No one in Kashmir’s electoral fray would dream of condemning the militants. Yet, everyone is ready to exploit militancy to score points against the adversary. The paradox is especially noticeable during this interregnum when the state is in limbo for reasons that go back to the Dogra monarchy that Muslims speak of only to revile. The administration wound up last week in its winter capital of Jammu and will not reopen in Srinagar until May 4.
There were sniggers in the National Conference office, protected by barbed wire, metal detector and rows of empty bottles whose tinkling is expected to raise the alarm, when I said that the chief minister had dissuaded me from following his daughter to Anantnag last Sunday.
I had just missed the formidable Mehbooba Sayeed or Mufti — both surnames seem to be used — and suggested catching up with her motorcade.
“You’ll never find it,” Mufti Mohammed Sayeed said. “She’ll be campaigning in all kinds of ulley-gulleys. Much better you wait and see her in Srinagar.”
“Perhaps he knew already that she would be the target of a bomb attack!” they suggested sarcastically.
Neither the Mufti, nor anyone else in his People’s Democratic Party, will address the charge. Or condemn the militants.
But, of course, no one is as blatant as the National Conference in supporting the guerrillas. Its rhetoric can compete with outright rebel organisations like the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front and the hardline wing of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference. Referring to the 15-year-old insurgency, Mehboob Beigh, who is pitted against Mehbooba in Anantnag, declared: “I salute those one lakh martyrs who laid down their precious lives for the cause of Kashmir.”
What cause precisely does Beigh support then' Obviously, not the cause that the army and paramilitary jawans here are supporting.
It should be recalled that he is proud to be the son of Afzal Beigh who was a close associate of Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah and went to jail with the Sher-e-Kashmir. It should also be recalled that he has denounced the chief minister as an “RSS fanatic”.
The irony is that the de facto frontier with Pakistan is probably now the safest part of Kashmir. Fifteen of Baramulla’s Assembly segments are along the border and 99 per cent of them are officially regarded as sensitive or hypersensitive for fear of cross-border firing. But all’s quiet on the Western front. In border areas like Uri, polling even reached a record 45 to 58 per cent. However, in one of the Udhampur tehsils, militants chopped off the ears of two voters who dared to defy their ban.
Terrorism has been internalised. No one, but no one, thinks the violence will stop if George W. Bush obliges Atal Bihari Vajpayee by pressuring Pervez Musharraf. “The ISI may have funded the militants and taught them their skills,” a local reporter tells me, “but the militants now know all there is to know. They can carry on without the ISI.”
Like politicians, the local press, too, is not polarised. It is all on one side, if discreetly so. Thus, under the heading “Peace Process Not A Poll Issue”, M.H. Askari wrote: “Contrary to what was widely feared, there was virtually no communal violence and most of the poll-related deaths took place in the Indian-held state of Jammu and Kashmir where the people traditionally challenge the authority of the New Delhi government to hold any elections at all.”
A retired undersecretary in the state government blames the security forces for the insecurity. “They are killing and harassing we,” he announces with as much disregard for logic as for grammar.
Bear in mind that I am not talking of rebel organisations or their leaders. I am discussing the ambivalence and ambiguity of mainline politicians in a state that still shies away from public use of the word India. Thus, All India Radio here is the radio that dare not speak its name. It’s “Radio Kashmir, Srinagar.”
Even Mohamad Yusuf Tarigami, the CPM candidate from Anantnag (of whom more in another instalment), shies away from a direct indictment of the militants. I ask him the reason for the violence, and he talks philosophically of disillusionment with politicians and a sense of alienation.
An aide, a burly young man in windcheater over his salwar, cuts in to accuse the People’s Democratic Party government of pasting the walls with rebel posters.
Kashmir is a looking-glass world. True, politicians might be nervous about condemning the militants. But I think it’s more than that. Even at their best, and 57 years after Maharajah Hari Singh’s accession, the most loyal of Kashmiri — which means Muslim, for I have not yet heard a Hindu called Kashmiri — politicians remain more loyal to Kashmir than to India.