Will the recipe to start an all-inclusive dialogue, while sticking to the policy of muscular and military solution, win the hearts of the Kashmiri freedom fighters? Already the solution forwarded by the BJP government to appoint an interlocutor to initiate talks in Jammu and Kashmir is seen with suspicion and termed just eyewash. So where does the solution lie if not in dialogue and guns? Probably the solution to the Kashmir issue lies in the intentions of the Indian government. Unless Delhi agrees that there is a problem in Kashmir, and lend sincere ears to the aspirations of the Kashmiris and then work towards giving voice to these aspirations through rightly guided steps, Kashmir will remain a sore in the Indian body of politics. Kashmiris are asking for Azadi (independence). There are many versions to independence. Some want an independent Kashmir. Some want annexation with Pakistan. While some want autonomy under Article-370 of the Indian Constitution that allows Kashmiris right to handle all matters except defence, currency, and foreign affairs. It is because of this ruling that Kashmir has a separate constitution and flag. Likewise, no provision of Indian Constitution can be applied in Kashmir without the concurrence of the local government. Though even this Article has never been implemented in entirety, it is another Article in the Indian Constitution that the BJP government seeks to repeal. The sinister design behind the elimination of Article 35A lies in changing the demographics of the Kashmir valley so that the question of the plebiscite, the question of independence, the question of autonomy and the question of becoming part of Pakistan, all are drowned to obscurity, in one push.
Article 35A prohibits non-natives of Jammu and Kashmir from owning immovable property or political franchise there. Together, both Article 370 and 35A establishes a quasi-autonomous relationship of Kashmir with India. In its landmark judgment, the High Court in Kashmir had stated that Article 370 is permanent and the Indian Supreme Court also decreed that only parliament could repeal the article, the BJP government is bent to remove this irritant, but its first choice is 35A. In 2015, the RSS backed public interest litigation in the Supreme Court demanding the repeal of Article 35A. The decision is expected in a few weeks.
The BJP has been averse to giving autonomous status to Kashmir. Its militant wing the RSS has openly said that the Kashmiris Muslim’s “majority is oppressive,” and a “headache for the country.” In the event of the removal of 35A, BJP would be in the position to control territory because of demographic changes through settlements. Kashmiris calls it BJP’s “Israeli Model,” that will eventually establish Indian rule in the region. Already since 1991 with the enactment of Armed Forces Special Power Act, India is controlling Kashmir with 700,000 troops. The ratio of eight soldiers for every single civilian (1:8) makes Kashmir one of the most militarized zones in the world.
One after the other, the Indian government has been providing reasons for the Kashmiris to fear if their autonomy is being usurped gradually. In its election manifesto for the Kashmir’s State Assembly, the BJP has promised to establish colonies for the retired soldiers on lands that would be provided at cheap rates. In July this year, the Goods and Services Tax, which is a single tax system across India was also enforced on Kashmir in spite of the resistance of its people. According to the constitutional experts, the implementation of the tax system has ended Kashmir’s fiscal autonomy.
It was in reaction to the fear of “land grab,” that a revolt broke out in 2008, remembered as “Kashmiri Intifada.” That year the Kashmir government agreed to transfer 40 hectors of forestland to the Amarnath Shrine, a Hindu Pilgrimage site in the Himalayas. The proposal included building a housing facility for the pilgrims. The Kashmiris took to the street and termed this decision an act of creating a state within the state while the political analyst called it a demographic terrorism.
Presently a massive trust deficit resides between the government and the people of Kashmir. Mere appointment of an interlocutor would not rehabilitate relations. It is essential that the Indian government defines the stakeholders first. If the separatists and Pakistan are not taken on board, this dialogue will end up as futile as those taken up earlier. The previous UPA government had formed a similar three-member interlocutor team, but its recommendations were not followed through.
After the appointment of Sharma as the interlocutor, the Indian Army Chief, Bipin Rawat said that this would not impact the anti-insurgency drive in Kashmir against the rebels. It means the insurgents would not be part of the stakeholders. The experts believe that any process that does not involve rebels would return unfulfilled.
So at the end of the day, it boils down to the intention of the Indian government to provide a solution to the Kashmir issue that aligns with the United Nations resolutions and more importantly to the aspiration of the people of Kashmir. And because of India’s hegemonic tactics, it knows the situation has arrived where the Kashmiris would not settle for anything less than going for a Kashmir that is not a part of India.