Kashmir: BJP has moved far from Vajpayee’s time
An unfortunate fallout of the terrorist outrage in Pulwama is the targeting of Kashmiri students in other parts of the country.
As a result, there has been a virtual exodus of them back to their homes in the Valley, sometimes escorted by security personnel. They have also been helped in their distress by well-meaning non-Kashmiris such as the Sikhs in Dehrudun or Chandigarh.
Among the Chief Ministers, Amarinder Singh and Mamata Banerjee have been prompt in assuring help and punishing the guilty.
This is not the first time when the country has seen such panicky fleeing of harassed individuals. A few years ago, the people from the northeast had to leave Bengaluru and other towns following taunts or assaults because of their Mongoloid features. Africans, too, have been the victims of such racial prejudice.
The present victimisation of Kashmiris may have been fuelled by ill-conceived statements by dignitaries like Meghalaya Governor Tathagata Roy, who, with his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) background, echoed the views of a retired army officer calling for a boycott of Kashmiris and Kashmiri goods.
Another BJP stalwart, Subramanian Swamy, reiterated his party’s longstanding demand for abrogating Article 370 of the Constitution conferring special status on Kashmir and argued in favour of constituting Isreali-style settlements in occupied Palestinian territories by helping retired Indian army personnel build homes in Kashmir and prepare the ground for the return of the Kashmiri pandits who had left the Valley from the early 1990s.
It is not surprising that in such an atmosphere of antipathy towards the Kashmiris, it has become unsafe for them to live and study in other parts of India. It is relevant to note in this context that several colleges in the Dehradun area were forced by right-wing activists to give written undertakings that they would not admit Kashmiri students.
As Congress leader P. Chidambaram has said, it is ironical that “some people” want Kashmir to be an integral part of India but not Kashmiris.
The difficulty with the targeting of Kashmiris is that unlike the cases of the northeasterners or the Africans, which were one-time aberrations, the situation in Kashmir is unlikely to return to normal anytime soon.
Nor will there be a let-up in the acts of terrorism as long as Pakistan continues to harbour the “snakes in its backyard”, to use former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s words, to hiss and strike at India.
For various reasons ranging from the Pakistani instigation of terror to the failure of successive Indian governments to incorporate the Valley within the country in a framework of insaniyat (humanity), as Atal Behari Vajpayee had said, the alienation of the people in the Valley, especially the youth, is a living reality.
This feeling of estrangement cannot but be deepened if the Kashmiris feel unwanted in other states or a Governor or an MP is not publicly reprimanded by senior BJP leaders.
Otherwise, the feeling might grow in Kashmir that for all the administrative steps that are being taken to safeguard the harassed students, there is a tacit approval of what the governor or the MP have said in their party because they reflect the widely prevalent though generally unspoken feelings in the organisation.
It will be futile to deny that anti-Muslim sentiments provide the substratum of the signs of animus against Kashmiris, which are made all the more intense by the prevailing hostility towards Pakistan.
There is little doubt that the BJP (and India) have moved far from Vajpayee’s sane plea to let a sense of humanity exemplified by brotherhood and harmony which constituted the bedrock of the so-called Kashmiriyat, which enveloped the state in the 1960s and 1970s when Kashmir was the backdrop of numerous Hindi films.
It is obvious that it will take a herculean effort to revive the spirit of insaniyat and Kashmiriyat in the present surcharged atmosphere when divisiveness has apparently become a paying electoral proposition.
There does not appear to be any leader in either side of the political divide who can rise above partisan considerations to see Kashmir as a distinct entity where the role of Pakistani-inspired jehadis should be regarded as peripheral to the main narrative of integrating the state ever more closely in India’s embrace by ensuring civil liberties and not pushing the people further away by curbing their special rights.
But no progress can be made in that direction if all the people of Kashmir are seen as real or potential terrorists and, therefore, a threat to the rest of the country.
Nor will it help to ostracise them at personal and commercial levels and treat the state as a colony by acquiring land for settling “outsiders” with a military background.
Because of years of flawed policies, a stage has been reached when only a genuine statesman can heal the breach by keeping politicians at bay. The need of the hour is a gentle touch and not a heavy-handed approach.