One ought to applaud the State and Union governments for standing up to the BJP’s march to Lal Chowk in Srinagar to hoist the Indian flag. It was expected that the State government (with support from New Delhi) would allow the BJP yatra to enter the Valley, and leave it to the security forces to physically prevent them from entering Srinagar. Thankfully, there was no political paralysis on the issue and matters were handed over to the security forces in Kashmir. In perhaps one of the clearest policy moves yet, the government prevented the BJP yatra from crossing Jammu. What next?
The BJP, from its initiation, was never serious about protecting any long-term national interests. It emphasized cheap publicity for narrow political gains; perhaps, even during the current crisis, the BJP may have scored some points amongst the Hindu community in the Jammu region. One will not of course disagree with the BJP in terms of hoisting the national flag in Lal Chowk because legally and politically, J&K is a part of India and hence every citizen has a right to hoist the national flag. The issue, rather, is of the mind; of the hoisting of perspectives and values in the mind of every Kashmiri.
This needs a long-term vision, and strategies to achieve it. Why does a majority perceive the Indian flag as an imposition? Why do Kashmiri intellectuals repeatedly emphasize that Indian political values relating to good governance, human rights and democracy have never crossed the Banihal/Jawahar tunnel?
While the governments have avoided a show-down, this is only a temporary relief. What must then be done? Discussions of a hot summer in the Valley are already underway; and there are three specific reasons for this. First and foremost, the youth unrest in the Kashmir valley, which is being expressed (or/and manipulated by mainstream and separatist elements) periodically. Violence in the Kashmir valley in the last few years has become seasonal; all it takes is a trigger to unleash the situation and bring the youths to the streets with stones in their hands.
Second, Pakistan will try to reposition itself in J&K after having lost its edge in the last few years. The security forces fear that a process is already set in motion and could blow up during this summer. While the Valley is not inclined towards terrorism, one cannot totally discount the fear that Kashmiri youths may be tempted to explore alternative strategies.
Third, there seems to be a wave gripping Muslim societies of the Middle East and North Africa, starting with Tunisia, now reaching Egypt. While the situation and reasons are not comparable, one should not completely overrule the impact of global developments in the minds of Kashmiri youth.
How can a disastrous development be averted? The interlocutors appointed by the Indian government have done their homework. New Delhi should work with the government of J&K and take small but sincere steps. At least three steps are essential. First, an element of demilitarization, at least in select areas. The government in J&K and thelocal police have repeatedly emphasized that they should be able to secure the urban areas - at least certain select towns in the Valley, starting with Srinagar. If not the entire valley, New Delhi should make an announcement immediately or at least propose a time-table for the relocation of troops from urban areas.
Second, the Union government also should seriously reconsider its decision to continue with the AFSPA. This has become a political issue in the Valley and hence could become a very significant confidence-building measure. Especially, if the local government and police force is confident of securing the urban areas, there is no reason for the Union government to be apprehensive about removing the AFSPA from urban areas. Both the above issues are interlinked and need to be undertaken by the Union government. What is more important is also an announcement of panchayat elections; this in fact will do wonders in the Kashmir valley. Governance, especially through panchayats, is the biggest weapon and protection (and not the police or Army) that the governments at the Union and State levels have in the area. However, they are reluctant to use it for narrow political reasons.
The national flag has an emotional meaning for everyone. One can neither be forced to hoist it, nor should one attempt to hoist the flag in a place where such gestures are not universally supported. The real challenge is not hoisting the Indian flag in Lal Chowk. The action itself is the easiest thing to do. The real challenge is instilling sensitized values and hoisting the mind to educated thought and action.