One of the ugliest things New Delhi is doing to Kashmir is the invocation of religious nationalism. It has now become a menacingly visible part of their strategy on Kashmir. Cynicism apart, a cursory look at how India imagines Kashmir is a threat to the regional peace. In this imagination a compulsive nationalism is imposed on it with all available might. After the assumption of power by the rightwing party, BJP, the threat is becoming immediate and immense. One of the glaring example of this is the conduct of an otherwise purely religious act, Amarnath Yatra. Add to it the high pitch talk of creating rehabilitation zones for Kashmiri pandits. Further the talk of abrogating the article 370, and an intense effort to cobble together a majority in the upcoming assembly elections in the state of J&K; all this goes into making the threat to Kashmir’s Muslim character, menacingly real.
It is true that imagination about other is always exaggerated, but the way things are unfolding, even if both the parties are overblowing the things, it can lead to a dangerous state of affairs. The two communities living in this regions – Hindus and Muslims – can turn hostile towards each other and a cyclical violence can consume the region. In this situation all the saner elements in the region will have to get their act together and save the region from a bloody conflict. Kashmir is a place that holds the key. It can become the centre of violent conflict, and it has the potential of turning into the heart of reconciliation.
In India it is the responsibility of the parties that claim to represent secular politics to make Indians dismount the horses of religious chauvinism. Not just the secularists, even the rightwing parties need to dig into their traditional teachings of toleration and accommodation. The two can discover some meeting point on this as well, so that they don’t fall into the trap of competing chauvinism. But unfortunately this has not been the case up till now, and the chances of change in the mindset of these parties are very dim.
The tragedy of Indian politics is that the Secularist-Radical divide represented by Congress and BJP vanishes once it comes to Kashmir. So no surprises if both the parties stir religious sentiments to secure strategic and political gains in Kashmir. Not only the political parties are on the same page, all the institutions of the Indian state follow the grand and unitary framework adopted by India from the times of Gandhi, Nehru and Patel. For the sake of rhetoric Kashmir is a reflection of the secular credentials of India but in actuality having Kashmir within the borders of India is the assertion of Hindu self. India is a Hindu political organism when it comes to Kashmir and that is the first and last of this problem. One wonders what blinded Sheikh Abdullah to this simple thing. Did he really miss the Hindu in Nehru and Gandhi or he reveled in his blindness.
It was that refusal to see the religious ingredients of the emerging politics in India that led to the massacre of Muslims in Jammu, and God forbid if the emotive fuel, like Amarnath Yatra, runs the engine of Indian politics unchecked, human lives in Kashmir are at a great risk. What began with the massacre of Muslims in Jammu can anytime culminate in the termination of a population in Kashmir. At this point it might sound risible but the way the new winds are blowing, it can anytime set off a bloody communal conflagration. After all, for how long can a population be abused and humiliated. And in the face of a presumed threat communities finally behave in violent ways.
Now take the case of Amarnath yatra. The religious part of the pilgrimage was always a no-problem thing in Kashmir. It has been going on and none has ever taken any umbrage on it. But its character has now completely changed and from a purely religious journey undertaken by the ascetics it has now become an All-India-Political-March comprising a melee of Indians storming into Kashmir. There seems nothing religious about it now; it sounds like the conquering Roman legions marauding over a fallen city.
The overall texture of this new politics is to project Muslims as a problem to the organic nationalism based on a religious past. We have many such examples where this kind of politics has resulted in the emergence of violent conflicts. Take the example of Sri Lanka; when Sinhalese-Buddhists thought that Sri Lanka belongs only to Sinhalese and the history of the country is the history of Buddhism alone, it led to the mob violence, where one community massacred the members of the other community, and finally we saw a long and bloody conflict with Sri Lankan state representing Sinhalese-Buddhists side and LTTE representing Tamil-Hindus. And we all know what is did to Sri Lanka once known as Serandip – serendipity.
It is the time for the saner elements in India to wake up. This is the time for Indian civil society to stand up and question the ways of the state. If it is ruled by a fanatic mindset the dread will not stop at Kashmir. Kashmir is trying hard not to fall prey to the repeated provocations of India but deep states like India have mastered the art of killing people by the people.
Steeped in arrogance Indian state imagines that it can control the use of religion in Kashmir affairs. But a throw back is imminent in this case. The crowds that are gathered from all over India turn into religious fanatics once you make them a part of such a religious rage. Will they act differently in India! Just across the wall, there is a country called Pakistan. There too the state was intoxicated by the belief that religious sentiment can always be managed to deliver a strategic advantage; what happened is an eye opener for all those who are not willfully closing their eyes. The peril this politics poses, is one day bound to consume this region. Partition and Rwanda come to mind as two chilling reminders.