Who are the faces of Kashmir’s future?

Few people in Delhi know the Valley better than former RAW chief Amarjit Singh Dulat.

Amarjit Singh Dulat quotes Agha Ashraf Ali, Agha Shahid Ali’s father, describing Sheikh Abdullah: He had a heart of gold but no brains. In an entertaining memoir about his Kashmir experience (from 1988 and counting), the former RAW chief proves he is no slouch in powers of description.

If Shabir Shah was the headmaster of the separatists, Yasin Malik was the head boy. Sajad Lone is a wild card. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq cannot decide whether he wants to be pope or chief minister. Omar Abdullah is a tweet chief minister, more Englishman than he is a Kashmiri. And Mehbooba Mufti is quirky.

Behind the conviviality is a sharp mind though and it is evident in his new book, Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years, where Dulat takes readers right into the multiple shades of grey that Kashmir is.

How do you solve a problem like Kashmir? A problem that is emotive, psychological, and political. As far as Dulat is concerned, a good starting point is sending Syed Ali Shah Geelani to Pakistan. As Dulat told a Pakistan high commissioner: “Take him to Pakistan and give him a farm in Raiwind or something. That’s his ultimate desire, so bury him with a green flag or something.”

He believes there are four likely players of the future in Kashmir – Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, he says, is merely playing a benefit match.

What does he think of all?

Excerpts from Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years – 

#1. Omar Abdullah

Omar started off with great hope. He made a huge impact in Kashmir and in Delhi with a statement he made in Parliament during the July 2008 debate on the India-US nuclear deal, when he declared that it had been a mistake not to resign from the NDA after the 2002 Gujarat riots, and when he declared that Kashmiris would never let any harm come to the Amarnath Yatra pilgrims (in May 2008, the state government transferred 100 acres of forest land to the Amarnath Yatra board but had to reverse its decision following widespread protests in the Valley). During the 2008 Assembly election, even the Pakistanis let their supporters know that they wanted to see him as chief minister (remember, he greatly impressed Musharraf during his visit to Pakistan in 2006). And when he became chief minister, he began by writing letters to people interested in Kashmir, asking them to come to Kashmir as his guests. It enthused many.

But Omar had this hang-up about his father. He felt Farooq was gullible, that Farooq was misled by bad advisors, and that he was going to do things his own way. From what he said it sounded as if Farooq was bad news, and Dadaji (Sheikh Saheb) was everything. Which was fine, except that he forgot that if it hadn’t been for his father, he would not have become chief minister. Ultimately, his repeated reference to Sheikh Saheb, while ignoring his own father, did not go down well in Kashmir.

Rubbishing Farooq ultimately became counterproductive because Omar’s biggest problem became that he was not like his father in the matter of reaching out to his fellow Kashmiris. You cannot reach out to Kashmiris via the smart phone, iPad or Twitter. This made Omar look more like an Englishman than a Kashmiri. On top of which, Omar dealt with everything through the security paradigm. You don’t need to be a genius to know that unemployment and development are not dealt with through the security paradigm.

Then came the two big disasters of Omar’s tenure: the stone-pelting of 2010 and the failure of his government to provide visible relief during the 2014 floods. Those people who were enthused by Omar’s youth and freshness and energy were deeply disappointed.

Yet I would not write off Omar, because of the great legacy he has. He has plus points, and as he has said during the 2014 Assembly election campaign, time is on his side. There’s a huge legacy on his side, so long as he doesn’t squander it. The way Kashmir is, the way Kashmir functions and the way Kashmir politics is, even in the long run Omar is the most likely to succeed. This is simply because politics in Kashmir is so bogged down. Mehbooba will have a head start at the moment because after the 2014 election she will be a key player in the ruling combination. As I was concluding this book the election results in J&K which satisfied no party in particular were announced. The obvious coalition staring one in the face was a PDP-BJP alliance. But when I asked a Kashmiri who understands politics what he thought, he felt they would get together but it would always be a rocky relationship – “Shaadi to hogi lekin nikaah nahin”.

Omar is honest, he’s straight, he’s transparent: he’s different.

But he needs to learn politics a little more, and he needs to become a little more Kashmiri. He’s willing to wait it out and he’s reconciled to sitting in the opposition; in a way he’s looking forward to that because it’ll be a different experience. Omar definitely needs another chance.

#2. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq

The Mirwaiz has to make up his mind, as mentioned earlier, whether he wants to be pope for life or whether he wants to be chief minister. I’ve told the Pakistanis that they’re doing him a great disservice by holding him back, because as a politician he remains untested. As a human being he has all the qualities. But you have to be tested in the field; you have to be tested in power and you have to be tested out of power.

#3. Sajad Lone

Sajad is a wild card. He has many qualities, but he’s a little unpredictable. He had been offered a senior ministership by Mufti Sayeed in 2002, so he had by the 2014 Assembly election wasted a dozen years, when he could have used the time to mature into a seasoned politician. During the 2014 election I spoke to him and advised him that when the results came in, despite his having gone and met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he should not jump into anything. “Maybe you’ve made some commitments, fine, but see what happens,” I said. “If you want to be a player, then you have to come on to the board. There’s no point in being in the fringe or on the outside.”

Though Sajad was a borderline separatist – remember, he learned from his father that this separatism wasn’t going to last very long – he was Delhi’s favoured separatist. But he has looked for extraordinary favours from Delhi, and because of his temperament, Delhi has not been able to handle him properly. Thus the desperation in November 2014, when he went and met Modi; Sajad was thinking that he had to get on Delhi’s right side. Like every other Kashmiri, Sajad believes that what Delhi wants is what will happen. Now that he’s arrived on centre court it is up to him to prove that he has the mettle to get to the top.

#4. Mehbooba Mufti

Mehbooba is a bit quirky.

But I have felt that a government with these, Omar, Umar and Sajad – and they could accommodate Mehbooba as well, why not – would be the best combination for Kashmir. It would take care of every shade of opinion: the pro-Pakistan, the pro-Indian, the pro-regional. It would automatically take care of the problems of engagement. As Omar used to say whenever there were talks about the Hurriyat, “Why are you asking me about talking to Delhi, I’m talking to Delhi all the time. Delhi should be talking to these guys.”

Modi is in a position to do what neither Vajpayee nor Manmohan Singh could do, because he can’t blame anyone. The welcome Modi got from Kashmiris when he became prime minister was unprecedented: a BJP-RSS guy was being welcomed by the Mirwaiz. If Modi wants to waste the opportunity, then fine. He has no excuses after this 2014 Assembly election.

Some would say that to find a solution to Kashmir one must understand the Kashmiris’ collective psychological personality. Kashmiris are said to have descended from the Nagas but are basically Saraswat Brahmins who were converted. And after suffering at the hands of the Mughals, the Pathans, the Afghans, the Sikhs, the Dogras, and currently, India, they fight with their brains. Their brains make up for whatever they might not have. Daily O

Kashmir – The Vajpayee Years; HarperCollins India; Rs 599.

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