A Kashmiri Speaks;Response to Chetan Bhagat’s letter to Kashmiri Youth

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Chetan Bhagat- who Wikipedia, describes as a public intellectual, author and columnist- has written an open letter to Kashmiri youth.  The rationale and aim of the letter-in the nature of a plea- is to make Kashmiri youth reconsider its alienation from India , “integrate” and “assimilate” with the Union.  Obiter dictum, Bhagat’s letter, if a charitable perspective is employed is riddled with historical inaccuracies; however, if one wears the hat of a cynic, Bhagat indulges wantonly in what are clear distortions.
Consider his reductive take on the nature and circumstances of Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to the Indian Union. Bhagat merely insinuates and implicates Pakistan for Kashmir’s accession to India and asserts that India “helped” after Pakistan attacked Kashmir.  This assertion is as fallacious and wilfully erroneous as can be. The circumstances surrounding JK’s accession are mired and cloaked in controversy. In the interests of historical record and accuracy, I will briefly delineate these circumstances- in the nature of an overview.  
The fact of the matter is that as paramountcy – indirect rule of the British over princely states had lapsed- the rulers of Princely states like JK had the choice to either accede to Pakistan or India-in consonance with the two nation theory.  The state of JK , however, posed a conundrum: the majority of the denizens of JK were Muslims but the state was ruled by a Hindu Maharaja. As the partition of the Indian dominion drew close, the Maharaja had a choice to make. But he vacillated and dithered.  The political vacuum that this vacillation engendered was filled by intrigues, deceptions, wheelings and dealings and ultimately even war. It was these set of conditions that ultimately determined JK’s accession to India. The Maharaja either under coercion or to save nominal privileges apparently chose to accede to India but the nature of the accession as Bhagat does recognize was a qualified one. JK would have its own Prime Minister and barring defence, foreign affairs and communication- would be an autonomous entity. In the idiom of Westphalia, JK would be almost a quasi sovereign state with loose federal ties to the Indian Union.
After making these incorrect claims, Bhagat takes recourse to compressionism. That is, he elides over a substantial and substantive period of Kashmir’s modern history and jumps to the insurgency phase. Instead of holding insurgency to be a concomitant of Kashmir’s post 1947 history- the series of “coups” engineered by the Centre in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the gradual dilution of its special status, the propping up of Centre’s lackeys in the state and other forms of coercive manipulations and overt as well as covert interventions in the state’s politics-, Bhagat reductively takes recourse to another erroneous (wilful or otherwise) reductive attribution regarding the insurgency. Bhagat attributes the insurgency to “Pakistan’s exploitation of Islam to start an insurgency in the state”. A reasonably informed high school student can understand that insurgencies can only be fomented when there is deep alienation and disaffection among a certain population”. Kashmir is and was no exception to this general principle or even law of insurgencies.
Bhagat does not stop here. He trots either his ignorance about Kashmir or indulges, to repeat, in wilful distortions. He whitewashes the state’s response in dealing with insurgency and, if a metaphor were to be employed here, “ he , identifying with the Army, raises his hands helplessly , in terms of the so called collateral damage that counter insurgency entails. Absolving the state of any wrong doing and drawing flawed parallels with the Islamic state( except that the Army got a “ bad name”),  Bhagat poses a question: what should the youth of Kashmir do?
Bhagat answers his own question by enjoining the Kashmiri youth to declutter the geographical dimensions of Jammu and Kashmir and focus on Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh- especially what is the centre of gravity of the state: Kashmir valley. Pointing out to the small size of the vale- geographically and demographically- Bhagat posits that given these limitations , Kashmir will not hold its own as an independent state. He then adduces an imaginary condition and asserts that Kashmir, as an independent country will be a locus of crime and drug trafficking and terrorism. Bhagat then ties this condition to an Islamist takeover of Kashmir with the issue of women’s rights – all added up would mean that there would be no investment in Kashmir and its status as an independent nation will be impugned.
Given all these limitations and constraints, Bhagat wants to make Kashmiri youth see the obvious and cleverly enjoins this through the filter of Kashmiri nationalism: he wants Kashmiri youth to break shibboleths and opt for integration with India- a country which is an emerging economy. He goes further by enjoining Kashmiri youth to start a new movement which seeks abrogation of Article 370 and then counsels the same youth to apportion blame on Pakistan and its army and not the Indian Army. Bhagat closes by  a curious non sequitur and admonishes Kashmiri youth: he asks them not to burst crackers when India loses because, in the words of  Bhagat, when India fails, Kashmiris will fail too.
Bhagat has a feverish imagination , a lop sided view on Kashmir. His letter essentially is in the nature of a patronizing diatribe which conflates misinformation and a naive sentimentalism shorn of reason to make India’s case in Kashmir.
While the author , given the nature of his profession(journalism) and the set of ethics that flows from this maintains equidistance and neutrality regarding Kashmir’s  political alignment, he would make a hypothetical case to debunk Bhagat’s myth making.
The correlation that Bhagat draws between an independent Kashmir and its slide into a “ terrorist , drug haven “ is specious. Why would Kashmir become a haven for insalubrious activity? The author’s beliefs are a case of projection: he projects his inspid imagination onto Kashmir and deduces a flawed scenario for Kashmir. Yes: India is an emerging economy but  the world that we inhabit contemporarily is defined by globalization and the global economy where investment flows gyrate to places for an n number of reasons. It needs to be stated here, for the sake of argument that investment flows to even conflict economies. Bhagat should not worry about the survival of Kashmir; he is neither an economist nor a financial expert. His education, it would appear does not permit him to see beyond his nose.  Women’s rights are an ongoing process which is happening in Kashmir as this goes to press and the process is happening despite the state; it is organic process which will happen.
The most offensive part of Bhagat’s letter is his patronizing attitude to Kashmir by enjoining youth to start a new movement whic is pro India and against Pakistan. He, by doing so, presents an “ Us” versus “ them” mentality and is laying the conceptual seeds of another conflict , howsoever hypothetical this new conflict is.
 If Bhagat were sincere and really cared about Kashmir, he would or should have begun with an apology- apology over the NIT fracas, initiated by non local students provocatively; he should have the n apologized for the state’s clumsy approach towards the people( six people have died in Kashmir over the last week on account of a provocation which could have been handled with sobriety and honesty) and then Bhagat should have sought a reconciliation process wherein all stakeholders to the conflict in and over Kashmir would have been involved- including Pakistan. He should have sought and enjoined people from all backgrounds and all stakeholders to initiate a dialogue on Kashmir. The premise that could have informed this dialogue would be disavowal of crude sovereigntism, jingoism and false nationalism. Bhagat should have rooted for a tabula rasa (blank slate) for all stakeholders to Kashmir and sought a fresh beginning- the kind that would redound to the benefit of all stakeholders, especially Kashmiris in the larger interests of long term peace, amity and prosperity. But asking this from Bhagat would be asking for the moon for he writes with a slant and partisan ship that is not only crude but also rude and offensive

 

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