Kashmir on the Boil

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Source: Imphal Free Press

The violent street protests in Kashmir continue to be out of control three months after it began, having left 86 dead already in clashes with the police. If this does not subside soon, the death toll is likely to cross the 100 mark. Whatever the provocation, 100 lives lost so senselessly on the streets is too costly by any standard. The worse thing is, nobody seems to have a clue as to how to bring the situation under control, not the state government nor the Central government. Although the issue is much larger, what is bewildering is, even the suggestion that a trust building measure should be kick started by either removing or modifying the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA-1958, as a first step to bring the immediate crisis under control and also pave way for a lasting solution to the problem through democratic dialogues, eludes a political consensus. The BJP is opposed to any move that may dilute AFSPA, not to speak of removing it. Even within the Congress, reports are, opinions are divided, virtually eliminating any hope for the controversial Act to see a toning down. The Eid gift hence did not come. Instead an all-party meet was held today which only managed to resolve to send an all-party delegation to Kashmir to assess the ground situation. It is almost a foregone conclusion now that all these manoeuvres too are unlikely to make a difference to the status of the AFSPA. So where would the breakthrough to the Kashmir inferno come from? At this moment nobody seems to have the answer.

Here is a classic example of a wrong diagnosis leading to wrong prescription. Kashmir problem, like that of the Northeast, is quintessentially “a state of mind”, needing as Pratap Bhanu Mehta wrote in an article in the Indian Express when the current problem was building up tempo, a therapeutic approach rather than a bureaucratic and much less military approach. If the latter two are also indispensable, they must have to be subsidiary to the former. To use a medical analogy, what we have been witness to all this while is akin to a patient with mental problem being given the cruel and archaic electric shock treatment or else being tortured in the flawed belief this would discipline him or her back to normal. As in the medical analogy, the approach to subdue dissent in Kashmir, or in the Northeast, failed for half a century and is unlike to be any different as long as the wrong diagnosis continues and prescription based on it made. It can end, but in total annihilation and not by democratic consent. The peace thus achieved would also be the pyrrhic peace of the graveyard.

The way things are developing in Kashmir, we have a feeling there is more in store. It now seems the relations between the National Conference and the Congress, partners in the Central government, is strained. The Kashmir chief minister, Omar Abdullah, who has been running pillars to posts in New Delhi to campaign for the repeal of the AFSPA, supported incidentally by even the opposition in his state, appear impatient and frustrated. Imagine a situation if he unilaterally decides to revoke the Disturbed Area Act, DAA, from Kashmir. Law and order being a state subject, technically he can do this. If this ever happens, the AFSPA would automatically become inapplicable. Such a rebellion, if ever, would probably attract the ire of the Central government prompting it to impose President’s Rule in the state. That would be a constitutional crisis indeed, and a very embarrassing one at that for India before the world. It would also drive Kashmir further towards the brink, and psychologically distance its population from India perhaps beyond recovery. It is a tricky situation, but still, we are inclined to believe that India must be more magnanimous and take a bold and confident decision to go ahead and do whatever it takes to win back the trust of Kashmir. After all, what is there for India to fear withdrawing the AFSPA with an understanding with the Kashmir government and people that the Centre would reserve the right to bring it back should situation deteriorate to pose a threat to the integrity of the country. We however are inclined to believe such a situation is unlikely. Trust never fails to buy trust and the goodwill thus earned normally builds more goodwill. We hope the all-party delegation headed for Kashmir gathers courage to abandon suspicion and do the needful.

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