Kashmir – the solution lies in being honest about the problem. And here it is

Say “Kashmir” out loud and you immediately get to hear words like “alienation”.

As problems mount for the Indian state in Kashmir, slick “experts” have emerged from the woodwork to intellectualize the situation, essentially to make the stone-pelters’ case for them. Adding to the self-satisfaction of these vanity classes is the fact that this is happening while the Bharatiya Janata Party is in the saddle in New Delhi.

Meanwhile some intellectuals have started counting their chickens before they hatch. A few days ago, the formidable Pratap Bhanu Mehta declared, with barely, concealed glee, that “Kashmir has been lost on Modi’s watch”.

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They say that Kashmir’s youth have finally lost all patience with the government in Delhi. Their hopes and dreams have all been belied. They no longer trust anything we say. They want “Azaadi” and they are going to take it now. They have been “alienated” to this hopeless extent.

At the core of this “alienation” hypothesis is an assumption that has never actually been challenged. The assumption is that Kashmiris are angry because of the way life turned out for them inside the Indian state.

Why? How do you know Kashmiris are angry because of something we did?

Obviously, you will point to pellet guns and all, but I am not talking about the incidents in last few months. The “Kashmiriyat” brigade is feeling “alienated” since time immemorial.

Let’s examine the foundations of the “alienation” hypothesis. What is the problem with the Indian state in Kashmir? Misgovernance? Corruption? I would be eager to know if there is any part of the country where misgovernance and corruption has not been endemic. No, that can’t be it.

Did India run some kind of extraction colony in Kashmir, snatching their natural resources? Absolutely not. On the contrary, Article 370 prevents other Indians from buying property in Kashmir. This protection is a purely one way street, since Kashmiris are allowed to freely acquire property in every part of the country.

In fact, the Indian state has always showered J&K with money. Further, the Indian state has always looked the other way as the lion’s share of this money was cornered by Kashmir by denying Jammu (and Ladakh) their due. Ironically, the latter two regions consist almost entirely of loyal citizens who would never dream of raising a hand against India.

Then where is this “alienation” coming from? I hear that the polls of 1987 were rigged and Kashmiris are angry about this. Seriously? They are still angry about rigged elections from 1987? Prior to the days of the legendary T N Seshan, most elections in India were marked by large scale fraud. Booth capturing and ballot box stuffing were routine. I believe it is not until 2005 that Bihar finally got to vote in a free and fair election. But the “Bihari separatist movement” has mostly been a non-starter. Wonder why?

Is it because of AFSPA? If the extraordinary violence in the Kashmir valley were to stop tomorrow, does anyone seriously believe that AFSPA would continue? Further, that is a chicken and egg problem.

Here’s an alternative hypothesis: The separatist Kashmiri Muslims hate us because they think they are fighting a battle with us that goes beyond this world and its worldly concerns. They are fighting to turn Kashmir from Dar-al-harb to Dar-al-Islam.

To “win” in Kashmir, we have to understand the motivations of the enemy. We have to understand what the enemy wants.

In this case, the enemy thinks they are being divinely guided from heaven. We can’t pacify them with “earth based incentives” of money, development schemes, jobs, etc.

Once we come to appreciate this, we can take the right steps in Kashmir. We have to lay down the law and make it clear that Dar-al-Islam in Kashmir doesn’t stand a chance. That resistance is futile.

Does that mean that we are doomed to fight an endless bloody war in Kashmir? Absolutely NOT.

Islam, incidentally, is a faith that makes surprisingly pragmatic prescriptions to its followers so as to address specific circumstances. For instance, a practice in Shia Islam called Taqqiya allows believers to deny their faith when faced with persecution. Really savvy, isn’t it? In a similar vein, Islamic scholars generally agree that Muslims should obey the laws of the country in which they live. Thus Islam generally does not recommend fighting foolish battles in which there is no hope of victory.

The reason there is still fighting in Kashmir is because they think they have a chance. The “alienation” brigade is fuelling this illusion, which makes them so dangerous. Take away this hope and Kashmir will be peaceful.

Kashmir is not a conflict about “alienation” or “rigged elections”. It’s a conflict about religion. The solutions begin only with accepting this fact.

Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or not be an Assistant Professor at IISc Bangalore.

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