Times of India – Devise new strategy in Jammu & Kashmir, time running out

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay

Op/Ed, 7 April 2017. Given his brilliant oratory, unceasing use of alliterations and catchphrases of consequence, one always expects something out of the ordinary in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speeches.

His recent address while launching the Chenani-Nashri Tunnel was widely publicised and prominence given to the juxtaposition of two choices before the people of Jammu and Kashmir, tourism or terrorism.

Now, consider this statement: “Terrorism feeds on intolerance and arrogance, tourism breeds tolerance and empathy. Terrorism seeks to erect walls of hatred between faiths and communities; tourism breaks such barriers.

Terrorism detests pluralism, whereas tourism pays tribute to it.” Most will presume it was part of Mr Modi’s speech not used by TV channels for its reiterative characteristic.

The trouble is that these lines are not the current Prime Minister’s but that of former PM Atal Behari Vajpayee. Matters become knottier as the assertion was made 15 years ago, in May 2002, in the backdrop of rising threats in the post-9/11 world, the December 13, 2001 attack on India’s Parliament and close on the heels of the Gujarat riots.

Neither Mr Vajpayee nor Mr Modi can be denied their right to put forth their contention. However, anxiety swells because Mr Modi’s replication of the argument demonstrates that even after a decade and a half, the Centre views tourism as a panacea for terrorism.

There is no attempt to recognise that terrorism, civilian unrest in Jammu and Kashmir, or elsewhere in the country, have several causative reasons and different solutions.

Mr Modi declared that among the choices people had, dialogue was not one of them. He also did not explain the official monotony and why the government was not exploring alternatives to the path it has pursued since the situation got completely out of hand last year after militant commander Burhan Wani was killed.

Since the tactics that were adopted have not doused the fire in the Valley, it may be time to explore if other approaches would be more suitable.

But since the government refuses to evaluate alternative strategies, there is no escaping the sense that Army Chief General Bipin Rawat’s off-the-cuff statement in February, that those who “obstruct our operations” (read stone-pelters) and don’t support the security forces, shall be “treated as overground workers of terrorists”, is official policy.

As the recent incident in the Chadoora area of central Budgam district indicates, the security forces will henceforth make no effort to distinguish terrorists from civilians.

This is virtually indistinguishable from the State declaring the people as terrorists. Faced with such a stance, can the people be expected to join the mainstream and partner in building a tourist paradise?

Prior to General Rawat’s provocative declaration, the groundswell of public backing for plans to ferment trouble and replicate last autumn’s disturbances, was waning.

However, the declaration that the Army would treat mobs as “anti-nationals” virtually pushed some people into the arms of terrorists and separatist groups.

The government doles out freebies to secessionist leaders, but adopts a tough posture against the people, the opposite of what it should be doing to restore normality in the state.

The trouble with the Kashmir policy is that it is as unidimensional as the ruling party’s definition of nationalism and what constitutes anti-national activity. Disagreement, disaffection, dissatisfaction and even scepticism is seen as anathema. Any action to express these sentiments is painted in a single hue and branded unpatriotic.

Sadly, the BJP plays to the gallery even in the sensitive state and its leaders articulate views with an eye on the Jammu and Ladakh electorate, besides addressing majority community voters from other states.

Mr Modi chose to use stones as a political metaphor. Given that stone-throwing has come to stay as a form of protest, and in certain cases as a tactic to provide cover to escaping or sheltering terrorists, the Prime Minister’s sarcasm, that stones have immense power, was not lost on anyone.

He argued that while the misguided hurled these, the other lot laboured to cut through the rocks to carve out Kashmir’s destiny.

The state needs much more than Mr Vajpayee’s poetry and Mr Modi’s oratory. Moreover, the people need to be invited for discussions with someone with a benign face.

Nearly 25 years ago, the demolition of the Babri Masjid triggered a sense of isolation and loss of identity among Muslims across India. By then, Kashmir was on the boil but Muslims in the rest of the country had little empathy for its “cause”.

Over time, growing Hindu belligerence obliterated this distinction and “being” Muslim became a bond. Anxiety among Muslims has intensified in the wake of the Uttar Pradesh polls.

Kashmiri Muslims still have different issues to those in other states, yet they remain connected because they are seen as a monolith by ruling party supporters.

Jammu and Kashmir has a coalition government only in name, not in spirit, and representatives from different regions remain as alienated from each other as the people. Home-grown terror has expanded its footprint and altered its character since the 1993 blasts in Mumbai.

Crowd-sourcing of terror has emerged as a global challenge and must ring alarm bells in India too. Terrorism can take root without external Chenani-Nashri Tunnel as several triggers for self-radicalisation exist. Terrorists will find new avenues to spread mayhem and the state will have to clutch on to every straw in the wind.

Instead of this, and unearthing individuals and groups who despite disaffection with the state still oppose terrorists, the government is snuffing out all beacons of hope. Tunnels are built to circumvent difficult terrain.

Instead of gloating over infrastructural achievements and listing future projects, it is time to use beneath-the-surface passageways as political metaphor.

The situation in Kashmir does not warrant attempts to conquer mountains that obstruct. Innovative routes to safety and tranquillity must be constructed.

This project needs to be initiated immediately to evade the tempest that this coming summer surely promises to trigger.

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay is the author of ‘Narendra Modi: The Man’, ‘The Times and Sikhs: The Untold Agony of 1984’.



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