Voices From The Valley

18 July 2015
The Hindu
Ajay Gudavarthy

Srinagar: In many senses, the mood in the States tells us about the direction of democracy in India. In a recent survey carried out in Kashmir Valley after the coalition government took over, we found a few surprising opinions. Jammu & Kashmir held Assembly elections in November-December 2014, soon after the BJP formed the government at the Centre in May. The elections witnessed an unprecedented turnout. The BJP swept Jammu region with 25 seats. Afterwards, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) and the BJP, most unlikely of partners, came together to set up a coalition government. In the Valley, the overwhelming agenda was to defeat the BJP, which the electorate succeeded in doing, with most BJP candidates losing their deposits. The post-poll BJP-PDP alliance, however, has been seen in far more pragmatic terms by the people. It is interesting that while a majority in the Valley sees the BJP as a 'Hindu' party, they nevertheless think that Kashmir can benefit in terms of development and governance with the BJP in power. In fact, a majority said that having close ties with a party in power in the Centre would benefit the Valley. The stance is partly because the Valley has a Muslim majority, whose confidence in PDP and Mufti Sayeed as a 'local person' responsive to 'local sentiments' is strong. It is also partly the result of fatigue with militancy and a perceptible decline in pro-Pakistan sentiments. The majority of those surveyed saw Pakistan as a 'failed state' and said that Kashmir could not afford to align its future with it. At the same time, however, most of them staunchly supported Article 370, and were confident the BJP would not tamper with it. One middle-aged gentleman said 'Duniya ki koyi taqat Art. 370 ko hata nahi sakthi. Jo ye hateyenge, us waqat inquilab ayega' (No force in the world can remove Art. 370. Whoever removes it will face an uprising.) Many said the force of the response to any attempt to remove Art 370 would be bloodier than 2008, when the Valley saw the violent 'Ragdo Ragdo' protest against allotment of land to Amarnath pilgrims. ' A recent survey in Kashmir threw up some interesting conversations, with the people wanting to move closer to India but also expressing deep hurt at the way they are treated ' A surprising majority of respondents said that AFSPA [Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act] might actually be necessary but that it should be restricted to border areas rather than used indiscriminately. Many expressed anguish about the relevance of the provision in Srinagar. They said they were tired of the arbitrary violence of the militants, but were equally distraught with incidents of fake encounter killings, disappearances, and rape on the part of Indian security forces. Many of them said they felt a deep sense of ill-treatment when they are repeatedly checked and asked for identity cards 'in their own home'. The issue appears to be one more of dignity than of full-stinted support for militancy. This, however, does not mean there is any decline in the support for azadi (freedom). Almost all the people we spoke to argued in favour of azadi, which they translated as self-determination for Kashmir and Kashmiris. It had layered meanings and multiple articulations, including a desire for an 'Islamic State', especially among the youth, who have very little memory of the grand tradition of Kashmiriyat and composite lives with Pandits and other communities. For these young people, the Valley essentially belongs to Muslims, and they had very little knowledge of the Pandits or what they had suffered in the 1990s. A majority thought the Pandits represented India and the humiliation that comes with it. It was the older generation who said that Kashmir was incomplete without the Pandits and, in fact, that education in the Valley had suffered after the Pandits left. From the survey, we gauged the essential mood in the Valley as one between pragmatic understanding and a deep sense of hurt and distance from 'mainland' India. While they see the need for development and for jobs for their young people and, therefore, the advantage of moving closer to India, they also resent the way local people are treated. For instance, many respondents expressed anger and resentment against the hanging of Afzal Guru, arguing that it was patently wrong, that he was not a terrorist, and that his hanging and the refusal to return his body to the family violated the norms. Similarly, many respondents said that the release of Masrat Alam was justified, as he was not involved in terrorist activities but represented the popular mood of the Valley by organising protest rallies. The ball, it seems, is now in the court of 'mainland' India. The Centre must carefully tread between these opposing sentiments in the Valley. It could do so by encouraging dialogue and putting an end to exceptional methods in the State. The mood-of-the-electorate survey using a semi-structured questionnaire was conducted across seven districts of Kashmir. Nearly 150 people, from students and vendors to professionals and businessmen, were interviewed over one week. (Ajay Gudavarthy, from the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, is currently Visiting Faculty with the Centre for Modern South Asian Studies, Tubingen University, Germany.)