The Bharatiya Janata Party's decision to hoist the national flag at Lal Chowk in Srinagar on Republic Day has stirred up a hornet's nest forcing the prime minister to issue a strongly worded rebuke, inciting political pundits to pen indignant tirades lambasting the BJP for its reckless adventuring and even prompting a sane security expert to sound a note of caution.
But is this scathing and widespread criticism logically valid? Do these naysayers represent the national ethos? Or is this a hysterical knee jerk response of panicky worthies who would rather maintain a deceptive status quo than take the bull by its horns?
The dominant thread running through these homilies castigating the BJP is that a hard earned peaceful phase following a violent summer agitation should not be frittered away. But how exactly do you characterise this peace? Is it a genuine state of harmonious equilibrium reflecting a better understanding between separatist elements and the Indian nation or is it an uneasy pause affected by the separatists to regroup and relaunch another disruptive demonstration at a more opportune time?
For over two decades the Valley has been entrapped in a seemingly never ending cycle that alternates between periods of heightened violence and periods of so-called peace that are timed to conform to the diktats of the separatist's Pakistani masters. Therefore, it would be presumptuous and overoptimistic on our part to believe that this violence free interlude is the beginning of a lasting peace.
Writing in the Hindustan Times (January 21), Barkha Dutt avers: 'So, while the Ekta Yatra seeks its legitimacy in the cover of 'nationalism', in fact, it is a patently dangerous and destructive political approach that will only tamper with an already-fragile peace in the state. If Jammu and Kashmir erupts into unrest and violent regional conflict as a result of this yatra, won't that be the very opposite of national interest?'
But her very choice of the words 'fragile peace' betrays the vacuousness and futility of her contention. Is a peace that is so brittle that it can be shattered by the drop of a pin worth preserving or sweating over? For it is bound to rupture sooner or later for one reason or another. The separatists are past masters in fabricating reasons for whipping up mass emotions.
Certainly it was not the BJP's antics that precipitated the prolonged bout of stone throwing that we witnessed recently. We are kidding ourselves if we believe that our restraint or goodwill will have a salutary effect on the separatists.
Despite a definite element of partisan politics in the BJP's act, it would be a serious error to dismiss this entire mission as nothing more than an act of political upmanship. It needs to be seen for what it really is -- an act of assertion, a symbolic and firm proclamation that sends an unequivocal message: the writ of the Indian government runs through the entire stretch of the country from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. Can anybody object to this notion?
It is the dearth of unambiguous assertiveness that has been the pitfall of Indian policy in Kashmir; a failing that directly fuels the wayward tendencies of separatists, allowing them to run amok whenever they want trampling the ideals and tenets of the Indian State in the process.
We, Indians have a basic mental flaw wherein we shy away from unpleasant confrontation regardless of the merits of our case or the adverse consequences that such inertia engenders. The net result is that we are unable to translate our moral convictions into practical reality allowing law abiding citizens to be held hostage to the tantrums of a belligerent minority.
The most glaring fallout of this pusillanimous approach is the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits. When a quarter million Kashmiri Hindus are driven out of their homes and made to live like refugees in their own country for 20 years, it violates the first and foremost principle of a sovereign democratic country.
And when a government fails to uphold this fundamental tenet, kowtowing to the perpetrators of this heinous crime instead, it forces me to question the very credibility of the Indian State at this juncture; a painful and near blasphemous thought for a proud Indian like me. But that is the harsh reality of current India seen through the eyes of the Kashmiri Pandits.
Some have argued that the BJP's gesture is redundant in face of the traditional ceremony conducted by security personnel in Srinagar. But there is a subtle difference. Raising the tricolour in an empty maidan under the watch of a thousand guns undermines our stand and reinforces the false propaganda of people being terrorised by the might of our armed forces.
But when a mass of unarmed Indian civilians march through Kashmir and hoist the Indian flag in Srinagar, it demonstrates the power of the people and takes the wind out of the sails of the separatists. If the local nationalists join in on this procession, it would further expose the hollow claims of the separatists who constitute a small fraction of the population even in the Valley.
Success comes to the brave and courageous and not to those who twiddle their thumbs looking for umpteen reasons not to act. That is why the BJP must be allowed to hoist the flag in Srinagar.
If not, we will continue to be viewed as a soft state with weak moral convictions ever willing to compromise its ethical values and allowing the rights of the law abiding majority to be held hostage by a violent and aggressive minority: a failing that the separatists will continue to exploit.