Kashmir has changed beyond recognition. In less than five years when I visited Srinagar last, the valley has become visibly anti-India. This does not mean that it has become pro-Pakistan, although some green flags fly in the interiors of Srinagar. What it really means is that the alienation, which was perceptible even earlier, has changed into resentment.
However, the sunny sides like the Dal Lake and its bundh (bank) are as normal as they used to be. Tourists drive straight from the airport to the sites and are oblivious to the fact that the interior is the scene of militants who still lob grenades. I was in Srinagar when violence took place and some grenades were thrown in the interior of the town.
An invitation by an organisation of Kashmiri journalists took me to Srinagar. A few other journalists from Delhi were also among the invitees. Strikingly, no journalist from Jammu was present. Of course, none had been invited.
The Kashmiris’ protest, more or less peaceful, is Islamic in tone and tenor. But it seems as if it is a way of expression, not the content. The content is that the Kashmiris want a country of their own. Most people in India suspect that an independent Kashmir is only a bogey. The real intension of the Kashmiris is to join Pakistan.
But I do not agree with this inference. The very idea of independence looks more like a dream and it has swept the Kashmiris off their feet. If it ever becomes a reality, which is impossible, even the staunch supporters of integration with Pakistan will jettison their agenda and join the ranks of independence seekers.
The sequence of events reminds me of Quaide Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s way of thinking. He raised the demand for Pakistan as a bargaining counter to get the maximum concessions for Muslims in a country where the Hindus were bound to be in a preponderant majority. However, when he found a resounding response among the Muslims he came to own the demand for Pakistan, a homeland for the Muslims. Shaky in his belief in the beginning, he came to be its sole spokesman.
Therefore, there should be no doubt about the real desire of Kashmiris. I could see angry faces when I said in my speech that the Muslims in India would have a hard time if the demand for an independent Kashmir was ever acceded. The Hindus would argue that if even after 70 years of being part of Indiathe Kashmiri Muslims wanted independence, what is the guarantee about the loyalty of some 16 crores Muslims in India?
The argument that India could not jeopardize its secular system by making Kashmir a separate country, which would be 98 per cent Muslims, was not even entertained at the conference. “Your Muslims are your problem,” was more or less the counter argument.
I recall a similar reaction when after the formation of Pakistan I told its Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar that the Muslims in India—they were more than those at that time in Pakistan—were paying the price for the creation of Pakistan. He said that they had to make ‘sacrifices’ for a Muslim country, Pakistan, to take shape.
What has disappointed me the most was the disappearance of grey area in Kashmir, which was visible till a couple of years ago. The stances have hardened so much so that even social contacts between Muslims and Hindus have got snapped. I am sorry to bring in personal example. In the past, Yasin Malik would invite me to his house for dinner and conduct me to his house through the labyrinth of lanes.
True, he has turned what is called a ‘separatist’. But I vainly waited for a word from him. I do not believe that he did not know about my presence in Srinagar. The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front he heads has posted his men at the airport to know who comes from India and when. Yasin Malik gets the “separatists” feedback.
I had Yasin’s fast unto death broken on the condition that I would personally conduct a probe into human rights violations by the Indian security forces. He agreed to my supervision instead of the Amnesty International probe. We produced a report and found Yasin’s allegations mostly correct. The report was quoted widely by Pakistan to the embarrassment of Indian government.
True, Yasin says that he is not an Indian. But our relationship was not on the basis of nationality. Can bitterness snap even personal bonds? Should I presume that I wrongly assumed certain things and that personal relations have no meaning in the face of political exigencies did only Kashmir behind us.
To cite another example of how personal relationships are pushed into the background for political purposes, another Kashmiri leader Shabir Shah is changed person today. He was like my chela (disciple). He was then pro-India. He has changed into a staunch opponent. Yet, I do not know why personal relations should die. Is it the price that I have to pay for a change in Shabir’s ideas?
Kashmir, no doubt, requires attention, especially for those who believe in a secular and democratic India. No amount of opposition should swerve them from their commitment. If they change, it means that their earlier stance was only a façade.
This holds good for the entire India. We are in the midst of challenges to the very idea, propounded by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, who won us freedom. It pains me to see that some voices have begun to appreciate the ideas of Naturam Godse, who killed the Mahatma. Were India to question its ethos, the Muslim-dominated Kashmir would feel insecure. A Kashmiri Muslim engineer, who dropped me at the airport, told how he was suspect even at a liberal place like Bangalore and harassed by the police.
Parties have reduced politics to the identification on the basis of caste and religion. People should assert themselves through liberal organizations or leaders and ensure that the poison of religion and caste does not spread. If the nation fails, Kashmir and many other parts of India may flounder in the muddy waters of religion. The country is on trial.