December 13, 2019
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To Stare Into The Mind's I

It is the battle of the mind that India has lost in Kashmir. Let's open our eyes to it, let's tell ourselves the reality about Kashmir. Only then can we begin to credibly handle what we call our Kashmir problem.

To Stare Into The Mind's I
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Of all the regions on earth, perhaps the most difficult to conquer is that little region called the mind. Our history is a long rumble of campaigns, the sound of land and sea overrun by heel or hoof or hull. Conquering was history's sport. But the greatest of conquerors, even the ones that sat astride half the globe and threatened the other half, balked when they came across that little territory called the human mind. No gun has gained conquerors minds. No wonder there have been as many wars of liberation as campaigns of conquest.

It is this battle of the mind that India has lost in Kashmir. Let's open our eyes to it, let's tell ourselves the reality about Kashmir. Only then can we begin to credibly handle what we call our Kashmir problem. Let us tell ourselves, for a start, that Kashmiris trust nothing Indian other than currency notes. And if they do use Indian passports, it is only because it is a necessary document to get away.

This summer, I spent a night at the shelled-out tourist bungalow in Dras, the centrestage of the Kargil war, and the mouldy bungalow register told me more about the Kashmir problem than I had learnt in 15 years of reporting the state. Not a single passing guest had entered his nationality as Indian. They all called themselves Kashmiri.

These were not terrorists or militants or bloody Pakistanis, mind you. They were all everyday people—engineers, doctors, government contractors, court officials, district development officers, small businessmen, ordinary Kashmiris. We hold the ground in Kashmir, we don't hold heads and hearts. Kashmiris are loath to call themselves Indians. Why, is the question that perhaps contains the key to the Kashmiris' deep distrust and alienation.

We won't resolve the question with subsidies and grants that rarely filter down to deserving Kashmiris in any case. We won't resolve it by herding them at polling booths and foisting on them fraudulent democracies they did not want to elect. We won't resolve it by lipservicing Kashmir's beauty—smearing the landscape with such puerile and perverse slogans as 'India is a bouquet, Kashmir a rose in it'. We won't resolve it by beating our breasts over the export of terror from Pakistan. Of course, Pakistan is exporting terror into Kashmir, but that is essentially because we have created a consumer for terror in Kashmir.

Kashmiris aren't friends or Indians or countrymen any more; they aren't lending New Delhi their ears. Who are we trying to talk to? The Hurriyat? But who are they? Nothing more than placards brandished by hands from across the border. The moment they try cosying up to New Delhi, they will be shredded and other placards will be up. Hizbul Mujahideen? We saw the fate of the farce enacted recently in Srinagar. Talks hadn't even got off the ground and they were buried. All that remains is a photograph home secretary Kamal Pandey got taken with some Hizbul commanders. Pandey stands alone in that picture today with a grin that had begun to look silly the day after it was taken. The militants have all left the picture and vanished underground.

What the government wanted to talk about with the militants is itself a mystery. It had just bludgeoned Farooq Abdullah's autonomy resolution that sought powers well within the Constitution. Yet here it was trying to open overt and covert channels to people who not only wanted the Constitution set aside but also Pakistan brought on board. Was the government willing? No. Then why the talks? Who was New Delhi trying to fool?

Genuine desire to untangle Kashmir figured nowhere in New Delhi's concerns when it opened talks with a wee faction of the Hizbul. It was not a statesman's initiative; it was an intelligence cop's job whose limited purpose was to make a Kukka Parray out of Abdul Majid Dar, and, perhaps, earn India some diplomatic brownie points for attempting a negotiated settlement.

India has very compulsive reasons for not letting Kashmir turn another colour on the world map. They have to do with history and with geopolitics. They have to do with the idea of India as opposed to the idea of Pakistan. But then, we must also ponder whether Kashmir must exist solely as a taunt to Jinnah's two-nation theory, as a hostage to the idea of Indian secularism. We must ponder if Kashmiris should have a say in what Kashmir must be. When was the last time that an Indian prime minister went to Kashmir and addressed its people? When was the last time they were asked what is it that they want, why is it that they do not want to call themselves Indians?

We, as a nation, are afraid to ask such questions because we are petrified of the responses we might evoke. We are ready to take on Kashmiri militancy but we are not ready to take on Kashmiri minds. Until we can address the Kashmiri mind, our claim on Kashmir will rest on the mere fact of physical possession.

(Associate editor of The Telegraph, Sankarshan Thakur is author of The Making of Laloo Yadav: The Unmaking of Bihar.)
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