ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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End of Pretence in Kashmir

By ending the ceasefire and an unreal alliance, the BJP has set the stage for its majoritarian agenda.

Recent days have seen the burial of two fictions about Kashmir fostered with varying degrees of ardour. A ceasefire built on a foundation of mutual suspicion was revoked and a political alliance of polar opposites dissolved. But, beyond the make-believe, there was little even remotely fictional about the brutal assassination of Shujaat Bukhari, a prominent journalist and public figure of Kashmir, just as the Ramadan month ended. Nor was there the slightest doubt about the factual foundations of the first-ever report on human rights in Kashmir by a United Nations body, although the Indian government has kept up a brazen pretence otherwise.

The ceasefire in Kashmir was one that dared not speak its name. Averse to applying the term in relation to an entity it regards as an unlawful combatant, the Indian government sought consistently to use the alternative of “cease-ops,” which implied little else than a suspension of coercive operations for a short term. This declaration of a provisional truce came the day the Ramadan month began for the Muslim-majority people of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). It was a measure of goodwill heralded by words of spectacular hostility just days before, when the chief of staff of the Indian army, General Bipin Rawat, spoke his mind rather strangely, in disregard of honoured principles of detachment from politics. The strategy in Kashmir, General Rawat said, was to persuade the youth that “azadi” was simply “not going to happen, ever.” The escalation in violence in the state was of no consequence. Fresh recruitments into militant ranks were happening, but the army would persuade all who fought, about the futility of it all.

Given that prelude, the Ramadan ceasefire proved turbulent, with rancour all around. Violence broke out in a Shopian village after locals declined an invitation to an iftar feast from army units deployed in the district. In a later incident in Srinagar, demonstrators engulfed a patrol of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) after Friday prayers, prompting a panic reaction by a driver who fatally ran over one and seriously injured others.

As demonstrations erupted at the funeral the next day, Bukhari, editor of the Rising Kashmir daily in Srinagar, had to face down relentless social media hostility over his decision to publish photographs of the incident. Using the familiar argot of the social media platform Twitter, he conceded to those attacking him “every right to defend (the) CRPF action,” since that would be consistent with the general understanding of Kashmir as “just a piece of land.” Yet, if serious, his critics had to think through why the “fear of death is missing in Kashmiri youth.” There was defiance in the tone and a counsel of moderation, characteristic of Bukhari’s editorial approach and his interventions over the years in the public dialogue in India and elsewhere. In recent months, particularly since the July 2016 explosion of violence, his tone had been urgent and insistent, even in the rancour and hostility that are increasingly the features of India’s engagement with Kashmir.

Bukhari’s assassination on 14 June, shot at close quarters along with two personal security officers as he left office at the iftar hour, was the ultimate act of silencing the voice of moderation. It is telling that since then, there have been few demands for an investigation into his killing, as that is an unrewarding pursuit in Kashmir’s enveloping climate of lawlessness.

In the media ecosystem that nurtures the extreme line on Kashmir, Bukhari’s killing was read as a definitive signal about the futility of dialogue. The approach typified by the Ramadan ceasefire, with all its grudging concessions, was to be firmly set aside in favour of an alternative, named eponymously for Ajit Doval, the former intelligence chief who is now Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s National Security Advisor. The “Doval doctrine” favours maximum and unrelenting coercive pressure. That disdain for subtlety and nuance was evident in the unilateral abrogation of the ceasefire from the Indian side. Because it was not an approach likely to win favour with the coalition government in power in J&K, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chose soon afterwards to pull out of its dubious alliance with the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), bringing the state yet again under the governor’s rule.

For the BJP, which stumbled into its coalition in J&K after winning a majority of seats in Jammu and losing its deposits in most if not all of Kashmir, the active engagement in governance was just about imposing its will. That enterprise has produced ambiguous results, not guaranteed to win the party much favour in constituencies elsewhere.

Shujaat Bukhari had frequent occasion to fret about the absence of the Kashmiri identity, as against Kashmir’s real estate, in India’s national dialogue. If, to paraphrase Rousseau, a people become more than a numerical aggregation and establish their identity by forging a “general will,” then Kashmir clearly is external to the calculations of the new nationalist mobilisation, except as real estate to be possessed. With its focus now obsessively turning towards general elections next year, the BJP seeks to forge not a “general will,” but a partial one that could carry it to victory. That “partial will” of outraged majoritarian sentiment can be forged only from the exclusion of the Kashmiri.

Within the current global environment of aggressive majoritarianism, India’s insouciance in swatting away a seriously critical report on human rights in Kashmir by the Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, passed without serious consequence. This marks a dangerous new low in accountability by state authorities. For the people of Kashmir, the ­potential hazards are incalculable.

Updated On : 27th Jun, 2018

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