Modi is wrong, Articles 370 & 35A did not create or promote separatism and terrorism

In an interview that focusses on the complex and complicated history of Kashmir, which is often forgotten or ignored, a former senior Intelligence Bureau official, who has spent decades in Kashmir and Pakistan, has refuted Prime Minister Modi’s claim that Articles 370 and 35A had to be removed because they were responsible for fostering and promoting separatism and terrorism. Avinash Mohananey says the real cause of both is the way governments in Delhi and Srinagar have trampled over Kashmir’s democracy, rigging elections and dismissing elected governments.

He says Mr Modi’s decision to read-down Article 370 and abrogates Article 35A “have been far more humiliating for Kashmiris than what has happened in the past”. If the government does not take corrective action, including a U-turn on its domicile laws, “the long term ramifications … will be unfathomable”. He pointedly added: “But be sure they would be grave. The coming generation will have to pay the price.”

Speaking about Prime Minister Modi’s claim that 370 and 35A were responsible for separatism and terrorism and the decision to abrogate them is “historic”, Mr Mohananey said: “I know for sure these two Articles were not responsible … this claim from the Prime Minister that they came as a huge surprise … the Prime Minister is an institution which is respected across the country. People believe him. My belief is this claim is not correct.” A little later Mr. Mohananey added: “The PM’s narrative was not right. One year later has anything changed?”

In a 55-minute interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, which takes on board the full canvass of Kashmiri history from 1947 to 2020, Mr. Mohananey said the first spark that lit the fire of separatism was Jawaharlal Nehru’s decision to unconstitutionally dismiss Sheikh Abdullah and arrest him without charges in August 1953. Mr. Mohananey said this was done because the Nehru government did not approve of Sheikh Abdullah’s Naya Kashmir policies and, in particular, his land reform measures which Delhi saw as crypto-communism.

Mr Mohananey told The Wire that the restoration of Sheikh Abdullah and the holding of free and fair elections in 1977 restored Kashmiri faith in democracy but, once again, Indira Gandhi’s decision to topple Farooq Abdullah in a midnight coup in 1984 shattered that faith. She, he said, was the prime minister who rekindled the dying embers of separatism.

Mr Mohananey pointed out that Indira Gandhi’s grievance was that Farooq Abdullah refused to ally with her Congress Party but fought the ’83 elections on his own. Thereafter, whilst keeping a distance from Congress, he seemed to get closer to a collection of Indian opposition parties. He attended N. T. Rama Rao’s conclave in Vijayawada and hosted the second such conclave in Srinagar. This annoyed Indira. In the process, she overlooked the fact that by allying with mainstream Indian opposition parties Farooq was consciously connecting Kashmiri politics with the rest of the country. Instead, she took offence that he was not allying with her Congress.

However, Mr. Mohananey told The Wire “the real trigger that led to (a) massive upsurge of separatism was the manipulation of (the) democratic process jointly by the National Conference and Congress in (the) 1987 elections”. He said this fanned the flames of separatism into a raging fire. He said Rajiv Gandhi and Farooq Abdullah were responsible for “almost more than 90%” of the separatism that thereafter seemed to dominate the Valley’s politics.

Mr. Mohananey cited the example of Mohammed Yusuf Shah who fought the 1987 elections and, initially, was declared the victor but then, under pressure from the National Conference-Congress, found his result reversed. Yusuf Shah went on to become Syed Salahudeen, the present head of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen.

Alongside blaming Indian politicians and their manipulation of Kashmiri politics for the rise of separatism, Mr. Mohananey also pointed out that the media played a multiplier role. Rather than see Kashmiris as victims it chose to demonize them. This gave many Kashmiris the feeling they were being treated unjustly and would not get a fair deal from Delhi or from the media.

Asked whether he believed Mr. Modi’s decision to read-down 370 and abolish 35A, which he called “far more humiliating for Kashmiris than what has happened in the past”, could end up giving separatism a new lease of life, Mr. Mohananey said, “This is my understanding and feeling”. He added, with specific reference to Farooq and Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, “my worries are that even those who sided with us have been reduced to separatists”.

Speaking about the attitude of Indian politicians, he said “rather than own and embrace Kashmiris we are trying to throw them away”.

In part two of the interview i.e. after the commercial break, Mr. Mohananey spoke about the rise and growth of terrorism in Kashmir. He first pointed out that Kashmir faced brutal terrorism even before it acceded to India when Pakistani tribal Lashkars entered the state and pillaged and killed. In contrast, the Indian army, which arrived on the 27th of October 1947, was welcomed as saviours by the Kashmiri people.

Mr. Mohananey pointed out that Pakistan’s attempts to provoke terrorism in Kashmir failed even in 1953, when Sheikh Abdullah was unconstitutionally removed, and again in 1967, when Pakistan launched Operation Gibraltar. Speaking specifically about Operation Gibraltar, when 10 or 15,000 Pakistan infiltrators entered the state seeking to sabotage Indian rule, Mr. Mohananey said it was the Kashmiri people who identified them to the army.

Mr. Mohananey said right up till 1987 Pakistani attempts to provoke terrorism were thwarted by the Kashmiri people who remained peaceful because they did not want to take to violence.

The big change happened after the rigged elections of 1987 when, in addition, the consequence of developments in Afghanistan also played to Pakistan’s advantage.

Terrorism and separatism grew right through the 1990s but the ceasefire of 2003 and the Vajpayee-Musharraf agreement of 2004 brought a stop to infiltration and violence for several years. A new peace prevailed in Kashmir until two developments under Congress-ruled disturbed the situation: the Amarnath land row of 2008 and the failure to act against perpetrators of the Macchil fake encounter.

Asked by The Wire how the Indian army is viewed by the Kashmiris, Mr. Mohananey said because India is seen as an occupying power the army is also seen as an army of occupation. However, he stressed that the sadbhavana work done by the army has also substantially ameliorated its image. Nonetheless, he added, there have been a few excesses committed by the army and there are a few occasions when justice has not been done to the Kashmiris. On those occasions, the Indian system has sided with the army and covered up for its behaviour rather than give justice to Kashmiris. This has strengthened the belief Kashmiris do not get justice at Indian hands.

Speaking about the situation that’s emerged after the 2015 PDP-BJP alliance, a government that was very unpopular in the Valley, Mr. Mohananey said we have now reached a point where there’s growing social acceptance of young Kashmiris who join terrorist groups and even their parents eulogize them. He specifically said that whereas in the past the security services could rely upon the parents of militants who had been cornered to persuade them to peacefully surrender now parents encourage their children to die and become martyrs. Mr. Mohananey said a whole generation of young Kashmiris has been alienated.

Mr. Mohananey dismissed claims the situation is under control because in the first seven months of this year 150 terrorists have been killed compared to just 130 in the same period last year. He said these are young untrained, inexperienced youth who can be easily killed. Much more importantly, there’s a huge number of such young people willing to join terrorist groups. What is, therefore, important is not that more terrorists are being killed but that more and more young people are joining terrorist groups knowing they will be killed.

Mr. Mohananey also said as the number of Kashmiris who are killed rises there’s also a proliferation of anguish in their families which in turn breeds alienation and even hatred for India.

Mr. Mohananey said he still hoped the situation can be brought back into control but to do so the government would have to reverse several steps it’s taken. First, it would have to restore statehood. Second, domicile rules will have to be reversed and, third, the media must stop demonizing Kashmiris. However, he added, even if this is done – and as yet there’s no sign at all that the government or press is willing to do it – it will take years if not a decade and more to change the way Kashmiris think.

The above is a paraphrased precis of Avinash Mohananey’s interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire. Although not inaccurate its recounted from memory. Please see the full interview for accurate details at The Wire Youtube Channel.