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'Not everybody in J&K is an azaadiwallah'

October 15, 2016 09:39 IST

'There is an effort of painting the entire problem as religious one.'
'That Jammu and Kashmir is the way it is because the valley has radicalised.'
'I would be the first person to accept that there is a greater element of radicalism today than it was 25 years ago, but to suggest the entire valley of Kashmir is radicalised and everything you see on the ground is because radical Islam has suddenly taken over is not true.'
Omar Abdullah, former J&K chief minister, explains why 'the situation in J&K is very worrisome.'

Protests in Kashmir on the eve of Eid. Photograph: S Irfan/PTI

Kasauli was welcoming Omar Abdullah home.

Banners had been put up on the road leading to the Kasauli Literary Festival welcoming the former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister who is an alumnus of the Lawrence School Sanawar next door.

On a sunny Friday evening, the panel discussing the way forward in Kashmir included Omar, writer Rahul Pandita, historian Dilip Simeon and journalist Harinder Baweja.

This was the worst-ever crisis being faced by the Kashmir valley, said Pandita where the civilian administration had collapsed and violence had spread to areas that hadn't seen it before.

"For any resolution of conflict you need to speak to each other," said Simeon, "Fanaticism can't be defeated with fanaticism."

The evening belonged to Omar, who provided impassioned assessments of his native state.

He emphasised the basis of the problem in Jammu and Kashmir is political but is being projected as a religious one.

"I would be the first person to accept that there is a greater element of radicalisation today than it was 25 years ago," said Abdullah, "but to suggest the entire valley of Kashmir is radicalised is not true."

Rediff.com's Archana Masih listens in on what Omar Abdullah said:

It is depressing that we are discussing Kashmir in 2016 in the context of conflict and violence.

If you told me in 1990 that in 2016 we will discussing conflict and not development, I would be hard pressed to believe you, but here we are.

The situation in J&K is very worrisome. It is easy to blame the current state government, but that would be too simplistic because the problem runs much deeper.

We need to talk, but talk about what? There has to be a basic acceptance of the problem in J&K before you can talk about resolving it.

My worry is that in the corridors of power that matter in Delhi there is a reluctance to accept the nature of the problem in Jammu and Kashmir as it exists today.

It is seen either in the context of Pakistan or purely as a law and order problem that can be resolved through the use of force or for which a solution can be acquired if enough carrots are handed as announcements for skill development upgradation and tourism.

But that is escaping reality.

Omar Abdullah at the Kasauli Literary Festival. Photograph: Seema PantThe reality is that the basis of the problem in Jammu and Kashmir is political. There is an effort of painting the entire problem as religious one.

That Jammu and Kashmir is the way it is because the valley has radicalised. I would be the first person to accept that there is a greater element of radicalism today than it was 25 years ago, but to suggest the entire valley of Kashmir is radicalised and everything you see on the ground is because radical Islam has suddenly taken over is not true.

The majority of people in Kashmir are still the followers of Sufi-based Islam believing in the word we have coined, Kashmiriyat.

If we look at it purely as a law and order problem or a religious problem or the problem from the context of Pakistan, then none of the talk or dialogue will make sense because we are refusing to acknowledge the ground realities.

The reality is that Jammu and Kashmir cannot be treated like other states of the Union because Jammu and Kashmir did not become part of the Union like other states. We need to understand that the way Jammu and Kashmir became a part of India is different from any other state.

The truth is that Jammu and Kashmir at that time negotiated for itself a different set of conditions and the relationship between the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the Union of India -- where the Union was responsible only for currency, defence, communication, foreign affairs.

Jammu and Kashmir acceded to the Union on the basis of this fact that the four subjects would be the domain of the Centre, the rest would be the domain of the state.

But in time few more of those powers were taken away -- the arrangement was whittled away to the point where we have only 20 rupees worth of special status when we availed 100 rupees worth in 1947.

I am not suggesting we turn back the clock to 1947 and tell the Union you will only be responsible for currency, foreign affairs, defence, communication, but please understand why there is a sense of grievance in certain sections in J&K and why from time to time that grievance manifests itself in protests on the streets.

What you see today is on a different scale. It is more worrying. We saw it during my time in 2010, we saw it in the previous regime in 2008 -- the causes were different but circumstances were in some ways similar.

The difference was that those protests ended because the Centre decided that something had to give. That the problem would not just go away because we wished it away, and therefore whether it was the appointment of interlocutors in 2010 or the opening of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road for trade in 2008 -- some things sort of happened that allowed the protesters to feel that something has come out at the end of it.

Unfortunately, 97 days into this current cycle of protests it doesn't appear that the Centre is willing beyond some words that we heard that development alone is not the solution.

You had Ram Madhav very famously saying 'ask for the moon within the Constitution and we will be willing and talk to you about it.'

Not everybody in J&K is an azaadiwallah. Not everybody is looking for a solution beyond the four walls of the Constitution.

People like me have said J&K's accession to the Union of India is what it is. It is final, but please look at the political nature of the problem and resolve it.

We were promised in '95-'96 by the PM of India that short of azaadi the sky is the limit.

In 1990 Rajiv Gandhi visited as Leader of the Opposition in a delegation led by Devi Lal who said just maintain a little bit of relationship with us, baaki aap saraa kuch le lijiye.

Today we are where we are because we are refusing the fact that J&K requires a sustained long term political dialogue.

My fear is because our attention is now diverted to the frontier and the solution between India and Pakistan, J&K has been consigned to the back burner.

Nobody remembers that there is a problem there.

Nobody remembers that 90+people died.

Nobody remembers that from time to time promises that have been made have been unfulfilled and unfortunately that anger continues to simmer.

Until we sit down and address the problems, whether the exodus of the Pandits and other communities, including some Sikhs, and members of the Muslim community as well.

Unless we address the political nature of the problem unfortunately every few years the problem of Kashmir will be discussed with a different panel, but the problem will remain the same and we will be no closer to a solution.

If we recognise, accept the problem and then start talking, then perhaps sooner than later we will actually find a solution to a problem that has vexed us.

On a question from panel moderator Harinder Baweja that he too had blood on his hands with 116 deaths during his chief ministership and what did he do then, Omar Abdullah said:

I have never denied that my government saw a situation similar to this. The death toll was higher and I have never shunned away from responsibility as head of the government. But have also continuously reminded people like yourself that costly lessons learned on account of that bloodshed is what allowed us to see through six years of relative calm.

LEAD IMAGE: Protests in Kashmir on the eve of Eid, September 2016. Photograph: S Irfan/PTI
IMAGE: Omar Abdullah at the Kasauli Literary Festival. Photograph: Seema Pant for Rediff.com

Archana Masih / Rediff.com