AUTONOMY IS A -FIG-LEAF
Home Minister Rajnath Singh has gone and come back from Kashmir. There is no sign of a thaw in violence as yet. There is now talk of the Centre engaging all the relevant interlocutors in Kashmir to break the impasse. Surely, that too will soon come to pass. But to think that the 70-year-old problem can be resolved by the n-th round of talks with those claiming to represent “true Kashmiris” is to delude oneself. So long as Pakistani mischief remains unchecked, India will have to learn to live with what we call the Kashmir problem. Even those shouting slogans of azaadi in Srinagar will lose their tongues were Islamabad to withdraw its material and psychological support. That is the truth.
In any case, everyone pleading for a soft approach towards those shouting azaadi with Pakistani flags in hand ought to spell out what it means for Kashmiris. It cannot be that the azaadi-seekers want the Indian state to leave them alone to do their own thing, aside from managing for them foreign affairs, currency and defence. Neither Kashmiris nor their instigators in Islamabad have invested 70 years’ of pain and sacrifice for remaining under the Indian flag. Azaadi, whatever Mani Shankar Aiyar might want us to believe, means azaadi from India. Autonomy is a fig-leaf behind which Kashmiri secessionists shelter to camouflage the real intent of a total break from India. Period.
Such delusional politics had birthed the Kashmir problem in the first place. Its continuance can only worsen the situation. Under the special constitutional dispensation of Article 370 they already enjoy a good deal of autonomy. Loosening further the grip of India can only be an invitation to her enemies to grab Kashmir. Any suggestion that India should withdraw from all facets of policy-making other than defence, currency and foreign affairs, we reiterate, will prove a recipe for self-destruction. We might as well hand over Kashmir to Pakistan on a platter.
After mollycoddling secessionists and jihadis for 70 years, what is needed in Kashmir is greater integration with India, not less. The international community no longer roots for Pakistan even in the Kashmir dispute. In fact, it is not interested in Kashmir. Pakistan itself is beset with serious ethnic and terrorist challenges. America, its one-time chief backer, is continuing to pay a heavy price for Pakistan’s treachery and double-dealing in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Even China, the new-found all-weather friend of Pakistan for its own geopolitical interests, has indicated that it does not want to wade into the India-Pak dispute.
Besides, it is now acceptable for nations to aggressively defend their territorial sovereignty. India cannot be faulted for dealing most sternly with those who threaten to break its unity. Nobody should remain in doubt that the sanctity of our secular project is irretrievably linked to the integrity of Kashmir as a member of the Indian state.
Only the most squeamish will hesitate to concede that when all is said and done, Kashmir is a problem because those demanding azaadi are Wahhabis who identify closely with the dominant co-religionists across the border. Yes, shorn of the top coating, Kashmir at its root is a communal problem. Indeed, those who decry identity politics in the rest of India seem to gloss over when it is practised in a most virulent form in the valley. Lately, fundamentalist Islamists, as distinct from the usual Pakistan-leaning elements, too seem to have struck roots in Kashmir.
The point is that the government can go through the familiar round of talks with, to use the hackneyed phrase, all the stakeholders in Kashmir. But the result will be the same. A period of relative calm before the ISI instigates another round of mayhem. We have been there before, haven’t we?
Meanwhile, since P. Chidambaram wants to restore the 1947 status in Kashmir and Mani Shankar Aiyar wants azaadi for the boys, the Home Minister should seek from the two gentlemen exact proposals in writing as to what their suggestions would mean in real terms. In both conditions, we are afraid, Kashmir will cease to be a part of India, it being gobbled up in one-piece by the Pakistani generals within hours of India granting full autonomy to Kashmiris. And we are not even asking PC why he did not restore the 1947 status when he was lording over North Block as a grand colossal. Talk is always cheap.
KASHMIRI BIAS IN MEDIA
While still on Kashmir, how come hardly any notice is taken of the sorry plight of the security forces while reams of newsprint are expended on wailing about the plight of the stone-throwers and curfew-breakers? Though Kashmir has been on the front pages of most newspapers for nearly two months, not one report has brought out the extremely trying circumstances under which the security personnel operate. They stay cooped up in barracks, prohibited from stirring out for fear of grenade attacks or even ambush. Their living conditions too leave much to be desired. And while on duty, they constantly face danger of serious injury and even death when protesters throw grenades and stones or fling back tear gas shells.
Could the wholly one-sided reportage in the English press be due to the fact that almost all rely on local Kashmiris as correspondents? If newspapers can post correspondents from Delhi in states like Assam and Odisha, why rely almost exclusively on Kashmiris to report on Kashmir? The fear factor should be overcome in the interest of fair reporting.
NAVJOT SINGH SIDHU KEY HASIN SAPNE
Navjot Singh Sidhu believes that he is all set to become the next Chief Minister of Punjab after the next elections. His confidence might belie news reports about the problems in his finding a perch in Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP, but Sidhu himself did not seem to harbour any doubt about his ascending the Punjab gaddi.
How do we know? Well, the other day a friend returning from Mumbai happened to be seated next to Sidhu. During the course of a one-hour-forty minute flight it was natural for the two to talk. And, sure enough, the persona that Indians are now familiar with thanks to his lowbrow television shows revealed itself in real life.
Not only did Sidhu justify his quitting the BJP and with it the Rajya Sabha seat, he very confidently declared that after next year’s Assembly elections in Punjab he would become Chief Minister. In fact, he gave his visiting card to our friend, a hot-shot business executive in his own right, telling him to visit him in the Punjab Secretariat. “Keep this card and see me. Within six months of my becoming CM, you will see so much industry in Chandigarh that you will not be able to recognise Chandigarh…”
Never mind the braggadocio, but unless he has already stitched up a deal with Kejriwal he cannot possibly expect to lead the AAP to victory. Or could it be that Sidhu is a victim of his own larger-than-life television image, mistaking it to be the real thing? Ambition and arrogance caused him to leave the BJP, which accommodated him despite his erratic behaviour. Now that he is convinced that he is the next CM, he cannot have an easy passage in AAP, a party led by a bigger megalomaniac.