collateral damage. Unfortunately, the death of the young man was — and is — not the only collateral damage of the ‘stand firm’ policy of the BJP-led Central government. Much more has been damaged in the last three years.
Pillars in Danger
Among the pillars (that hold India together) that have been damaged are:
1. A constitutional provision will be honoured. Article 370 was a historical compact between the Union of India and the Ruler of the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir. It is not the only special provision concerning a state. There are other provisions such as Article 371 to Article 371(I). Another special provision will be added after the negotiations that are underway between the Central government and NSCN (I-M) are concluded and an agreement is reached. Is it the intention to breach that agreement or ask for the repeal of the new Article 30 or 40 years hence?
2. The Armed Forces will be apolitical. On the day all the political parties in J&K resolved unanimously to call upon the Central government to announce a unilateral ceasefire, the Army Chief defined Azadi (according to his perception) and warned “Azadi is not going to happen, never… If you want to fight us, then we will fight you with all our force”. Was that the Central government’s official answer to the demand for a unilateral ceasefire?
3. The Council of Ministers will be collectively responsible to the legislature and the people. There is a Council of Ministers in J&K. It is hopelessly divided: one half acts as if it were the government of Jammu and the other half acts as if it were the government of Kashmir. Even as the Chief Minister demanded a unilateral ceasefire from Ramzan till Eid, the Deputy Chief Minister said “a ceasefire cannot be implemented from only one side”.
4. Every executive action will be responsible action. In J&K, this principle stands on its head: every executive action is an impulsive and insincere action. From inviting the Prime Minister of Pakistan to the swearing-in of the new government in May 2014 to the impromptu visit of Mr Narendra Modi to the nuptials of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s granddaughter in December 2015 to the despatch of an all-party delegation to J&K in September 2016 to the triumphal announcement of a cross-border action (the so-called ‘surgical strike’) by the Army in end-September 2016 to the appointment of an interlocutor in October 2017, there was not one decision that was part of a well-thought-out policy. No one in the Kashmir Valley believes in the sincerity of the Central government. That explains why the all-party delegation was firmly rebuffed and why the interlocutor is no longer seen or heard.
5. The integrity of Jammu & Kashmir will be preserved. Many people no longer believe that J&K will remain a composite state, some even mistakenly believe that the three regions should go their separate ways. The Jammu region is polarised as never before and there are more incidents on the Jammu border (with Pakistan) than on the Kashmir border. The Ladakh region has distanced itself from the Kashmir Valley, but that region too is divided between pre-dominantly Buddhist Ladakh and pre-dominantly Muslim Kargil. The Kashmir Valley is simmering to a boiling point. A muddle-headed policy has deepened the alienation between the three regions.
6. The king will never raise the sword against his own people. With great sorrow, it must be admitted that there is an undeclared internal war in the Kashmir Valley. The muscular, militaristic approach to quell dissent (including stone-pelting) has pushed the Valley to the brink of disaster. Violence and death are on the rise (see table). The PDP-BJP coalition government lacks even a shred of legitimacy, yet the Chief Minister, Ms Mehbooba Mufti, will not end the farce that is becoming a tragedy.
As every day passes, I despair more. All that India, as a nation, has stood for —unity, integrity, pluralism, religious tolerance, a government accountable to the people, dialogue to resolve differences etc — are on test in J&K. India, as a nation, is failing the test.
(The article has appeared in The Indian Express. P. Chidambaram is India's former Home Minister)