Saturday, August 21, 2010


India seems to have forgotten that when radicals bent upon converting Jammu and Kashmir into an Islamic state forced seven lakh Pandits out of the Kashmir Valley in 1989-90, they had let Sikhs stay on.

They did so not out of any love for secularism or the Sikhs. Then militancy in Punjab was alive and Pakistan was actively supporting, funding and arming some Khalistani groups. Had Sikhs been driven out then, Pakistan's veneer of false friendship would have been exposed, irreparably damaging its plan to continue to do in Punjab what it was and is in Kashmir. So, strict orders were given to jihadis and Kashmiris to fake common cause against India with Sikhs and not harass them in any manner. That is how the Sikhs -- many with significant land holdings -- who were planning to leave too, stayed on.

Even though they have lain low for two decades and not done or said anything to provoke Kashmiri Muslims, things have got worse for them. As Jagmohan Singh Raina said during a discussion on TimesNow last night, as the situation got progressively hostile, they had to leave their villages -- and farms and orchards -- and move to the safety of the towns within the Valley.

But now, the inevitable moment that was postponed two decades back, is staring them in the face. Sikhs too are being asked to either embrace Islam or leave the Valley. How serious the radical Islamist threat is can be gauged from the manner in which a deeply disturbed and scared Jagmohan Raina voiced the deep fears of his community during the discussion on TimesNow. When a man is forced, among other things, to say that Pandits left the Valley in 1989-90 on their own, and that no one forced them to, it means that he knows that if he utters the bitter truth, whatever little hope he still has of staying on in his land will not only be crushed but he will probably land up with a bullet in his head.

20 years back, India watched helplessly as Pandits were thrown out and made refugees in their own country. Then, helped by a media in unbelievable denial about the nature and seriousness of the problem that Pakistan had successfully managed to create in the Valley, India forgot about them because it did not want to face the reality that it could not create conditions for them to return; it was Partition re-done. The acknowledgement of this harsh truth represented such a fundamental failure of the state that the only way out was to pretend as if it either never happened or that Kashmiri Muslims were not to blame for it, that they genuinely believed in Kashmiriyat and did not want India to 'communalise' the 'Kashmir issue' that is founded and grounded in the Hindu-Muslim communal divide that created Pakistan.

Has anything changed? Does the India of today have the capacity and the will that it did not have two decades back to ensure the safety of 60,000 Sikhs living in the Valley? Of course it does not. If anything, criminal inertia to move even a little finger to uproot the problem from its source, Pakistan, has only eroded both, and significantly. So when the Home Minister says that "nobody will be allowed to harm the Sikhs" even he knows that he is lying, that he is helpless, that his government, out of fear of antagonising the increasingly aggressive Muslims of the Valley, will be a helpless spectator once again when, not if, the threats are turned real by the killing of a few Sikhs.

Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal has warned of "strong reaction" in case any harm comes to Sikhs in the Valley. There is not a great deal that a Chief Minister can do. But he has stated the plain truth that India refuses to face: unless those issuing the threats and the ones behind them are made to pay a price they cannot afford, they will drive all kafirs out of the Valley.

Perhaps his warning combined with the coverage given by a section of the media that is not entrapped in crippling secular constructs floating on bookish rainbows will have the desired effect for now. But, make no mistake: the reprieve will only be temporary. The tactics will change; the threats will become more subtle, the pressure more intense. And eventually, if things continue to drift as they are, they too will have to leave. The 'cleansing' of Islamic Kashmir will be completed.

Sometimes it is difficult to believe that threats to embrace Islam or leave have been and are being made and executed not in a talibanised Pakistan but in a area that India says is its own. We have gone horribly wrong somewhere. Worse, we have learnt no lessons. What will it take to knock us out of this state of denial and self-deception?
Readers may also read:
1. Kashmir: after the gale, back to square one
2. No answer to Pakistan's formidable force multiplier
3. Dealing with Pakistan: lessons from history