J&K after Afzal Guru: Immediate Excuse and Inherent Problems

13 Feb, 2013    ·   3813

D Suba Chandran discusses the actual reasons behind the recent protests in the Kashmir valley

Over the last few days, following the hanging of Afzal Guru, the Kashmir valley has been witnessing curfews and protests. While the Kashmir valley, especially Srinagar, is not new to protest politics and curfew governance, what is striking is its recurrence despite the drastic decline in militant violence during the last few years.

What does the protest signify? Do the protesters identify themselves with Afzal Guru and the reasons that he was hung for, or are they using his execution as an excuse to express their dissatisfaction over what happened (to be more precise, what has not happened) during the last few years?

What is the Problem? Afzal Guru's Execution or the Absence of Political Dialogue?
Afzal Guru’s execution should be seen more as the trigger, rather than the reason behind the protests that are being witnessed now. Given the history of how governments have dealt with Kashmir, both at the national and state levels, one is likely to conclude that, this time too, the government will use curfews, media censorship and the security forces to wear out the protest movement. This has been a time-tested strategy of the government: sit tight, do nothing politically, and let the security forces take the heat.

Such a strategy has worked for the governments both in New Delhi and in J&K in the past. It may very well work again this time as well. But will this address the problem, or will it only increase the distance between the government and its subjects in Kashmir? Certainly, Afzal Guru is not the issue here. His hanging is a trigger for a larger problem. What is it?

Fire Fighting as a Long Term Policy
Subsequent governments, cutting across party lines both at the State and national levels, have uniformly followed a policy of doing nothing until the situation spirals to a point that illicits immediate damage control. How else can one explain the responses of subsequent governments?

While it may be interesting and even frightening to find out the reasons for such a policy, what needs to be clearly understood is: this policy is not working and is not in the interest of the State. While the people suffer every day because the government considers inaction as the best form of action; the policy may tire the people out in the short term, but may not help the State in the long term.

Round Tables and Interlocutions as a Ploy
If fire fighting has become synonymous with the government’s policy, what has really increased the distance between the government and the people are those specific political interventions that raised the expectations at the ground level; invariably leading to desperation as the government did not further pursue its own initiatives.

What have been the results of those Round Table Conferences led by none other than the Prime Minister of India? Did he consider and seriously pursue the recommendations of those five groups initiated by him?

Despite frustrations and negative sentiments from previous failures, different shades in J&K responded positively to the interlocutors led by Dr Radha Kumar and Mr Dileep Patgaonkar. The team took its job seriously, for it was tasked by the government to submit a report. After numerous visits and rounds of discussion, the team submitted its report. What has been the response thus far?

If only the government had taken the above two initiatives seriously and addressed the basic political issue, there would have been no protests today in the Kashmir valley. But was that ever an objective of the government? In retrospect, it appears a ploy to be seen as doing something, for the ultimate objective has always been to do nothing.

Governing Through Curfews and Measuring Peace Through Tourist Inflows
In the absence of a clear vision and long term policy, governments use curfews and media gagging to address protests, instead of trying to address the basic problem at hand.

It is really surprising that the government measures peace in terms of the absence of violence. The math is simple: if there are no terrorist attacks, the State is peaceful. Worse, another yardstick to measure peace is – the number of tourists. If there are more tourists, then obviously, the region must be peaceful. To crown this calculation further, if Bollywood visits the valley, the reasoning is elevated to a gospel – that peace has certainly returned to the valley.

Since when did we start measuring peace by increasing tourist inflows and Bollywood visits?

Abdicating the Responsibility to the Security Forces
The governments – both at the State and national levels seem to have abdicated the responsibility of governance to the security forces. Despite problems and accusations of violations, the security forces – the state police, paramilitary and the military fulfilled their responsiblities of establishing law and order.

Ideally, the political leadership should have taken the process further by ensuring governance through established democratic institutions. The failure of the panchayat system in J&K alone, will show where the problem is. Will this approach help political institutions retain their credibility in the long run? Should they not realise that this is not in their interest?

To conclude, the problem is not the hanging of Afzal Guru. It is the absence of a sustained political process, and a collective failure of institutions both at the State and national levels. The irony is, the State remains aware of this and yet, does nothing about it.