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Take a serious note : A different voice in Kashmir

Posted by :) on August 23, 2010


SOURCE : DAWN

KULDIP NAYAR – from Delhi

Put your ears to the ground and listen carefully. You may hear a new sound in Kashmir.

This is a different voice from the usual All Parties Hurriyat Conference call for an immediate solution or from the rhetoric of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) of Mehbooba Mufti. This is the cry of post-insurgency youth, born after 1989 when militancy crept into an otherwise quiet scene.

This is violent in the sense that the protesters pelt stones, but different because they have not taken arms from Pakistan as the militants had apparently done. Nor have they any ‘top contacts’.

This angry, amorphous force has no defined leadership. The baton of the movement is in the hands of the new generation. What binds them together is the anger against the establishment in Srinagar and in Delhi.

It is not correct to say that hard-liner Syed Ali Shah Geelani is their leader. He sees to it that he is not out of step with them. Yet when he tried to convert them into non-violent protesters he failed. The pelting of stones is their way of saying that they do not agree to the various formulas which have been presented for the solution of the Kashmir issue.

Both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah have failed to understand the ethos of the movement. The Indian prime minister’s willingness to talk to all sections or individuals in Kashmir, as he has said, is a shot in the dark. He has no machinery to reach them. His dependence on the same old apparatus and individuals will yield no results. They are not relevant in the present situation. His thinking has to be out-of-the-box.

In the same manner, Omar Abdullah’s offer to create 50,000 jobs to engage the youth is too late. He should have done so when he came to power after free elections. The youth movement has no economic agenda. It is a revolt against the entire system. Moreover, the economic package has become a joke because very little is delivered after making tall promises.

To understand the situation, two things should be kept in mind. One, there is no Pakistani hand. Two, the movement has nothing to do with the militants. The movement is not pre-planned. Had it been so, it would not have taken a dangerous shape during the current tourist season which yields income to Kashmir for one full year.

It is a spontaneous movement. It started with the killing of teenager Tufail Ahmed Mattoo on June 11. He was a student and not part of the procession which was throwing stones at the Central Reserve Police Force. Mattoo was killed by a tear-gas shell. Everything else followed.

One incident ignited the other and in no time the entire valley was engulfed by young protesters. No party took part in organising the agitation. They jumped into the arena after the event, not before. The youth is listening to them but keep their own counsel.

Anger against Omar Abdullah was the focus of their helplessness. The shoe-throwing incident at the flag-hoisting ceremony on India’s independence day was a form of protest. The confession of the policeman who threw the shoe was: “I did it because of my affection for my people who are being killed every day. I was beaten up in custody and won’t accept anything under duress. They [the police] want me to name PDP or Hurriyat leaders for that.”

This speaks volumes for the repressive methods of the police. What is disconcerting is that the shoe was thrown from a seat in the VVIP row, putting a question mark against the sympathy of even high officials and civil society members.

Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP is a supporter of the movement. She is a problem, not the solution. Her ambition is power. She wants to step in if and when the Congress party parts company with Omar Abdullah’s National Conference and picks up PDP to run the disputed territory. Manmohan Singh should know this.

However, such machinations on the part of politicians have been the bane of Kashmir. By and large, the politicians and their furtive ways are responsible for all that is happening there. Today all political formations — including the Hurriyat — are irrelevant because the angry youth do not have faith in them or their methods.

The vague, undefined leadership that has surfaced is radical and Islamist. It is Naxalism of sorts, with a pronounced religious slant. Yasin Malik, who is in jail, is respected but how far he can influence the movement has yet to be seen because he is against fundamentalism.

One woman journalist, a Muslim, told me from Srinagar that what was emerging was going to throttle gasping Kashmiriyat, a secular way of life.

Both India and Pakistan have not calculated the fallout the movement can have in their countries. India is too overwhelmed and is clueless. Pakistan feels happy that ‘the enemy’ is in the midst of real trouble. But the movement is something which should force the two to sit together for a sober assessment.

This only underlines the urgency of the need for a solution in Kashmir. Manmohan Singh has said that he is ready for it. This has also been the view of the Pakistani leadership.

I know that talks are going on between New Delhi and Srinagar through the back channel. But the main party consists of the Kashmiris. The sooner they are involved the better it would be for peace in the valley. But the Kashmiri youth, however justified in venting their anger, do not realise that none in India and probably Pakistan would agree to a fundamentalist, sovereign Kashmir on their border.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi.

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