The attack on the Indian Army camp in Uri on September 18, 2016 significantly deflected attention of the international community away from the real issue – a homegrown and massively popular uprising in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) and Modi’s BJP brutally oppressive policies against the Muslims of IOK.

The gruesome killing of young Kashmiris, decorated coffins, well-attended funerals, broken families, strikes, curfews, violent protests, ruptured bodies and bruised and battered egos have been the elements of an agonisingly painful story of the IOK since 1990s.

Burhan Wani’s killing has galvanised a new round of activism and resistance in the Kashmiri struggle against the Indian occupation. There are two significantly new dimensions, which have emerged in recent times in the struggle of Kashmiris in the IOK. Firstly, the IOK now has popular local heroes in militants like Wani. The reaction and sustained protests against his killing, notwithstanding India’s default response of denial and blaming Pakistan, are also homegrown. A fact corroborated by well-reputed and independent international media and analysts. Secondly, the party in power in India to deal with the current crisis in IOK is neither Congress nor Vajpayee’s BJP nor even L K Advani’s BJP; it is Narendra Modi’s BJP.

The Economist, on 27 August 2016, observed that ‘Wani was a homegrown insurgent; the young men on the streets are locals’. Wani’s successor Sabzar Ahmad Bhat is also a homegrown militant. According to police officials of IOK, ‘it is very unlikely that Sabzar would have crossed the border for weapons training in Pakistan’.

The local Kashmiri militants no longer hide their identity behind masks unlike the hidden-faced militants of the past. The valley is flooded with Burhan Wani’s portraits and T-shirts. Homegrown militants are gaining greater acceptance and followership amongst the youth between ages 14 and 20 who are coming out in large numbers and protesting fearlessly. More than 80 Kashmiri citizens have been killed, and thousands have been injured by police and paramilitary forces, in addition to around 8000 arrests since the killing of Wani in July this year.

The angry and agitated Muslim youth of IOK is starting to pin their hopes more in violent means than in a peaceful struggle.

Nelson Mandela realised in 1961 after fifty years of peaceful struggle by African National Congress (ANC), that people were losing faith in passive resistance and unless ANC resorted to violence it would lose popular support to the militant Pan African Congress. Umkhonto we Sizwe (the Spear of the Nation) was subsequently formed as a militant wing of the ANC in 1961. Its manifesto read: ‘The time comes in the life of any nation when there remain only two choices: submit or fight.”

The local Kashmiris, for similar reasons, seem to be losing hope in peaceful means of struggle. The Hurriyat separatists lack a sound strategy and, therefore, the power to compel Modi’s government to respect human rights and resolve the issue politically. Divided in pro-independence and pro-Pakistan camps, Hurriyat may lose ground because of their internal divisions and growing frustration of the Kashmiri youth with the utility of peaceful means of struggle. This may result in swelling ranks of the militant youth and more violence while eroding support for peaceful struggle.

Modi and his key associates’ outlook, policies and actions have further complicated the situation for India. Modi, Rajnath Singh, ex-President of BJP (2006-09 & 2013-14) and the current Home Minister, and Amit Shah, current President of BJP, all are considered hardliners and have been conditioned in RSS for decades in Hindutva ideology.

The disconnect between the Muslims of India and Modi’s BJP also prompts frustration, despair and mistrust among the Muslims of IOK. The Muslims in India are clearly sceptical of Modi’s BJP as evident from the voting choices of Indian Muslims during the 2014 elections. BJP won meagre 10 percent Muslim votes whereas Congress bagged 31 percent Muslim votes. There is not a single Muslim MP from BJP in Lok Sabha.  

Modi and his associates’ rise to leadership in BJP have also led to hardening of BJP’s stance on Kashmir. Its election manifesto for 2014, like in 2009, disregarding ground realities in IOK, mentions commitment to abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which grants special status to IOK. It was not part of BJP’s manifesto in 2004. The manifesto is also silent on an inclusively negotiated settlement whereas the Congress’ manifesto, on the other hand, does make a commitment to dialogue with Kashmiris and CBMs with Pakistan.

Modi’s BJP policy of denial and delusion does not inspire any hope for a serious effort towards a political solution to the problem of Kashmir. In contrast, Vajpayee’s BJP made genuine efforts to improve relations with Pakistan despite being criticised within his party for having ‘an obsession for peace with Pakistan’. Advani, although a BJP hardliner, had to resign for calling Jinnah a secular leader against his party’s official position but he never regretted making that statement. Vajpayee and even a known hawk, Advani, had the courage to stand alone in their party. Under Modi, that courage to stand alone has foundered on the rock of exclusive ultra nationalist Hindu politics.

Modi’s BJP is also blatantly discriminatory in dealing with rioters and insurgents. The Jats of Haryana, despite them having attacked police, ransacked properties and gang raped women, and the Nagaland insurgents are appeased by Modi for political reasons. In IOK, he has thrown reason, justice and mercy to the wind and so far has been reluctant to talk even to the Hurriyat leaders. He prefers use of force in IOK and probably believes that it would eventually eliminate Kashmiri resistance. This does not bode well for the Kashmiris as well as for India at large keeping in view growing ranks of militants and violent mood of the local Kashmiri youth.

The role of the pro-India ‘elected leaders’ and the government of the IOK in the current crisis has been of a mere spectator. The popular uprising has reduced Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s government to irrelevance and political space for the Indian State in IOK is shrinking fast.

It is in the interest of the current Indian government to engage the Kashmiri Muslim leadership, including the Hurriyat separatists, and even Pakistan, the way it had been done by Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh, to de-escalate the crisis both in India as well as in the region. The state of Pakistan and non-state actors, if any, must also tread very carefully.

Kashmiri leadership need to develop a better strategy, which must include overcoming internal divisions, finding partners amongst the liberal national and regional parties of India, the Indian Muslims, civil society and the media. It is also important to highlight the plight of the Kashmiris to the international community especially to the international media, human rights organisations and think tanks.

It is critical to help the world understand that Kashmir dispute is not just a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan; it is fundamentally about the people of Kashmir. The case of Kashmir, as a strategy, needs to be advocated and highlighted essentially through Kashmiri leaders and Kashmiri spokespersons. That would attract more international attention and support towards the struggle of the Kashmiris- who are fighting for their rights, for justice, and for freedom.