Put your ears to the ground and listen carefully. The reverberations from the Kashmir valley are not the same anymore. It has a different cadence to the usual Hurriyat call for an immediate solution or from the rhetoric of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) of Mehbooba Mufti. This is the cry of post-insurgency youth, born after 1989, when militancy first took root in the state.
This new generation hurls stones as a retaliation to perceived injustice but it does not resort to taking up arms from Pakistan as the militants did. Nor does it boast any "top contacts" which even the political leadership in the opposition maintains with Delhi.
In fact, this angry, amorphous force has no defined leadership. The baton of the movement is in the hands of the new generation and what strings it together is the anger against the establishments in Srinagar and New Delhi. It would not be correct to say that hardliner Syed Gilani is their leader. He sees to it that he is not out of step with them. His fundamentalism carries weight. Yet when he tried to rally them to a non-violent course of action, he failed. The pelting of stones is the symbolic rejection of various formulae touted as cures for Kashmir’s ills.
Both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah have failed to understand the ethos of the movement. They do not realise that their intelligence agencies over the years have become part of the establishment. The Prime Minister’s willingness to talk to all sections or individuals in Kashmir, as he said in a recent speech, is a shot in the dark. He has no machinery to reach them. His dependence on the same old apparatus and individuals will yield no results. They are not relevant in the present situation.
In the same manner, Omar Abdullah’s offer to create 50,000 jobs to engage the youth comes too late. He should have done so when he came to power after free elections that saw 62 per cent polling. The youth movement has no economic agenda. It is a revolt against the entire system. Moreover, the economic package has become a joke in Jammu and Kashmir because very little is delivered after making tall promises.
To understand the situation, two things should be kept in mind. One, Pakistan doesn’t have a hand. Two, the movement has nothing to do with the militants who, for instance, engaged security forces in a four-day encounter at Rajouri recently. The movement is not pre-planned. Had it been so, it would not have taken a dangerous shape during the current tourist season which yields income to Kashmir for the whole year.
It is a spontaneous movement. It started with the killing of 17-year-old Tufail Ahmad Matto on June 11.
As Omar Abdullah has admitted, protests led to the firing and firing led to more protests. One incident ignited another and in no time the entire valley was engulfed by protests. No separatist outfit organised the agitation. Various groups entered the arena after the fire had caught on, not before. The youth give ear to them but keep their own counsel.
Anger against Omar Abdullah was the focus of their helplessness. The shoe throwing incident during the flag-hoisting ceremony on Independence Day was a form of protest. The policeman who took matters into his own hands later confessed: "I did it because of my affection for my people who are being killed every day. I was beaten up in custody and won’t accept anything under duress. They [the police] want me to name PDP or Hurriyat leaders for that." This speaks volumes about the repressive methods of the police.
Mehbooba’s PDP is a supporter of the movement. She is a problem, not the solution. Her ambition is power. She wants to step in if and when the Congress party parts company with Omar Abdullah’s National Conference and chooses PDP as an ally to run the state. The prime minister should know this.
Machinations by politicians have been the bane of the state. Today all political formations, including the Hurriyat, are irrelevant because the angry youth does not have any faith in them or their methods.
The vague, undefined leadership that has surfaced is radical, Islamist and ultra-fundamentalist.
One woman journalist, a Muslim, speaking to me from Srinagar said that what was emerging was going to throttle the gasping Kashmiryat, a secular way of life which has distinguished the Kashmir valley from the rest of the country.
Both India and Pakistan have not calculated the fallout the movement. India is too overwhelmed. Pakistan feels happy that "the enemy" is in the midst of real trouble. But the movement is something which should force the two to sit together and make a sober assessment. True, this only underlines the urgency for a solution in Kashmir. Manmohan Singh has said that he is ready for it. So has been the view of the Pakistani leadership.
But the outcome has to be such that it does not harm the secular ethos in India.
I know that the talks are going on between New Delhi and Srinagar through the back channel. But the Kashmiris themselves constitute the main party ever since the 1989 insurgency. The sooner they are involved, the better it would be for peace in the valley.