Maeeshat, hifazat, abadiyat … The new J&K strategy

The Times of India | January 14, 2022
The late Atal Bihari Vajpayee had coined a doctrine for Kashmir: insaniyat, jamhuriyat, and kashmiriyat. The former Prime Minister was talking about the three pillars that would define his Kashmir policy. These would be humanity, democracy and syncretism. Vajpayee’s remarks found resonance in all quarters and his words continue to be repeated by successive governments. But much Jhelum water has flowed since then, often tinged bloody pink. The generosity of spirit expressed through Vajpayee’s doctrine and his famous Lahore bus trip was repaid with the Kargil War, the IC-814 hijack and an attack on the Indian parliament. Subsequently, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service was repaid with 26/11. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise Lahore stopover to meet Nawaz Sharif in 2015 was repaid with Uri, Pathankot and Pulwama. So, shouldn’t we ask ourselves whether Vajpayee’s doctrine was more idealistic than practical?

Let us look at the first of the three components of Vajpayee’s policy—insaniyat, or humanity. The word humanity is derived from the Latin humanitas meaning human nature and kindness. But insaniyat has been missing from the region for a long time. Some estimates indicate that around 40,000 people died from 1989 to 2002 in the insurgency. In the two decades from 2000 to 2020, there have been 21,813 fatalities. This includes 4,879 civilians, 3,519 security personnel, 12,997 terrorists and 418 others. But the numbers mask the horror of each death. As is often misattributed to Stalin, the death of one man is a tragedy but the death of millions is a statistic. For example, in 1990, a Kashmiri Pandit called Ashok Kumar Qazi was shot dead. But before he died, his knees were shattered, his hair was plucked out and his body was urinated on. As recently as 2017, Indian Police officer Muhammad Ayub Pandith was lynched by a mob of 200 people outside the outside the Jamia Masjid. He was stripped naked and beaten with stones and iron rods. His body was recovered in a mutilated state. Where is insaniyat to be found in this insanity?

Next, let us examine the second pillar of the doctrine—jamhuriyat. This word is derived from the Ottoman Turkish word cumhuriyat that means a republic or a democracy. There are those who selectively remind India about its commitment to a plebiscite, but they conveniently omit mentioning that United Nations Resolution 47 required that Pakistan withdraw all its nationals as a precondition, a withdrawal that never happened. The very politicians who cry hoarse about the murder of democracy through the repeal of Article 370 and the downgrading of the state to a Union Territory were content to rig J&K legislative assembly elections in cahoots with Delhi on multiple occasions. While most point to the rigged 1987 elections, they forget that the sabotage of democracy was normal practice between 1951 and 1983 except for the 1977 elections. Remember also that prior to the repeal of Article 370, the Valmiki community was resigned to a life of sweeping and sanitation while being denied permanent residence, voting rights, access to higher education or government jobs. Were the Valmikis not entitled to jamhuriyat too?

That leaves us with kashmiriyat. The term alludes to a supposed tradition of communal harmony and religious syncretism in the region. But just a few weeks ago, Makhan Lal Bindroo, one of the most reputed chemists of Srinagar was killed by terrorists. This incident was followed by the killings of school principal Supinder Kaur, a Bihari hawker Virender Paswan and a schoolteacher Deepak Chand. The killings were a repeat performance plucked from the 1990s playbook. In 1989, Hindu leader, Pandit Tika Lal Taploo, was killed. That was followed by the murder of Neel Kanth Ganjoo, a retired judge. By the time that journalist-lawyer Prem Nath Bhat was gunned down, there was abject fear among the Kashmiri Pandits, the last vestiges of pre-Islamic Kashmir.

Soon, hit lists of targeted Kashmiri Pandits were being circulated while local newspaper ads were busy exhorting the community to leave. Posters were plastered that advised Hindus to either convert to Islam and join the separatists or run. One wonders where kashmiriyat was hiding when threatening slogans from the loudspeakers of mosques forced thousands of Kashmiri Pandits to flee their homes. Of 75,343 Kashmiri Pandit families, more than 70,000 fled between 1990 and 1992 alone. But those who think that ethnic cleansing started in 1989 are mistaken. In 1931, anti-Hindu sentiments were whipped up leading to the region’s first major riot. It was done with the specific intent of destabilizing the Dogra monarchy under Maharaja Hari Singh and the beneficiary of that communal polarization was none other than Sheikh Abdullah.

Looking at today’s Muslim-majority Kashmir valley, it is easy to forget that Kashmir was part of the Maurya Empire and then the Kushan Empire before falling to the Huns and then the Karakotas, Utpalas and the Loharas. One forgets that the land derived its name from the goddess Kasmira and the sage Kashyap. One forgets that it was a thriving Buddhist and Shaivite culture until Sikandar Shah decided to forcibly Islamize it. There is an oft-repeated opinion that the problems of Kashmir are related to the decline of tolerant Sufi traditions and the rise of intolerant Salafism. The wise observers obscure the fact that Sikandar’s Islamic zeal was inspired by a Sufi preacher, Mir Muhammad Hamadani. Does it even make sense then to talk of a historical kashmiriyat?

If insaniyat, jamhuriyat and kashmiriyat cannot be the basis for lasting peace, then what should be? Let me propose three new Urdu buzzwords to replace the old ones. Maeeshat, hifazat and abadiyat. Economy, security and demography. Create economic prosperity and employment; focus on internal and external security; and encourage migration into the region from other parts of India. Oh wait, isn’t that precisely what the Modi government is attempting to do?