By Arun Joshi
A sudden indifference to separatism has surfaced in Kashmir as the place and people are struggling hard to fight COVID-19 that has claimed nearly 3,000 lives and left more than 2 lakh infected. The second wave of the virus is running its brutal campaign and consuming lives on the scale that Kashmiris had not seen even during the worst days of its violent history of over three decades.
This change cannot be ascribed simply to the widespread corona that has killed its economy, tourism industry and rendered thousands jobless, but more importantly to their deep reflection as to what all the separatism and armed militancy delivered to them in all these years.
There were two phases of their reflection; first, when they saw themselves locked down in their houses following the scrapping of the special status of their state and its division into two union territories on August 5, 2019. Second, when the Corona struck Jammu and Kashmir like the rest of the world, and when they were again confined to their homes. The second wave has made things worse for them
Against their own instincts of reacting suddenly to the developments and taking to streets, August 5, 2019, made them to sit in their homes and grasp why things have happened the way those were before them. They were without the special status of their state of Jammu and Kashmir and all their special rights and privileges were gone with the abrogation of Article 370.
They knew that the losses that they suffered in their status and the complete erosion of their special rights and privileges were due to their own leaders whom they had elected at regular intervals. They recalled that how Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Mehbooba Mufti had made compromises on their political ideologies. They were angry that this leadership was no less guilty than Delhi that had snapped their special status.
Separatists, too, came in for criticism, as Kashmiris started looking at their role since 1980s. The separatists had no plans. They were just acting at the behest of Pakistan and made all efforts to paint it as an indigenous movement. True, as it is, that there were internal reasons that had taken them far from Delhi that had not allowed genuine democracy to flourish in Kashmir. Kashmiris’ fault was that they hailed those who picked up guns as “ holy warriors” without realising the long-term consequences of their words and actions.
Now, there are glimpses of change in the mood. Who cares? It was a very casual remark on the death and the burial of separatist leader Ashraf Sehrai, a well-known name in the line of secessionists seeking separation of Kashmir from India on Wednesday ( May 4). It was a shocking statement from a man in his early thirties hailing from Srinagar where all the narratives of separatism used to converge. Two years ago, he was a vocal supporter of separatism in Kashmir.
Another young man who was not afraid of taking up cudgels with the police, vehemently argue defending separatism and its methodology; remarked,,” things have changed.”.
He elaborated the change in specific terms. “ Now it is a struggle to survive, the people are more concerned about their lives and livelihood than anything else. They also know that no one can help them but India at the moment.” And he was quick to ask a question, “who would take to streets in this hour of extreme crisis ?” Even these thoughts have been lost under the overwhelming wight of the day-to-day struggle. Each moment is a struggle. This may not have veered them to the idea of India or it may be seen as expressions of compulsions, but there is a change in the discourse.
Armed militancy of the past 31 halted development programmes
Coronavirus has also reminded them that the armed militancy of the past 31 years had halted their development programmes. The crumbling health infrastructure and absence of everything that they need to reinvent confidence in themselves haunts them.
An understanding has emerged that they could have developed much better infrastructure and escaped the fury of the virus or may be lessened its impact had they not pursued the illusive goals, about which even the tallest leader of separatism in Kashmir Syed Ali Shah Geelani developed doubts.
Geelani’s calls for “ jihad” , and slogan “ Kashmir banega Pakistan”( Kashmir will become Pakistan), sounded hollow to him when he gave an expression to his angry outbursts against Pakistan in June last year. He realised it quite late in the day that Pakistan was not the destined nation for Kashmiris.
He did not speak for India or the idea of India, but his frustration with Pakistan delivered a profound message to the people – that armed militancy is a nowhere thing. It triggered a debate whether Geelani who had summoned the youth to “ jihad” could bring back their loved ones who believed in him and laid down their lives. This was a moment of truth for Kashmiris.
This debate has invoked the inner consciousness of the people as they believe that they had pursued a path of self-destruction, and now it is the time to save themselves from all this and the anger that had given birth to militancy in 1989.
Arun Joshi is senior strategic analyst and author based in north India. He has authored four books , including “Eyewitness Kashmir: Teetering on Nuclear War.” He can be approached at firstname.lastname@example.org