Kashmir's 'Azadi' with the tricolour
Concluding part of "An unprecedented dialogue on Kashmir":
Now the leader of the opposition explained in a motherly way that they were all like her children. She said: "So, son, first decide what you want. Some want to remain independent, some want Gilgit and Baltistan, some want to go with Pakistan. No one is clear. You already have Jammu and Ladakh; enjoy an autonomy which is not available to any other Indian state. Gilgit and Baltistan you can't have without getting into a scuffle and that may lead to a war. The best 'azadi' that all of you enjoy is with the tricolour. The Indian Constitution provides everything that a citizen can aspire for. It has space for all the shades and opinions within its framework. Look at the educational and technological advances other Indian states are making and see the number of Kashmiri youths coming out of the valley to take advantage of it — in Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi. That's the freedom of development and reaching the sky for lifetime achivements." She brillinatly punctured the 'azadi' fumblings and made Manjoor Yusuf, a braveheart student from Srinagar, to come to the dais and declare: "It's wrong to say that all Kashmiri Muslims want 'azadi'. We want our future with India. It's a great country and in the last election 61% of the citizens of Kashmir cast their votes. India, not Pakistan, is our destiny." The atmosphere changed in a second. A small section of "azadi" seekers couldn't say anything except jeering at the Indian voice from Kashmir. He later complained that some of the students threatened him, "but I am not scared, sir". He was firm.
Smriti Irani, actor (Tulsi) and national president of the BJP's women's wing, charmingly disarmed the separatism advocates. "Azadi — What for and how? By making innocent kids and young people leave their homes and pelt stones on soldiers who are guarding the nation under their constitutional duty? Why should you not be concentrating on making the education system better and responsive? All the separatist leaders including Gilani and Andrabi send their children to various Indian cities and abroad to get the best education and settle down as progressive persons, but make the valley youth cannon fodder for their nefarious games, played and funded by Pakistan. Why don't you see the game?"
"Your 'Azad Kashmir' remains a small, marginalized cry of a section of stone pelters in the valley alone," said Aditya Kaul. Utpal Kaul — born, brought up and educated in Srinagar — reminisced about his student days, about his Muslim teachers and the tradition of "Dal Cross" and "Wooler Cross" by girl students too who had pretty good hockey and tennis teams. "Where has all that vanished? Why do you want to be just confined to a small area of the valley? Give leadership to the Indian Muslims. Where is the space of Indian Muslims on your radar?" Prof Fouzia too became emotional and said: "We always had the tradition of mosques and temples existing side by side." To this, Aditya wanted to know, where have all the temples gone now? Thousands of them have been demolished and graffiti in foul language written against Hindus on their half-burnt walls. Why none of them ever protested against such happenings?
Editors' interaction with the students hinged on how political aspirations are taking a turn in the valley. Chandan Mitra of the Pioneer, Rajesh Kalra of the Times Group and Shoma Chaudhry from Tehelka tried to understand and put forth their viewpoints about Kashmir's problems and their solutions. Shoma spoke about the new wave of political demands in the valley and termed stone pelting too as an expression of anger. Chandan predictably took the nationalist line and tried to explain how the Indian democracy is the best framework. "Be part of a larger Indian milieu and everything can be sorted out," he emphasized. Large sections of Muslim students, apart from those who came from Islamic University nodded in affirmation. Rajesh Kalra asked students about their academic pursuits and their dreams. He said that unless they joined the mainstream of a struggle within the Indian framework how could they think they could excel in their lives.
The thrilling part was the arrival of the seven young turk membes of Parliament belonging to various political parties.
Harsimrat Kaur Badal was at her eloquent best. She narrated emotionally the trauma Punjab had gone through during the Khalistan movement. How every Sikh was a suspect, how young Sikhs were killed as suspects by the security forces and the massacre of 1984. "But gradually we all felt separatism was not an answer, it gave nothing but blankness, a black hole. Today Punjab youths are in the grip of drugs and all sorts of negative traits, a direct fallout of the insurgency. Punjab lost its vibrant, dynamic youth in a movement that was self-defeating." "And listen," she turned a tigress, "I am not from the Congress or the BJP, but I am an Indian and as an Indian I must clearly tell you that till the last Indian is alive, no one will ever allow Kashmir to secede from us. It's an integral part of us, of India." The conference room rose to hail her with roaring claps. The voices of "azadi'' had no answer. Neeraj Shekhar asked: "How many of you have voted in the last elections?" Islamic University students said in unison: "No one." "Why?" asked Neeraj. They said: "Because the elections are always rigged, so we have no faith in them." This was contested again by Manzoor Yusuf, who said 61% of Kashmiris voted in the elections. "That means you do not represent the majority." Aditya pointed out: "A known separatist leader, Bilal Lone, contested the election and lost his deposit. It means the majority of Kashmiris do not like separatists."
Priya Dutt said in her inimitable style: "Why on earth you declare first that you are not an Indian and then ask for more? How can one come on a dialogue table with a baggage of preconceived notions and then begin with riders? We are with you, we understand your pains and sorrows, we share your grief and demands for justice, but that can be met only under an Indian constitutional framework. And no one, no party or ideology or shade of belief, can ever give you 'azadi'. Take it today as firmly as possible."
Anurag Thakur, the young turk from Himachal who is also the president of Himachal Cricket Association and national president of the BJP's youth wing, spoke from the heart: "We are with you on every issue that creates pain or anguish, but as Indians. Nothing can ever be discussed beyond the parameters of our Indianness. We are talking to you not because you are different but because you have always been a part of us, an inalienable story of a larger Indian epic." Madhu Yashki narrated his own story from Andhra Pradesh, where he too was witness to the demand of a Telangana state. "It never pays to be an extremist, trust me. Our destinies and dreams are best protected under the umbrella of our Indianness."
Jayant Chaudhary was candid. "You want peace, right?" And everyone nodded. So friends, peace as I read somewhere, is like lovemaking. You have to keep your eyes shut and let the process take its course. Coming on a dialogue table with preconditions spoils the game. Then he said: "Tell me why some of you want ‘azadi’." The students, voicing separatist threads, fumbled, "Pandit Nehru had promised a plebiscite." "But that was to be held without any demographic changes. The valley has gone tremendous change in its population contours, with Hindus ousted and people from across the border rehabilitated post-1947," retorted Radhika Kaul.
None could explain why they want "azadi"; none could reply why Ladakh and Jammu remained absent from their worldview. Students who wanted "separation" were not keen to listen to the voices of Indianness from their own Muslim brothers and sisters from Srinagar. They said that even the 2002 and 2008 elections — universally hailed as free and fair, including by UN observers — were rigged.
"We have a lost generation in the valley, fed from their early childhood that they are different, hence they have, a separate flag, a separate constitutional provision and they do not belong to India as Bihar and Assam do. Some of the students claimed Kashmiris were a different race and a different "kaum" unlike Indians. I said: "Read at least Sheikh Abdullah’s biography, 'Atishe Chinar', in which he traces his roots, two generations back, to Kaul Hindus. There are Rainas, Kauls and Bhatts this side, exiled from their homes, and Rainas, Kauls and Bhatts on the other side. Why the divide just because one has a different way of worship?"
Ram Madhav, national executive member of the RSS, shared his views and took difficult questions with aplomb, asserting the age-old unity of Jammu & Kashmir with India. "We can never think to have Kashmir separated from India at any cost," he asserted. "We would like every person in J&K to prosper and have a government of his choice within the framework of the Indian Constitution."
This dialogue could happen because Prof Siddiq Wahid and Prof Fouzia Kazi were among the believers in resolving issues through talks. I wish I were a student of Dr Fouzia, who was so articulate and spoke with great maturity and élan. The same goes for Prof Wahid. The students were brilliant, and put forth their views assertively and decently. The dialogue has convinced us that there are people in the valley who believe in sharing the views rather than stone pelting and killing. No bullet can ever find a solution to a complex problem and building bridges in spite of all hurdles and challenges remains the course of a civil society. That has to be supported from both sides, though. The vice chancellor, Prof Wahid, invited us to continue the dialogue in Srinagar, in his Islamic University of Science and Technology. We have accepted the invitation. Friends are made. Sinead Kachroo of Aman Satya Kachroo Trust shared the feelings of Kashmiri students by offering to wear a black band to mourn the deaths of innocent people in the valley; it deeply touched the hearts of everybody.
Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee gave his life in Srinagar for the complete integration of Kashmir with the rest of India. That a thinktank named after him would carry forward the dialogue in Srinagar and in Delhi with those who have a different opinion is a landmark event. That was what Bal Apte, the President of the organization, said, asserting the ancient threads of unity that bind Jammu & Kashmir inseparably with Bharat Vasrha. "We never imagined an India without Kashmir and will never do so." Kashmir se Kanya Kumari tak Bharat ek hai.
Reaching out and continuing talks can only be a better way out.
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Sushma Swaraj: "Bolo beta"
At a meeting with home minister Chidambaram: VC, Islamic University, Siddiq Wahid, and Prof Fouzia Kazi with students are seen on the right while the author, Bal Apte, DUSU president Manoj Chaudhry, are on the left.