It has been few days since the historic move of scrapping article 370 and 35A and the immediate response of those directly impacted by it hasn’t given any reason to doubt the wisdom of the move. Yet. I would personally be very surprised if there aren’t any repercussions over the coming days and months as Pakistan, despite its teetering economic condition, gets its act together and manages to strike within India with vengeance. They are hurting badly because this is the first time in the history of this conflict that they have been taken by surprise, and there is nothing that they can seem to do to reciprocate. MSD have timed it absolutely brilliantly as such an opportunity comes only once in a generation. Our adversary is surrounded by existential threats and our government is one of the strongest governments the people of Indian have ever thrown. However, even if India pulls off this surgical political move, there are deeper causes of this malaise that must be addressed.
All Indians must understand that the problem of Kashmir is not a political problem. For years the Indian left has dominated the narrative and convinced the world and us that Kashmir struggle is a righteous fight for self-determination against the hegemonic power of India. Around 2-3 years ago I was listening to the award winning journalist Ravish Kumar, as he rhetorically asked, looking straight into the camera in his trademark monologue, “What does the Kashmir problem have to do with Islam? Nothing”. I usually have a poor memory but these lines were etched in my mind because of the gross and willful misreading of one the greatest human tragedies. I wouldn’t have even dared to put down these words had it not been for Mehbooba Mufti who declared just a little while ago that there would be nothing that will bind a Muslim Majority State with India if article 370 was removed. It needed to be said by someone pretending to be fighting for Kashmir’s rights for it to be believed.
Let us not fool ourselves into thinking ordinary Kashmiri doesn’t feels threatened by India. Kashmiris are desperate to protect their Kashmiri identity. Soon after the removal of the special status the major negative news that emerged from the valley was the forced exodus of Biharis. The threat of outsiders is fused deeply into the psyche of Kashmiris and leveraged by jihadis to keep this dispute burning. But what is this Kashmiri identity? Kashmiris looks different, speak a different language and undoubtedly have a unique culture. They are indeed different from the rest of India but so are they with the rest of Pakistan. Why then are the majority desperate to merge with Pakistan and not with India, which itself allows far more different cultures and identities into its fold than any other country in human history? The answer, as many know and few express, is Islam. The religion is at the core of this sham Kashmiri identity and all the rest just becomes a pleasing mask it wears to give the agitation legitimacy. If Kashmiriyat was truly about protecting its culture why Kashmiri Pandits are welcoming the abrogation of article 370? This is question is so basic that I feel like an idiot writing it and yet it is not part of the discourse.
We all, without exception, have a tendency to think in terms of right and wrong, but we will be far better served if we think in terms of what is and what isn’t. This is the attitude those who seek truth adopt to arrive at something that lasts. To solve the Kashmir issue we have to purse the truth and not chase mirages because this problem is not going away any time soon, and here’s why. The brilliant Manish Sabharwal, in his short interview to The Quint, said that interest/income trumps passions when discussing the Kashmir problem. It is absolutely true that food, jobs, hunger are far deeper issues than religious and cultural identity.
India is far better placed in addressing Kashmiri interests and incomes than Pakistan and we are all hoping that India led development and growth will let Kashmiris see the merit of being with us. However, that honeymoon will last only a while. In Russia the communist regime wiped Christianity out as churches were destroyed and priests were killed. Faced with existential threats it seemed that religion was snuffed out but as soon as the tyranny was over religion sprang up again. Interest will trump passions only till life becomes comfortable enough for the mind to start contemplating life’s guiding beliefs and ideologies.
Of all the mainstream religions, Islam is by far the most exclusionary. It has the sharpest dividing line between its followers and the rest. A Muslim utterance that no doubt is the most familiar to the non-Muslims of India is “La ilaha illallah Muhammadur Rasulullah”. It unequivocally states that that Allah is the only God and Mohammad is his messenger. There can be no other God than Allah, and if you agree with the God then there can be no other messenger. Every religion has a tendency to develop cults but nowhere is the idiom against non-believers and religious wars so well developed and entrenched as in Islam. Islam has already divided this country once and it will likely keep doing so wherever Muslims find themselves in majority. Pakistan was built on the belief that Muslims cannot coexist with Hindus. It will be absolutely foolish to think that if India is able to pull off a peaceful transition through this current turmoil to an economic prosperous Kashmir then it will be all over. We must not forget that until 1989 Kashmir was as peaceful as we all hope it to become someday.
In one of his most moving speeches, Atalji narrated how when he went to Afghanistan as external affairs minister, he asked the Afghan foreign minister how was it that a hotel in Afghanistan was named Kanishka. He was told that Kanishka was their ancestor and Atlaji was lamenting how Aghans have changed their religious beliefs but not their culture. Unfortunately, practitioners of Islam in the Indian sub-continent are unable able to prioritize their indigenous cultural roots over their religious heritage. Kashmir is the land of Kashmir Shaivism, one of the most esoteric and sublime spiritual philosophies that have been gifted to the world. Indians who have bought the bogus notion of Kashmiriyat should know that there is an entire text, Nilamata Purana, dedicated to the life and glory of Kashmir that was written even before Islam came into being. It is a painful irony that Muslims of south east Asia take far greater pride than most Indians do in those parts of their traditional culture that were a direct import not just from India, but Hinduism. It is a disgrace that people of Kashmir are seeking their true identify in an external ideology than celebrating the glory that is rightfully theirs by the very act of having taken birth in Kashmir.
From the days of Sikandar Butshikan to now, Hindus have been systematically exterminated from their majestic land and their cultural roots have been usurped by an ideology that has distanced them from their own true selves. If we really want Kashmir to return to its grandeur, to being the cultural power house it was, and, more importantly, be a part of India, then we have to ensure that its inhabitants recognize their true identity. Kashmiris are so desperate to protect their Islamic identity, whose true home is in distant lands of middle-east, that they are willing to sever bonds with their brethren who are made from the same soil, water and air as they are.
Pakistan and separatist Kashmiris see a bond between each other because they now believe in the same God. Indians want Kashmiris to stay because we have the same blood coursing through our veins as them. When Kashmiris will go looking for who they really are beyond the beliefs they hold they will find they are one with us. Until we get Kashmiris to see this, Kashmiri shall not be ours.