The challenge is to prevent the alienation of the next generation of Kashmiris
India is very far from Kashmir. Though the flight only takes about 90 minutes if you discount the 30 minutes it takes hovering over Delhi airport before landing. Yet, the distance is immeasurable, especially now when the government in Delhi is being persuaded to pull back even further. But hopefully our strategic and military interests will ensure that we don’t go any further than where we already are.
These days, everyone has their own Kashmir theory, with quite a few writing in almost exasperated, washing your hands off kind of tone. They argue that despite having done so much for them, if Kashmiris still chose to remain an ungrateful bunch then we are better off without them. It is true that the Indian state has poured in huge amounts of money in Kashmir and continues to do so, but it has done very little for the state, in terms of development or even integrating it into the national mainstream. Despite Article 370, which is always used as an excuse for the disassociation of the state, there could have been other means by which apathy could have been converted into empathy. After all, Kashmiris didn’t hate India in 1947, when they collaborated with the Indian forces to push back the raiders or when they surprised Pakistani President Ayub Khan in 1965 by refusing to get liberated by the invading Pakistani Army. Clearly, things happened after that which instead of bridging narrow gaps, cleaved them even further.
What could be the reason that even today, no national newspaper has an edition in Kashmir? A few mainline newspapers do reach Srinagar in the evening, but obviously they cannot compete with the morning papers. Since they do not have an edition, no national newspaper has a Kashmir bureau, which means that for local news the people rely of the local newspapers, which are often run by vested interests. It is no surprise that there are hundreds of newspapers in Kashmir in Kashmiri, Urdu and English languages, some only broadsheets of four pages and with a circulation of 100 copies. To use insurgency as an excuse for this absence is not correct, because on the contrary, many newspapers discovered Kashmir only after the trouble started in 1989. Before that it was the Indian Switzerland, where Hindi films heroes wooed the heroines.
But the biggest failure has been the lack of economic development. Apart from the local horticulture, tourism and handicraft industry, Kashmir offers no avenues for jobs to its educated middle class. No Indian business house has made investments in the state to help develop the economy. In the absence of the robust economy, any amount of aid either goes waste or fattens the purses of a select few. Insurgency is only 20 years old, what prevented the government from creating jobs in Kashmir before that, or to building infrastructure to make the rural and the border areas more accessible?
In the absence of creative ideas for gradual integration, the successive governments in Delhi have hidden behind the shroud of Article 370. In the last 60 years, we have tried to buy allegiance or at least a semblance of it by paying huge amounts to various leaders in Kashmir, both mainstream (by subsidising the state government) and the dissidents. On one of our visits to the state I heard a joke about the Kashmiri leaders, cracked by a local. He said that the most honest politician in the state was Syed Ali Shah Geelani, because he eats with one hand, the Pakistani hand, whereas all the other leaders are eating with both hands, Indian as well as Pakistani. Perhaps, it was just a joke, but it reflects what the people think of the government aid to the state.
Like any other Indian state, Kashmir is essentially a feudal society, with an extremely rich minority and abjectly poor majority. The government policy of subsidising the state has done nothing to help this majority of poor, who continue to live from day to day. Like all poor, politics, in end only means the next meal. As the 18th century Urdu poet Nazir Akbarabadi wrote: Poochha kisi ne yeh kisi kamil faqir se/ yeh mehr-o-mah haq ne banaye hain kahe ke/ who sunke bola, baba khuda tujhko khair de/ hum toh na chand samjhe, na suraj hain jaante/ baba humhe toh yeh nazar aati hain rotiyan (Someone asked a beggar once/ what do you think God has made moon and sun for/ he said noble sir, may God bless you/ I do not understand what moon or sun are/ As far as I know it all looks like food to me.
The tragedy today is that even if we resolve the crisis and move towards greater integration of Kashmiri youth in the Indian mainstream, he is woefully ill-equipped to compete with his fellow citizens in Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore. Because even before the trouble started in the late Eighties, the educational and other institutions were way behind those in mainland India, which is why those who could afford it migrated to greener pastures well before the insurgency. Given this, the challenge today is how we can prevent the alienation of the new generation of Kashmiris.