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Listen to the Valley: It is the fertile silence of awareness, alive with alert perception

The Indian Express logo The Indian Express 07-08-2020 Haseeb A Drabu
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Exactly a year back, the BJP did what no one in Kashmir ever thought anybody would do — let alone, anyone could do. Constitutional propriety be damned, the fact is it has been done. That was the approach then, and has been the attitude ever since.

After pursuing it with single minded devotion for the last 70 years — BJP’s progenitor, Jana Sangh, started the “Ek Vidhan, Ek Pradhan, Ek Nishaan” agitation in Jammu in 1951 — the BJP finally made it the policy of the Government of India on August 5, 2019. A year later, it has become the nation’s policy on Kashmir, cutting across ideologically diverse political parties, autonomous institutions of judiciary and regulators, sub-national governments, and of course, the national media and the country’s civil society. It would appear that, for the first time in history, domestically there is complete consensus on Kashmir. Small optical irritants — the modality of the abrogation, restoration of 4G, length of incarceration of the mainstream political leadership — notwithstanding.

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Today, there is no “alternative view” on Kashmir. The view that was the dominant one till not so long ago has dissipated overnight. Indeed, even the BJP had signed a “status quo” on J&K’s special constitutional position in its Agenda of Alliance with the PDP as recently as 2015. Historically, political parties have had vastly different views on Kashmir — be it the communists, the federalists, the socialists, and of course, the Congress. Not anymore. Other than a walk out in Parliament and a few half-hearted statements, it has been an eerie quiet on Kashmir in the rest of the country. No one has meaningfully opposed what has been done though some political parties objected to how it was done.

In the last one year, it has become evident that Article 370 was a comfort clause in the Constitution of India — not a commitment in line with the country’s collective conscience. The civil society of India has not only endorsed but celebrated the abrogation of the special status. The media, even other than the cheerleaders, hasn’t taken a dissenting view. Barring a few men of exceptional intellectual integrity, no stakeholder in India spoke up for Kashmiris — not for their plight or predicament but for their rights as people, as citizens and a community.

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There has been no show of solidarity with either the people or the political parties of Kashmir. No one has even called for as much as a nationwide bandh. Not even a promise that if ever they are in power, their party will re-examine the constitutional validity of the abrogation. The federalists like the DMK, TMC, TDP and SP do see the dangers to the federal structure but have kept away from making Kashmir a case in point.

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Mirroring this complete national consensus on Kashmir is the local consensus in Kashmir — the August 5, 2019 decisions are wrong in every which way, constitutionally, politically and morally. Some aspects are seen as more wrong than others, but all of it is unacceptable. The narrative in Kashmir is clear and unidimensional.

Their silence has spoken. To use Paul Goodman’s typology of silence, it is not a dumb silence of slumber or apathy, nor the silence of resigned acceptance. It is the fertile silence of awareness, pasturing the soul, whence emerge new thoughts — the alive silence of an alert perception.

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Going forward, these two realities need to be reconciled. How shall the twain meet? The Centre and the ruling party are pinning their hopes on reviving “political activity” in the Valley. This is doomed to be a non-starter; it can go horribly wrong unless there is political activity on Kashmir in the Union of States, that is, India. There has to be an alternative view to the BJP’s steam roller policy on Kashmir to catalyse political activity in the Valley.

The Valley-centric parties, like the National Conference and PDP, can reach out to regional parties across the Pir Panchal — perhaps, a nuanced version of the “conclave politics” Farooq Abdullah had pursued in 1983. After attending NTR’s conclave in Vijayawada, he hosted 59 state leaders from 17 regional parties in Srinagar. A resolution on Articles 356 and 360 was passed. It helped dilute the impending 48th amendment.

But today, the flirting-with-fortune political parties of J&K are not likely to galvanise support from any regional party in the country. Not only has their support dwindled drastically in the Valley, they have no political allies in the country on this issue. It is from this realisation that the new politics of Kashmir will have to start.

Seeking the restoration of statehood, as has been hinted at or demanded, is a part of the BJP’s August 5 plan. It cannot be the revival plan. It is past tense in the new grammar of politics written nationally by the BJP for Kashmir.

It is time to recognise that apart from an acrimonious history that the plains of Jammu and the valleys of Kashmir share, the two are chalk and cheese — ethnically, culturally, geographically, linguistically, politically, and in terms of religion. Arun Jaitley once, very evocatively, described the two as “adopted siblings antagonistic to each other’s existence”.

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Since August 5, 2019, a series of initiatives have taken the erstwhile state on the road to another bifurcation. Every department is now divided on divisional geography. It comes as a huge cost to the exchequer, virtually doubling the bill. No wonder the J&K government has nearly five lakh employees, one lakh more than Bihar which has 10 times its population.

The idea of dividing J&K into three parts has a long and chequered history. Originally proposed by Owen Dixon in 1950, it found favour with B R Ambedkar. In 1966, Karan Singh, the only one to have literally lived the history of Kashmir, saw merit in separating Jammu from Kashmir. As defence minister, R Venkataraman, and Indrajit Gupta as home minister, also favoured it. The RSS, which has forever advocated trifurcation, renewed its efforts after the State Autonomy Report was tabled in the J&K legislative assembly in 1999.

Rather than resort to gerrymandering through delimitation, demographic change through domicile relaxation, and social engineering to convert a demographic majority into a political minority, it will be cleaner and less contentious to separate Jammu and Kashmir.

Till now Kashmir has been seen as the “unfinished business of Partition”. Lest it now suffer the unfinished business of “reintegration”, it may be better to take the decision of August 5, 2019 to its logical conclusion. Indeed, within its own framework, the only anomaly of the J&K Reorganisation Act 2019 is the state’s bifurcation — it ought to have been trifurcation.

This article first appeared in the print edition on August 7 under the title "Listen to the Valley". The writer is a former finance minister of J&K.

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