Why Chetan Bhagat is so very wrong on Kashmir

Sometime back, I stumbled upon Chetan Bhagat’s article in the Economic Times on Kashmir titled, “Restoring normalcy in Kashmir: How to take J&K to the point where the internet need never be blocked again.”

To be frank, I was thankful that this eminently readable piece was a refreshing change from those usual India-bashing articles on Kashmir that galore on the internet on websites like The Wire, Scroll, the Quint, the Print (gosh these names really do rhyme, like in some bad poetry!) or the Hindu. But that’s expected from an author of Chetan Bhagat’s eminence.

I also agreed with Chetan when he says, “To not have the internet to book tickets, send emails or communicate with friends/ relatives/ business associates/ customers would play havoc with a person’s quality of life.” I run an online business myself, with all my books selling worldwide on platforms like Amazon, Apple, and Google Play. I was there in Kashmir in 2016 when the Burhan Wani protests had broken out and the consequent internet restrictions had thrown my business totally out of gear. I have no hesitation, therefore, to empathise with all affected residents of J&K (and not just Kashmiris) on this issue.

Although I need to also underline that internet shutdown isn’t peculiar to Kashmir. Sri Lanka had done the same after those ghastly April 2019 church bombings that killed over three hundred people. France (a secular, democratic country by the way) did the same after every Paris bombing. Jan Rydzak, a research scholar at Stanford University’s Global Digital Policy Incubator has documented 400 to 450 cases of such internet blackouts since 2011, and from Ethiopia and Venezuela to India and Iraq.

Coming back to Chetan, I was glad, he is not screaming human rights violations as some other media outlets (both Indian and Western) and the do-gooders of the left-liberal kind are wont to. He mentions the Burhan Wani protest and how a hundred people got killed in its wake. Bhagat concludes that “the Indian state may have had little choice. There is context, and precedents from the recent past.” So far so good.

Where I truly disagree with Chetan Bhagat is on the solutions, he proposes to help bring normalcy in Kashmir. He talks about offering employment to Kashmiris, and “orders”, “Offer employment to almost all Kashmiri youth who need it. Move government call centres there, open new ski resorts or build more infrastructure.” No harm in offering employment to the needy, but why restrict it to only Kashmiris? Also, when you wish to fool around with public money, shouldn’t selections happen based on merit and not on nepotism, fabulous political connections, or your stone throwing capabilities?

Certainly, I’m not a fan of Nyay-Scheme-type of government jobs. I’m glad that Article 370 has been abrogated. And now private sector companies, from India or abroad, can set up their businesses in Kashmir leading to more job opportunities. Which brings me to the point where I disagree with Chetan Bhagat the most.

He suggests “a retrospective immunity and amnesty ‘clean slate’ scheme for all militants and their sympathisers. A new date can be announced, after which certain activities—stone pelting, taking up arms, joining militant organisations, circulating terror related content—would become serious crimes. You won’t be hounded for your past, but you will have to behave in the future.”

Sadly, and I don’t know whether Chetan knows this, this has more or less been the official government policy from Muftis’ days till now. The same frustrating, idiotic suggestion that stone- pelters throw stones because they don’t have jobs. You forget how many of Burhan Wani’s sympathisers were actually government employees, doctors, Ph.D. students or professors at Kashmir University. You forget what Zakir Musa had said —that when Kashmiris pick up stones, they do so for Islam. And you forget (how very conveniently) that both Burhan Wani and Zakir Musa were not fighting to get Kashmiris employed in government service but to openly usher in the Islamic Caliphate Rule in Kashmir.

But coming back to jobs, I wonder if Chetan Bhagat realises that he has just turned stone-pelting into a job criterion. Just imagine two Kashmiris: one, who remained pro-India, studied hard and got his degrees, and the other, who is pro-Pakistan/pro-azaadi, never attended classes and his only achievement is that he’s quite an athlete when it comes to throwing stones. Guess who gets the job as per Chetan Bhagat’s suggestions? Obviously, the stone-pelter because we need to save him from the clutches of Pakistan/Jihadis. Does he know that any number of Kashmiri killers (like Yasin Malik or Usman Majid) were allowed to join mainstream politics with many like Usman Majid even becoming a government minister? Has he heard of the terrorist going by the name Javed Nalka because he was a plumber in the government’s water supply department (called PHE in J&K)? But those who neither throw stones nor pick up guns nor show any disloyalty to India should get nothing. Is that justice?

Do you think following Chetan’s prescriptions, we can ever confront the real problem? Can we? It’s no surprise that Kashmiris are still picking up stones and shouting anti-India slogans. It is no surprise that internet needs to be shut down to maintain peace and order. Because the problem has never been the dearth of jobs (who started this myth?). It’s not about poverty either or homelessness or destitution because an average Kashmiri is wealthier than your average Bihari, Bengali, or Oriya. Remember Adil Ahmed Dar, the famous suicide bomber who blew himself up killing 40 CRPF jawans in Pulwama? Not even once did he mention his desire to get a government job. Instead he ranted about killing cow-piss drinkers, and praised Islam, Allah and afterlife.

And if this line of reasoning is not clear, I would like to ask all those who advocate poverty-is-the-root-cause-of-terrorism this question: If you ever unfortunately lost your job, will you throw stones, disrupt traffic, force shops to shut down, or blow yourself up in a Pulwama-kind of suicide operation? Will you? Does that even make sense?

Stone-pelters should be dealt with, exactly the same way you would deal with them in any other part of the country. How do you deal with them, for example, in Mumbai in Chetan’s neighbourhood? Do you offer them government jobs on a platter or do you let the law take its own course?

The rest of his article I’m rushing through. He talks about doles and reservation for Kashmiris (for a limited time, of course). Chetan Bhagat thinks he’s being practical. But if you really want to solve the problem of employment, I say, make it merit based, as it is everywhere else, except in Kashmir. Bhagat’s books do not sell because he’s politically connected but because his readers love his books. That should be the mantra for employment too.

Chetan Bhagat believes that unemployment is the root cause of radicalisation. That’s an incredibly, fundamentally flawed assumption. Ask those, the likes of Burhan Wani and Zakir Musa, azaadi ka matlab kya? And the unabashed answer, as you know, would be La ilahi il-lil-lah. Or a State governed by the rule of Allah. An Islamic Caliphate. So, let me ask this question: How can jobs successfully challenge the narrative for preferring an Islamic Kashmir to the exclusion of all other communities and faiths?  Forget about challenging this narrative, right now we are mis-diagnosing the disease and prescribing the wrong treatment.

Kashmiris have for long been brainwashed by Pakistani sponsored mullahs and politicians for decades. They’re told that a country governed by the rule of Allah will solve all their problems—both in this life as well as in the afterlife. Unless we challenge this narrative, emphasising on the horrors of ISIS imposed Sharia in Syria and elsewhere, we cannot fight this battle. We’ll keep on breeding more Burhan Wanis and Zakir Musas and keep coming up with quick fixes of killing the internet.

And if you truly want to understand the horrors of the Islamic Caliphate, please feel free to read  “Kashmir Thinks It’s Free,” a dystopian novel where Kashmir finally becomes “free” and is then ruled by ISIS.

Chetan Bhagat’s last point is: “Despite naysayers, Kashmir can and will be integrated into India. Kashmiris and other Indians have enough cultural ties. Indian tourists have been constant visitors over the past few decades. India is already a diverse, melting pot country.”

I’m afraid that the dominant narrative in Kashmir is that—Kashmir was never a part of India and will never be. Decades have been spent in carefully crafting this narrative. Kashmir’s glorious Hindu past has been erased from their history text books. We know a lot about the Mughal Emperor Akbar but can anyone tell me when did we last hear about Lalitaditya, the great Kashmiri conqueror whose reign extended from the Caspian Sea to Assam?

On the other hand, Kashmiris are fed that their culture is basically Central Asian. That Kashmiris are descendants of Uzbeks, Kazaks, Tajiks, and so on. Nothing can be farther from the truth. I’ve been to Uzbekistan and (while I admire Uzbekistan for all its architectural beauty and culture) Kashmir has no similarity whatsoever with Uzbekistan. Certainly not in cuisine, which is so superior to whatever I could eat in Samarkand and Bukhara.

Thirdly, the demographic change of Kashmir was carefully planned. 400,000 Kashmiri Hindus had been driven out in the early 1990s (the horrors of which I’ve attempted to capture in my book You Can’t Kill My Love: A Kashmir Holocaust Love Story). Why? Because the Islamists knew that Hindus were the last link that connected Kashmir to India. Once chased out, they knew no government in India will be able to bring them back.

And lastly, just because Indian tourists visit Kashmir does not make Kashmir a part of India. Pretty much like Britain or France or Thailand which are all so very popular with Indian tourists.

So, unless and until, we challenge this narrative of an Islamic Kashmir “ruled by the might of Allah which had no connection to India,” we’ll continue to have mass killings and internet shutdowns. No matter how many stone-pelters you try to employ in the government.

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