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Will New Delhi henceforth be guided only by mistrust in dealing with people of Kashmir?

By Anand K Sahay*
My recent trip to Kashmir has revealed a picture that can only fill one with gloom and dread. Grave political uncertainty and psychological disarray at the level of ordinary people is the standout impression.
At issue are the future of the lives of the people in the Valley, and the quality of the relationship with India they might be forced to endure in the aftermath of the “great betrayal” of August 5, the day on which our Parliament rubbished Article 370 of the Constitution and proceeded with steps for the reorganisation of J&K state.
In order to just hang in there, will New Delhi henceforth be guided only by mistrust in dealing with the people of Kashmir? Will a militarised dispensation, under which will flourish the “new politics” conceptualised by the likes of Amit Shah, the Union home minister, be the new normal?
“We are back at 1947,” said a disgusted journalist in the north Kashmir town of Baramulla. The sentiment is encountered across the famous, and now deeply troubled, Vale of Kashmir. (Identities of the people spoken to for this report cannot be disclosed for fear of consequences for them.)
On October 26, 1947, forced by military circumstances imposed by newly created Pakistan and having being thwarted in his design to remain independent, the J&K ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, had signed the Instrument of Accession to join his kingdom with newly independent India under specific conditions.
The essence of this document was formalised in the shape of Article 370 after prolonged debate in India’s Constituent Assembly -- which means a compact was arrived at, and now stands violated.
The question people in Kashmir have begun asking is whether the choice made by them in 1947 needs to be re-visited. “It has been an illusion,” they say.
With Sheikh Abdullah marshalling popular opinion, in 1947 the Kashmiris put their faith in secular India rather than Islamic Pakistan, although the latter has continued to attract the allegiance of a small section since then. This section has now come alive.
Adherents of Jamaat-e-Islami, a religio-political outfit which believes in merging with Pakistan, now expect to command greater attention
It is perhaps the only set of people in the valley that is pleased about the Modi government’s troubling recent decisions on Kashmir since these have led to disorienting the people wholesale. Adherents of the Jamaat-e-Islami, an influential religio-political outfit which believes in merging with Pakistan, now expect to command greater attention than before.
The speech of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in the UN last month elicits nothing but praise. A young woman lawyer said, “The Pakistan PM spoke about the crisis that hit us after August 5- the jailing of thousands, the communications blackout. He is the only one who spoke about us. Modi, on the other hand, spoke about “shauchalya” (toilets) at the UN! He could have talked about peace but didn’t.”
Said a north Kashmir villager who gets by as an electrician, “Imran Khan has his own interests. We understand that. The people of Kashmir have never been with Pakistan. The show of Pakistan flags in protest rallies, unless the Jamaatis are involved, is only to cock a snook at New Delhi. But now we realise India is not a friend. The trust of 70 years is gone. What was the need for all this? We have been made fools. God knows what the future holds.”
Khan’s speech has appealed even to those who did not hide their pro-India sentiment in a conflict zone. This lot seems to have swung to the side of “azadi”, a word with wide connotations, the most common being freedom from military searches and pervasive military presence that hits day-to-day life and wounds the dignity of people.
Crudely etched in Urdu on a side of the wooden table in a lawyer’s small office in Shopian in south Kashmir, the valley’s most disturbed district, where a killing took place hours after I departed, is the lament “Ghulam Kashmir”-- Kashmir Enslaved. encapsulating feelings in the wake of August 5.
(To be concluded)
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*Senior Delhi-based journalist, who was recently in Srinagar, Baramulla and Shopian. This is the first article in a series on ground realities in Kashmir following the August 5 crackdown. A version of this article has appeared in the “Asian Age”

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