Monday, August 25, 2008

KASHMIR: 'SECULAR' SEPARATISM REVIVED OR COMMUNAL FACE EXPOSED?

The raging and seemingly endless violence that has erupted due to the Amarnath land transfer controversy has spilled into the TV studios in Delhi too. Kashmiri separatists, long used to holding centre stage as the only representatives of the people of the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, suddenly find that the people of Jammu as well as Ladakh are not willing to be silent sufferers any more.

In a TV program yesterday, Omar Abdullah repeated a pet separatist propaganda that only a few hundred Kashmiri pundits have been killed while thousands of Muslims have lost their lives in the Valley. Surprisingly, no one spoke up to ask him how could more have died when there were none left in the Valley? And that they had to run from there because they were given only two choices: convert to Islam or face death? Most of our analysts and experts are, unfortunately, still stuck in the Nehruvian denial mode that just does not want to acknowledge the implacable communal monster that the separatist movement in Kashmir is, and has been, for 60 years.

Separatist leader Syed Shah Gilani differs from other separatist leaders in only one respect. He is clear that being Muslims, Kashmiris are automatically Pakistanis and, therefore, Kashmir has to merge with Pakistan. The others believe that instead of joining Pakistan they should get their own country fully independent from India. The limited ‘freedom’ from India that Sheikh Abdullah got in 1947 is not acceptable to them. It actually never really was, after the dust had settled on the Partition of India. That is why, the grave of the Sheikh who was once known as the Lion of Kashmir, has to be protected today from being desecrated by Kashmiri Muslims. So hated is he in the Valley by many.

Some of our leading media luminaries, however, have no time for history. Barkha Dutt epitomised this almost fatal weakness in the ‘We the People’ program on Kashmir telecast on NDTV on August 25, 2008. Being a journalist, she said, she did not have a historical perspective and was interested only in the here and now of the issue. Having said that, she demanded a solution. This ‘orgasmic’ strategy, where the urgent need for immediate gratification overrides commonsense and past knowledge and collective experience, is simply not one that nations can adopt. Such an approach also not only trivialises TV studio debates, it influences the minds of ordinary Indians with half-baked knowledge and understanding, and pressurises policy makers into taking decisions which will be tommorrow’s history.

The hard, communal face of Kashmiri separatism stands fully exposed, thanks to the Amarnath land row. Forget separatists. Even mainstream Kashmiri leaders are still insisting that ‘not even an inch’ of land will be given, even for three months in a year, to the Shrine Board to construct temporary shelter for pilgrims. Mehbooba Mufti said as much as late as yesterday. Almost the exact words were used by Duryodhan when his cousins, the Pandavs, asked him for only five villages. Everyone knows what happened thereafter.

The Lashkar-e-Toiba and Gilani are saying that the agitation in Jammu has revived the flagging separatist movement in Kashmir. Perhaps Karan Thapar agrees with them, considering the way he blasted Arun Jaitley in his progam 'The Devil's Advocate' on CNN-IBN on August 24, 2008. Who else is getting fooled by the reducing levels of violence in the Valley? Who else simplistically believes that a reduction in the number of militant attacks represents a fundamental change in the basic communal character of the problem? A partial pause was on only because post 9/11, among other reasons, Pakistan simply could not keep its foot on the gas pedal without getting the screws tightened by Washington.

The Duryodhan-like and blatantly religion-based response to the land transfer issue has woken up a lot of Indians, as well as the till now virually non-existent non-Kashmiri residents of Jammu and Ladakh, to the real and ugly face of separatism in Kashmir Valley. Some media luminaries and old, ossified Kashmir ‘experts’ may continue to view Kashmiri leaders through rose hued Nehruvian glasses, but the vast majority of real Indians can now see through the fog of ‘secularism’ that had for decades hidden the brutal and uncompromisingly communal face of ethnic Kashmiris of the Valley.

This ‘awakening’, rather than helping the separatists, is going to make their task much harder in future. No government in Delhi or a Governor in Kashmir will now be able to get away by surrendering to the demands and dictates of militants or Kashmiri leaders without facing an unacceptable electoral and popular backlash. No government will be in a position any longer to quietly grant any more ‘autonomy’ to ‘Kashmir’ without disastrous consequences.

In this age of 24 hour television, there is no place for anyone, including separatists, to hide anymore.