By Saurabh Chandra
Enforcing the writ of the constitution in Kashmir is the paramount duty of the Indian Republic. This can lead to some sporadic incidents of unrest in the short term.
The current disturbance in Kashmir after the BSF firing in Ramban killed 4 people in a violent mob have again brought forth the conundrum of Kashmir. This is not the kind of unrest we were used to seeing in the heydays of militancy. However, this has not been uncommon in the past. With the militancy in definite decline, we are in pre-1989 territory again. Now that India has won the proxy war with Pakistan, it is time to face the real issue at hand.
Most outrage on social media on this issue highlights an armed state versus the citizens narrative. The occasion also brings back the argument that solving the Kashmir dispute is the only lasting solution. Both these responses side-step the key issue in Kashmir today. Without being politically correct, the issue at the heart of the problem is: how does a democratic Republic handle the desire of a very small section of its population to create an Islamic state. The situation is obviously not helped by the geography when that state borders a hostile, fundamentalist neighbour whose army officially vows to defend the ‘ideological frontiers of Islam’. Or that the Indo-Pak war of 1947 resulted in a bloody partition of the state. Today in 2013, no one can make a serious case for reversing a partition which happened 66 years ago. De facto borders which have stayed the same after multiple wars have a natural legitimacy.
Are there non-Islamist Kashmiris who want to secede from India? The non-Islamist Kashmiris would probably pronounce Maqbool Sherwani a hero, who delayed invaders in Baramulla in 1947 giving Indian army the chance to land in Srinagar. The Islamists have of course labelled him a traitor. Maqbool was crucified. The non-Islamist Kashmiri would have not pushed Pandits out of Kashmir, banned women from singing or enforced dress codes. Even if non-Islamist Kashmiris did think of independence at some time in the past, today they can’t afford to be at the mercy of Islamists without a supra-power such as the Indian state around to protect them. Outside of Kashmir we can paint the broad swath of the word Kashmiri but it is just a convenience afforded by distance. Zooming in, the word is synonymous with just one of the many identities claiming the state. The response of person like me with a Mirpuri ancestry to being called a Kashmiri would be the same as of a Coorgi being called a Kannadiga. Then there are the Poonchis, Laddakhis, Gujjars, Dogras and many others ethnicities. Kashmir is in that sense not at all unique. Such diversity is totally par for the course in the rest of India.
Coming to our core issue, how does a liberal, democratic Republic handle Islamists in Kashmir? There are only two ways for any region to secede from the Republic of India: One, convince two-thirds of the country’s elected representatives; and two, by force. To put it mildly, both of them are unlikely. It means that for the foreseeable future, we—we, as in the constituents of the Republic who believe in strengthening it—and the Islamists of Kashmir have to find a way to peacefully co-exist. As members of a liberal Republic, the citizens residing in Kashmir have a right to dissent. They, however, don’t have a right to inflict violence on other people, nor can they create an Islamic state under the current dispensation. This is non-negotiable. The idea of India is a plurality of people who have joined hands into a nation. At the heart of the idea is diversity, tolerance and peaceful coexistence. Kashmir, with the diversity of language, faith and ethnicity in it, is a microcosm of India. To enforce the writ of the constitution and the Republic in Kashmir is the paramount duty of the Indian State.
While the objective of the Indian State is clear, the means to achieve it and resources deployed for the same are not so clear. The best use of force is when it doesn’t come into play. Non-fatal mob control, promotion of diversity, actively countering Islamist thought and greater economic linkages is what will achieve the objective in smarter ways. The more equipped the state government is in achieving these objectives, the better it is. For it will also mean a reduced role for the army. These measures will however show results only in the medium- and long-term. In the short term, we will continue to face challenges and witness some tragedies, such as the current one. Each such tragedy should pain every concerned citizen of India. But it should also remind us that forging a liberal Republic is not always peaceful. Or easy.
Saurabh Chandra is a Bangalore based technology entrepreneur with an interest in public policy.