The valley of tears

Monday, August 23, 2010

Some are born great, argued the Bard, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. Many of us have “greatness thrust upon them,” thanks to a quirk of circumstances, or thanks to the Creator of those circumstances. Few of us though prove ourselves worthy of the privilege or opportunity presented to us by destiny.

Watching Omar Abdullah struggle, bumble and fumble at the helm even as the ‘paradise on earth’ burns like hell, one cannot help but marvel at the strange games destiny plays with us. What makes the young chief minister qualify for the job, gifted to him by his indulgent father Farooq Abdullah, except his proud pedigree? But what’s new? Farooq Abdullah, a medical doctor by training, inherited the mantle from his legendary father Shaikh Abdullah in similar fashion. Democracy and dynasty go hand in hand in South Asia. Nothing wrong if politics runs in the family, and son – or daughter for that matter – succeeds father or mother in power as they often have in the subcontinent. Trouble arises when those born with a silver spoon cannot hold it.

The mess in Kashmir these days makes you wonder if there is really a government in place in Srinagar. Young boys are getting killed like flies and no one seems to be losing any sleep in Srinagar or Delhi. Nearly 60 youths have died in little over a month. Almost all of them died of gun shots or those “plastic pillets” that are not supposed to kill. And each successive death in turn has fuelled the cauldron of anger and frustration that is today’s Kashmir, bringing thousands more out on the streets. And it’s not just young men who are up in the arms. The spectacle of women throwing stones and clashing with the security forces brings out goose bumps all over.

In the six decades of unrest, the Valley has never seen anything like this. Ominously, the New York Times this week drew parallels between today’s Kashmir and Gaza. The comparison is not justified. No matter what the angry Kashmiris today think, India is not Israel and thank God for that! This is not because of its enterprising politicians but because of its robust democratic institutions, civil society, the judiciary and the media.

Intriguingly though, the democratic India has been largely silent over the plight of ordinary Kashmiris. The mainstream media, ever ready to pounce on a newsy issue, has been either totally ignoring the issue or as usual projects the protests as something choreographed from across the border. So even if young boys are casually killed on a daily basis, for our media, civil society and politicians, it’s little more than a footnote in the narrative of India-Pakistan politics. This is really sad and I do not know where this indifference of ours in Kashmir is eventually going to take us.

While the rest of the country has been busy celebrating the ascent of new India and its new-found wealth, unprecedented prosperity and rising global stature, Kashmir has gone through a quiet but watershed change. Its total disconnect and alienation with the rest of India has never been more disturbing and complete.

Who’s to blame for this mess? Omar Abdullah may be responsible for mishandling the current ‘law-and-order’ crisis, as many in the media call it. His humiliation this Independence Day when a suspended cop threw his heavy boot at the chief minister was shocking but not surprising.

When God chooses to slight someone, He does so in strange ways. While Omar regained his composure in no time, his irrepressible father had to valiantly draw comfort from the fact that the chief minister was now in the distinguished company of such worthies as George W Bush, Home Minister Chidambaram and Zardari, of course. But maybe it’s unfair to single out Abdullah junior for the worsening crisis in the Valley. He certainly did not start or cause it. It’s the result of decades of morally bankrupt policies and the zero sum game of the subcontinent twins in which the Kashmiris find themselves hopelessly caught. And one doesn’t see any end in sight either.

Unfortunately, South Asia today is full of self-serving, petty politicians but singularly bereft of great leaders who can bring lasting peace to this cursed piece of land.

Talking of great leaders, one had great expectations from Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. Incidentally, Dr Singh has just crossed a historic milestone by becoming the longest serving prime minister after Jawaharlal Nehru and his feisty daughter Indira Gandhi. Defying all predictions and projections, Dr Singh has completed nearly six years in power. Six years! Boy, was it really that long?

It’s been a heady ride for the prime minister and the Congress-led UPA coalition. Strangely though, throughout his first term and in the past two years, the only policy that seems to have enjoyed the prime minister’s attention is the foreign policy, or the US policy, to be more precise, at the cost of everything else. No wonder every minister in the federal government seems to be working on his own or at cross-purposes. One minister doesn’t seem to know, or care, what the other is doing. It’s as though there’s no government in Delhi and this huge, giant of a country of a billion people is miraculously functioning on its own.
The government’s pathetic response to the shame of Common Wealth Games scandal is shocking, to say the least. Even as the media screams about the involvement of the high and mighty in the scam of hundreds of millions of rupees, a belligerent Suresh Kalmadi not only remains untouched but continues to be on the CWG organising committee and the voice and face of the government. It’s as if the entire government has been struck by a paralysis from top down. But it’s the government’s response to the Kashmir unrest that really takes the cake. It’s been three months since the current phase of protests began in June with the killing of a teenager and we are yet to see a sincere and effective attempt to put out the fire in the Valley, except for perfunctory statements and meetings.

This is really unfortunate for a prime minister who has repeatedly expressed his keenness to win back the Kashmiri hearts and minds as well as resolve this business with Pakistan once and for all. But Dr Singh can do little on his own, without the active support from his own party and party leadership. What the Valley needs today is not more empty rhetoric or economic packages but a real healing touch and respect from politicians in Delhi and Srinagar. The Valley’s wounds will heal only when the jackboots leave. For the longer Kashmir bleeds, the more distant it will grow from us.
The writer is opinion editor of the Khaleej Times. Email: aijaz@ khaleejtimes.com