Selfie Militancy, A Developing Crisis

16 November 2015
The Hindu
Radha Kumar

New Delhi: While political parties and the media debate the remarkable election upset in Bihar, and rightly hope that it will lead to a course corrective in election campaigning, little attention has been paid to another event that took place the day before the results were announced: Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Jammu and Kashmir on November 7. The visit was the first since the Bharatiya Janata Party-Peoples Democratic Party (BJP-PDP) coalition took power in Jammu and Kashmir, in early 2015, and had been hyped both in Srinagar and in Delhi as one in which important political announcements would be made, even perhaps a reassurance to the Muslim minority in India and an offer of peace talks with Pakistan. The Prime Minister, it was hinted, would renew the initiatives taken by Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee when he was Prime Minister over 10 years ago. Implications of package In the event, however, what was announced was Central government aid of Rs.80,000 crore, part of it to help the State recover from the economic losses caused by the floods and some of it to expand connectivity. Over 40 per cent of the grant will go towards four-laning the Udhampur-Ramban and Ramban-Banihal sections of National Highway 44, which should certainly help boost the economy though it remains to be seen whether it will also help prevent blockades of the highway. Whether the remainder will prove effective in helping the State recover depends a large extent on how it is allocated and whether implementation will be honest and transparent. The announcement of the aid has not only been a damp squib, but also seems to have underlined the absence of a strong political message. Mr. Modi did make a reference to Mr. Vajpayee's initiative and pledged to build on his slogan of 'Kashmiriyat, Jamhooriyat, Insaniyat', saying that India was incomplete without the Sufi tradition of Kashmiriyat. He also talked of the pain of the Kashmiri youth and the scourge of unemployment, saying that New Delhi's treasury and heart were alike open to Kashmir. In a surprising reference to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's speech at Jammu University, he further spoke about building a 'New Kashmir', which was Sheikh Abdullah's slogan 50 years ago. Impact of strife Given the heated political situation in the State, however, his words were taken as an attempt to revive outworn symbols rather than the preamble to concrete political initiatives. Communal tensions have been high in Jammu and Kashmir ever since a truck driver was killed in Udhampur in October over the suspicion that he was smuggling beef. MLA Rashid, himself impetuous, was beaten up in the State Assembly by BJP MLAs, again in October, because he hosted a 'beef party' in response to the High Court's upholding of the beef ban in Jammu and Kashmir. Subsequently, he had his face blackened in Delhi over the same issue. Reports of a demonstration by Hindu radicals with swords in Jammu have further exacerbated the rising communal divide between Jammu and the Valley. An expression of regret over these events would have been helpful but Mr. Modi made no reference to them. Nor did he seek to give reassurances on other contentious issues that arose after his government took power, such as a rollback of Article 370, or whether his party remains committed to implement the common minimum programme on which the BJP and PDP had based their alliance. Protests broke out in the aftermath of the Prime Minister's visit and have continued. A young man was killed by an unexploded tear gas shell soon after Mr. Modi had left the State - a similar incident was the trigger for the youth revolt of 2010. Over the past few months there has been a revival of militancy in the Valley, with innumerable commentators pointing out that 'the new militancy' not only glorifies youth with guns, but also that the youth who are now joining up do not conceal their identities but rather flaunt them on social media. The use of social media What is the meaning of this selfie militancy? Is it that these young men prefer to wage their battles through social media rather than armed conflict, in which the gun is a decorative prop rather than a weapon of war? Or is it that militant youth do not fear the security forces because they know they will be sheltered and protected by the local population? Either way, the message is alarming. Even if today's selfie militancy is largely about propaganda rather than armed conflict, we can be sure that some of the young men they recruit will mount attacks on security forces leading to retaliation and further alienation. If, on the other hand, the new militants flaunt their faces because they know they will be protected by the local population, then we are in for a hard and protracted time. From 2008 to 2010, Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed relative peace because the people of the State were tired of armed conflict and no longer willing to protect and shelter militants. After the violence of the summer of 2010, when anger at the security forces, including or especially the police, was at its height, local populations remained opposed to a renewal of militancy. If today that resistance has faded, then the State and Central governments need to take urgent and remedial measures. The way forward A positive interpretation of Mr. Modi's speech could suggest that his broad reference to Mr. Vajpayee's policy was a signal that concrete initiatives are in the pipeline. However, there appears to be a growing rift between the BJP and the PDP in Jammu and Kashmir, which will make action more difficult. From within, both the legislators of the BJP and PDP are urging party leaders to dissolve the coalition. Without a strong political initiative from the Centre, the two coalition partners are bound to drift further apart, allowing for more space and support for militancy to grow. What could such an initiative comprise? First, the political parties can get their cadre to eschew activities that could exacerbate communal tension; alongside they could encourage serious dialogue with civil society to rebuild bridges within and between the State's estranged regions. Second, they could work towards implementing the common minimum programme, which included a pledge to continue the peace process along the framework that had been constructed by Mr. Vajpayee and developed by Dr. Singh (with Mufti Sayeed heading the State government). The Mirwaiz Hurriyat had put out feelers for dialogue when Mr. Modi's government came into power last year; since then there have been rumours that such a dialogue was being quietly explored, but these remain rumours though the resumption of dialogue could be a major confidence booster. Finally, they could encourage a cross- Line of Control dialogue on self-rule, beginning with representatives from civil society from all three parts of the former princely state and then involving elected representatives. The militant groups backed by Pakistan such as the Hizb and Lashkar have recently reasserted the old position of plebiscite and armed conflict, or, alternatively, UN-led India-Pakistan talks. In its U-turn away from the achievements of the 2004-6 peace process, the Pakistan government appears also to have fallen back on the militants' position. A political initiative that begins from Jammu and Kashmir, backed by Mr. Modi's government at the Centre, could provide the vital breakthrough for a peace process geared towards feasible outcomes. To do nothing will only precipitate what is a dawning crisis in the State and for its relations in India. (Radha Kumar is Director-General of the Delhi Policy Group. The views expressed here are personal.)

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