How Kashmir was buried in Tihar?

After the hanging of Muhammad Afzal Guru on February 9 (Saturday) I had tweeted “Kashmir buried in Tihar”. Many people mocked at it, some turned emotional, some cynical and a few critical. Since Twitter is a space of just 140 characters and for an issue such as Kashmir, that has consumed thousands of books and research papers, it was not possible for me to explain what I meant by saying so.  But taking Guru, a convict in December 2001 parliament, to the gallows under a blanket of secrecy and suspicion was in-fact one of the biggest statements New Delhi had made about Kashmir’s political problem in the last 65 years.



 It was not an ordinary decision, as it has been proving with each passing day of curfew in the valley. Apart from the fingers raised over the legal and judicial process through which this high profile case has gone, angry reaction by the pro-India political parties in Jammu and Kashmir has made the debate more significant.

Let us leave the legal part of the case aside and not go into the details of how it reached the conclusion, in the wisdom of Supreme Court Judges that in order to satisfy the collective conscience of the people the death penalty to Afzal was inevitable. This has perhaps been well responded by none other than a leading Supreme Court lawyer Kamini Jaiswal who criticized it and asked, “are we a blood thirsty nation?” Moreover, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has been more belligerent in differentiating between the “collective conscience” and the rule of the law when he told a news channel, "The Supreme Court judgment in the case talks about strong circumstantial evidence and about satisfying the collective conscience of the society. You don’t hang people because the society demands it. You hang people because the law demands it.” So the debate on placing the “collective conscience” ahead of the rule of law is already on. But what is important to look at the hanging and its aftermath is that politics was ingrained in this decision than the technical and legal cover.

First and foremost is that the Government of India jumped to Guru despite having two more attackers of democracy on death row ahead of him. One case pertains to former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the other of former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh. This fact has even created a deep wedge between the national political parties and their counterparts in Jammu and Kashmir since both Omar Abdullah’s National Conference and Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party are on the same page though with a difference. As argued by PDP, Omar cannot completely wash off his hands since his party is an ally of United Progressive Alliance government and its president Farooq Abdullah happens to be the member in the union cabinet. However, the cry from the pro-India parties is no different from the separatists whose reaction in any case is on expected lines. But this has made NC and PDP vulnerable to the situation and the political game New Delhi has played against their own “defenders” here will cost them dearly in the longer run.

Coming back to my observation as to why Kashmir was buried in Tihar. The decision to hang Afzal, as is now clear, was purely political since Congress was feeling the heat of Modi march to Delhi in 2014. But could they take a similar decision a decade back to keep BJP at bay for the electoral gains. Perhaps not. It is actually the confidence New Delhi has gained over a period of time that they could take any “risk” in Kashmir. Looking closely at this decision, it is an unquestionable fact that the Congress led UPA government no longer looks at Kashmir through the prism of political exigency but purely as a law and order issue which can be dealt with the reinforcement of few thousand more para military forces. By taking Afzal to gallows, Congress might have won the “hearts” of Indian voters, but it has shut the doors of reconciliation at least for some time. Even if Kashmiris were ready to move forward on the path of peace and reconciliation, New Delhi has shown that it does not care much about that. It has virtually dismissed the sentiments in Kashmir with contempt by going ahead with Afzal’s hanging. Not only has the hanging a potential to have a long term impact on the psyche of Kashmir youth as suggested by Omar Abdullah, but the way the family was denied the last meeting with him has hurt a common Kashmiri to the hilt.

The decision of hanging has purely come at the cost of Kashmir. A place battered with conflict is yet to recover from the wounds inflicted on its population. Still it had shown the courage and resilience to compromise with the fact that normalcy was an important tool to sustain the economy, though not at the cost of the political aspirations. While the GoI was “celebrating” this “normalcy” by projecting 85 percent participation in Panchayat elections and arrival of 1.4 million tourists in 2012, it failed to encash on this wave and rather “misused” this sense of flexibility Kashmiris had shown. From 2003 onwards the people had supported the peace process between India and Pakistan, though with limited benefit to Kashmiris in the shape of Confidence Building Measures. But it was to show that they are for peaceful settlement of the issue and want to take active part in that process. It is ironic that Congress “apparently fell into the trap” of Bhartiya Janta Party’s continued tirade and succumbed to the situation in order to ensure that they are back in the saddle in 2014. But it is BJP’s stalwart Atal Bihari Vajpayee who is seen as a peace maker in the region. His former adviser and RAW chief AS Dulat has said that if it would have been Vajpayee, there was no possibility of sending Guru to gallows. He was also disturbed at the fact that this situation has pushed the Valley back by many years.

There was an overwhelming demand from various quarters in India, including the various human rights groups, for commutation of Guru’s death sentence. In hindsight, had it indeed been commuted to life sentence, it could have proved a major confidence building measure for the valley.  

If the sources are to be believed, the decision to hang Afzal is purely political and taken at the level of Congress core committee.  According to insiders, the top brass of Army, Intelligence Bureau, and Central Reserve Police Force have argued against this decision apprehending serious trouble in Kashmir, but the political weightage has over shadowed their “advice” and plunged the place into the crisis.

Kashmir may revert back to normalcy though nothing can be anticipated at this stage. But those who believe that it will not push into a situation as it did after five years of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front founder Maqbool Butt’s hanging in the same month in same jail in 1984 are wrong in their assessment. It may not push another generation into violence, but at least the generation that has grown after 1990 will identify itself with Guru and the rest one will follow. The hanging will ignite a sense of renewed disillusionment and alienation. Today’s generation is not as naive as it was in 1984. They are well educated, articulate and politically more conscious of their political rights. They are unarmed and it is difficult to contain them through the methods, which have been used in the past. Kashmiri students agitating at Jantar Mantar in Delhi is enough to learn a lesson about how volatile the youth can be in this age.

In 1984 there was none to agitate against Butt’s hanging in Delhi and not many even in Kashmir but this time the only option with the government to quell the strong resentment is to barricade the Valley and put it under long spell of curfew. If they do not have problems with New Delhi’s decision vis-a-vis Kashmir then why this long siege? Politically they did bury Kashmir in another grave in Tihar but it has a lesson for the government to learn and not just merely see it as an end of an offender who helped militants attack the parliament.