In one word, the conflict in the Kashmir Valley is all about “alienation”. Whether this sense of locally-perceived “alienation” is justified or not is unfortunately the preoccupying debate that has become the fount of all subsequent actions and reactions, as opposed to addressing the core cause itself — the overwhelming sense of local alienation. The extremities of societal alienation typically morph into popular uprisings that then metastasize into armed insurgencies, as the same pattern has happened in the Northeast insurgencies, the “Red Corridor” of the Maoist movement or even Punjab in the 1980s. In all these conflicts, the initial stance of policymaking in New Delhi remained distracted from the eye of the needle — as all other peripheral, unrelated and subliminal issues assumed distractive proportions and urgencies, thereby muddying the already growing rot of convenient inaction or the sub-optimal perpetuation of only the convenient actions. The invaluable lesson in ending the armed insurgencies in places like Punjab or Mizoram was the ultimately perceived sincerity of the government’s efforts to address the “alienation” through the Punjab Accord of 1985 or the Mizo Accord of 1986 (all within the liberal contours of the Indian Constitution) that initiated the defrayment of the sense of local “alienation”. Importantly, the post-accord period was still violent and susceptible to regressions, yet New Delhi had resolutely stayed the course and remained vested in ensuring the spirit of the “accord”. Over time it appropriated unheeded issues, sensitivities and the much-needed reconciliation that lay the foundation of ending the core issue — “alienation”. Importantly, “Delhi” had demonstrated patience.
The only time in the past three decades of the Kashmiri insurgency that there has been a silver lining of rapprochement between “Delhi” and “Srinagar” had been during the public positing of Jamhooriyat, Insaniyat, Kashmiriyat by then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. In the triad of the formulation, the emotive heal of Insaniyat, as opposed to the functionality of Jamhooriyat, or the reality of Kashmiriyat, had resonated most across Kashmir as it directly assuaged the “pain point” of “alienation”. Unfortunately, the conceptual framework of this clarion call could not evolve into the nuts and bolts of an “accord” and remained a lodestar that has been frequently invoked, though never shaped into a workable construct. It is important to remember that addressing the “alienation” does not automatically tantamount to capitulation or unconstitutionality by the sovereign power — it can emanate from a position of power, as it was the same Vajpayee government that had earlier demonstrated its resolve of policy and governance with the nuclear tests, the Kargil war and in retaining the steel of its security wherewithal within Kashmir itself. The succinct three-worded formula had also restricted the solution framework to the wounded Kashmir Valley itself, without burdening the same with additional angularities and possible misunderstandings that are imminent, when contextualised with the “rest of the country” in a trust deficit stage within a conflict zone.
Today, an alien strain of religiosity transported from across the Line of Control has repressed “Kashmiriyat”, and replaced it with an imported extremism that typically thrives in an environment of “alienation”. The functioning of Jamhooriyat has frequently tripped with Governor’s Rule, under Article 356(4) of the Constitution. This has left only the security forces (especially the Indian Army) as the sole arm of governance to address the core issue of “alienation” — which is an unfair expectation of an institution that is inherently trained for kinetic operations, and certainly not for allaying societal disenchantment. While the security forces have repeatedly paid the ultimate price in neutralising militants in Kashmir, the inherent dynamism of “alienation” ensures an endless supply of disaffected youth joining the ranks of militancy. Conveniently, temporary reprieves are simplistically read as substitutes for addressing the fundamental issues.
What is required to end the “alienation” is the demonstrated spirit of accommodation, compromise and the parallel reiteration of sovereign “red lines” (constitutional inviolability) to initiate the thaw. The window of engagement should be reopened to all the mainstream regional parties, the Hurriyat (as recently broached) or even the extremist elements to partake dialogue, irrespective of the preferences, opinions or pressures from the “rest of the country”, the Opposition parties or even the cadres of the ruling side, who would instinctively revolt against such “succumbing”. All politically inspired bravado of rescinding the constitutional provisions of Article 370 or Article 35A should be visibly gagged — such postured muscularity has diametrically opposite reactions in the Valley, and with the end of electoral season and a comfortable majority, the ruling party can afford to change the narrative. Both Jammu and Ladakh have had very obvious neglect, but to couch the same under the pending delimitation exercise to redraw Assembly constituencies is to pander to the basic instincts and populism that is counter-productive in the Valley. Politically, this calls for a fundamental step back from the stated partisan position (importantly, not the constitutional position). At priority, state elections must be conducted and political coalitions without aspersions encouraged to muster the numbers for government formation and the “voicing” of issues democratically — the tendency to think of Kashmir as only a security issue is both temptingly convenient and terribly insufficient.
Innovative thinking like opening the administrative positions within the J&K bureaucracy to the best of all state cadres for temporary deputation (or even civilian domain experts as mooted by the Centre) to serve in Kashmir as a “badge of honour” could elicit participation from the finest in the field. Previous packages worth Rs 80,000 crores are not even remembered due to their inability to transform lives despite the substantiality of investments, as presumably the implementation machinery was flawed. When there is a multiplicity of holistic “investments” that are political, financial, administrative, electoral, etc, the accompanying security mettle and imperatives like AFSPA become incidental. During “alienation”, transparency is irreplaceable to build trust, empathy and reconciliation — this would entail systemic changes in policing, justice mechanisms and administrative conduct. The Mizoram and Punjab insurgencies were both of minority religious denominations, yet they were spared the lens and perspective of majoritarianism and the “rest of country”. With its thumping majority in the Lok Sabha, the government today is best placed to defeat “alienation”, if it can overcome its own stated positions that were devised when it was itself in Opposition.