The path to redemption in Jammu and Kashmir does not seem to begin from the national media. This became evident from the outrage expressed on social media against the interviews of Omar Abdullah, a former chief minister, and Iltija Mufti, daughter of Mehbooba Mufti, yet another former chief minister. Their interviews were published days before the first anniversary of the reading down of Article 370 and demotion of J&K from a State to a Union Territory on August 5.
Their choice to speak first to the national media was perceived as a condescending disregard for Kashmiri journalists and a misguided keenness to speak to the audience outside Kashmir. In the many volleys that the Twitterati fired at Abdullah’s article and interview in The Indian Express, one that stood out was from Fahad Shah, editor of The Kashmir Walla, who asked him, “When are you holding a press conference?”
Shah was daring Abdullah to face Kashmiri journalists, presumably because they would pose tougher questions to him than their counterparts in Delhi. The latter’s perch has had them to contextualise the role of the Abdullahs in subordinating J&K’s interests to those of the nation, a cause considered worthy of condoning mis governance and human rights abuses. Abdullah would have undoubtedly encountered hostile questioning at a press conference in Kashmir.
Yet the August 5 anniversary could well have been the occasion for him to confess that Delhi had consistently belied promises made to his family over three generations — and, therefore, also to Kashmiris — and yet they ruled regardless, resorting to semantics to justify their decision. This, in many ways, is as applicable to the Muftis. But then, Iltija is a 32-year-old political greenhorn, whose role is to merely handle her Mamma’s twitter handle. Whether or not coached, her stance can always be denied as not that of her mother.
Abdullah does not enjoy this comfort. For a person who has been in politics for 22 years, it is incredible he has chosen to squander the opportunity to win the confidence of his own people, particularly as he is aware he does not enjoy their support. He candidly accepted, in just about every interview, that there were many Kashmiris who rejoiced at his detention in August 2019.
The chasm separating him from his people has only widened because he came across as having accepted the reading down of Article 370. In his article in The Indian Express, he said he would not contest elections unless statehood is restored to J&K. As an avalanche of tweets came hurtling at him, Abdullah said he was opposed to all decisions taken on August 5. His opposition to Article 370 acquired an edge in subsequent interviews.
Yet even The Indian Express, which was first to publish his article and interview after his release from detention, noted in its editorial, “… His suggestion that it may be pointless to demand a rolling back of the decision on Article 370…is politically significant.” It should not, therefore, surprise that his interviews have been perceived as an endeavour to reconcile the Kashmiris to the new political reality.
This impression has been heightened because of his insistence that he would fight for the restoration of Article 370 in the Supreme Court, not on the streets, because the time for that had already passed. It had passed when people did not pour out in the streets in the weeks after the August 5 decision. Was that acquiescence or non-cooperation?
When Abdullah was told that the people were waiting for their leaders to take the lead, he said, “So if the people of J&K are looking towards me as some sort of person who will rally them out into the streets and god forbid get some of them killed, then I am not that person, I will not do that.” We must count ourselves lucky that Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King did not endorse Abdullah’s logic.
Perhaps Abdullah is voicing the late Black American leader Stokely Carmichael but lacks the candour to say what he said: “In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience.” Why should Abdullah believe all protests must degenerate into violence? Why can he not conduct a dialogue, even in a limited way, with the people? The term for democracy without protest is psephocracy, which India is not constitutionally.
This is not to deny the validity of anger and disappointment of the Abdullahs and the Muftis at the treatment meted out to them. Yet their suffering cannot redeem them in a land deeply traumatised. Their detention in bungalows almost seems a luxury in comparison to those who have seen their loved ones die or maimed or disappear or languish in prison for years.
Even Delhi should realise that its ‘policy of blood and iron’ in Kashmir inflicts suffering on soldiers without any success in mainstreaming Kashmir, which requires a political settlement. An alienated Kashmir acquires an altogether another meaning in the backdrop of China spreading its tentacles into Ladakh.
(The writer is a senior journalist and a frequent contributor to this newspaper. This article was first published in: www.mid-day.com)