Young Kashmir Says Bye-bye Pakistan
Young Kashmir Says Bye-bye Pakistan
30 September 2012
: Traffic lights are a great equaliser and leveller in Srinagar. In the delicate balance of power, they have proved to be a new player, upsetting the existing equilibrium. Ever since they have been installed in downtown Srinagar, army convoys, which had a free run in the past, have had to comply. The local hoi polloi are thrilled to bits with this development. The Army and the paramilitary have been hated for long in the Valley; the constant frisking and checking needle the populace. As traffic lights change, convoys too have to stop mid-way and the people in the immediate vicinity jeer for they believe that the law of equality is now in place. A law which they believe did not exist till recently. As we left the former interrogation centre codenamed Papa 2 for the last time to begin our tryst with Alpha, the humungous Air Force chopper that ferried us to the Badami Bagh military facility, the dam of bitter-sweet memories broke and I was inundated with thoughts and fragments of conversations. Pakistan is slowly and steadily being eradicated from the psyche of the Kashmiris. Papa 2 is the Hari Niwas state guest house built by Maharaja Hari Singh. It was once the interrogation centre used by paramilitary forces. Ghulam Nabi Azad, during his tenure as chief minister, scrapped Papa 2, got it refurbished and turned it into his residence. Like Hari Singh who had to leave Hari Niwas in a hurry, Azad too could only stay there for seven months. My guess is that Hari Niwas is not a happy place for its residents. Anyway, I did not encounter any ghouls during my stay, no screams, no Casper either. Twenty-four-by-seven television and internet has changed the mindset of the Kashmiri youth. The new generation can see for themselves what Pakistan has to offer. They see and read about a nation in turmoil, at odds with itself, caught in a siege within. A nation in complete and utter disrepair failed for most part, fighting for survival. Radicalised and at war with itself. All this is not lost on Kashmiris of all ages, but more than most the youth. I must add that while the last vestiges of the erstwhile clamour for Pakistan is abating rapidly, the embers of azadi remain. Like a festering sore that cannot heal itself, this call for azadi is still being nurtured and kept alive in the hearts and minds of the common folk. Syed Ali Shah Geelani saheb is the tallest separatist leader, his advocacy based on religion and ideology. In a season where as many as 14 lakh tourists have visited the Valley, he called for a hartal the day President Pranab Mukherjee attended the convocation at the University of Kashmir. And it was successful, trade, business, offices, shops et al were shut. There was no violence and no news of anything untoward, but the call for a shutdown was total. Economics comes first and then politics The idea of Pakistan may have died a natural death, but azadi remains embedded in the hearts and minds of the people. Equally, it is understood that India will not give Kashmir away. It is the smart divorce between politics and economics that is coming to the fore. Some of the discredited separatists who own anything from malls on Residency Road to hotels in Pahalgam are non sequiturs in the new equation playing out in Kashmir, but Geelani saheb commands a following and respect. But even he has understood the import and requirements of the new economic reality. Kashmir has to survive, its people need to get on with their lives. As Pranab Mukherjee said during his highly emotional address to the youth of Kashmir, and through that medium sent out a larger message to the people of the world, the Government of India is duty-bound to ensure that every Kashmiri lives his life with dignity. As he said, 'I am aware that there are grievances, many important issues need deft handling and speedy resolution. All Kashmiris have equal rights and equal opportunities, violence only aggravates pain and hurt on every side. There should be greater tolerance in our society.' These were not empty words. He meant every single word. The paradox was not lost, even as Pranabda exhorted Kashmiris to join the mainstream, asking the youth to contribute to nation building, the Geelani-engineered strike was all-pervasive. What intrigued me most was that the tourists from diverse parts such as Gujarat and West Bengal went about their merry way, unperturbed with the security bandobust, visiting the Mughal Gardens and Dal Lake. Remember, Mukherjee is the first real political president in a long time. Since he became president, he has been telling his staff to organise a trip to Kashmir. But scheduling and security issues derailed a visit earlier. Instead he visited Chennai and Kolkata. As he has been telling his staff, let us look at areas which are under-developed, on the frontier and the border, areas which require not just a healing touch, but equally need to be visited with the message of the ideal of India. An India which is on the move, where the width and depth of economic reform will be felt by one and all. By condemning the anti-Islam video in no uncertain terms, he once again highlighted India's commitment to Kashmir and religious plurality. Kashmir was an ideal that both Pandit Nehru and Sheikh Mohommed Abdullah swore by. Gandhiji too appreciated the pluralism of Kashmir and his visit in 1947 is hailed as a defining moment in the history of the accession of the state. Some of the older people still remember the cries of 'Mahatma Gandhi zindabad' which rent the air as a massive procession with Gandhiji at the vanguard made its way down the streets. President moves in to bridge trust deficit The President met a cross-section of people during his short stay, from Gujjars to Sikhs, discussing issues ranging from horticultural expansion to the problems in higher education, to traders, to educationists asking for more central universities - he heard everyone in rapt attention. He was particularly enomoured of the Dal Lake and its ongoing battle with weeds. As he said to Mail Today: 'It is a difficult process, I can see that conservation work is going on, and while large swathes of the Lake have been cleaned, it is the lotus which is impeding progress on the deweeding front. The cultivation of lotus, which is highly profitable since every part of it is consumed in some way or the other, is inhibiting further progress.' Others have forgotten how Mohammad Ali Jinnah stayed for close to six weeks in the Valley trying to build support for Kashmir's accession to what would eventually become Pakistan after Partition. But he was foiled by a determined Sheikh Saheb who refused to meet him. Even on the morning of October 26, when the Instrument of Accession was signed, Jinnah tried to repeatedly call Sheikh Saheb at Panditji's 17 York Road residence in New Delhi in an attempt to woo him to come over. Sheikh Saheb remained steadfast, nationalism dwarfing regionalism. Kashmir requires the same adrenalin shot of nationalism over petty sectarian populism. This can be heard and felt now among the people. I spoke to many who cursed the militants for chasing the Kashmiri Pandits away. They believe the last 23 years have only resulted in 'barbadi' and 'tabahi'. Most of the people I spoke apologised profusely for the externment of Pandits. 'Ya Khudaya, ais du maifi,' they said. They believe that one of the reasons why the soul has gone out of Kashmir and Kashmiriyat is that the Pandit, an equal part of its cultural heritage and diversity, is missing. This missing link has moved on and while many exorcise the ghosts of that fateful stampede, even today, the sins of the past cannot be wished or washed away in a hurry. OTHERS hailed Azad's tenure as chief minister, even Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's term, saying that their strong administrative and political skills stood Kashmir in good stead. Barring Shalimar Bagh, which is in run-down condition, the Mughal gardens Nishat and Chashmashahi were resplendent; Dara Shikoh's four-tiered Pari Mahal straddling a hilltop was gleaming; and the vast tulip field (not in season) was in perfect condition - all three were reminders of the good work done under the strong leadership provided by the two. Harud, or autumn, has never been as pleasant in the Valley and while the presence of armed forces is ubiquitous, life goes on. Kashmir's people seem to have had it up to their ears with violence; local militancy has more or less been crushed. They have to now choose whether they want to join the Indian mainstream. The sense that Pakistan is no longer an option has dawned, but the idea of azadi continues to be flirted with. Alpha by now was soaring over the Jhelum waiting to touch down at the airport. I must thank the President for helping me make landfall after 36 years, the land of my birth and forefathers was as I had left it; its waters dirtier, its landscape cluttered with furious construction, but the mountain air as fresh as ever. As the President's Boeing Business Jet lifted over the Pir Panjal, there was a twinge of regret, but I had made up my mind that like Arnie I will be back!