Invitable logic

The communalisation of the militant movement was a forgone conclusion


For which state in the country is India—Constitutionally speaking — not a “secular” republic? The answer, which is bound to surprise, is Jammu and Kashmir. This particular aspect of the Indian state, as described in the Preamble to the Indian Constitution, doesn’t apply to Jammu and Kashmir, To put it simply, India is not a secular state as far as Jammu and Kashmir is concerned.This for a state which inspite of being Muslim–dominated joined the Indian Union assured of its ostensibly secular principles. This, for a state, which during the communal holocaust accompanying Partition remained entirely peaceful making Mahatma Gandhi see a ray of hope in the sub–continent. This for a state which did not see any semblance of communal tension when the Babri Masjid was demolished. Yet today, civil society in Kashmir stands thoroughly polarised and fragmented.

Even though the more gruesome aspects of communalisation have become visible only recently, the communalisation of the militant movement was a foregone conclusion. If anything, what is surprising is that the change in the character of the ethno-nationalist militant movement that started in 1989, took so long to happen. Everybody involved with the politics of Jammu and Kashmir — be it the government of India, the state government, militant organisations, indeed, even the people of Kashmir—has contributed to the communalisation of the movement in the valley. Before we look at the different factors that helped foster this development it might be worthwhile to look at how the entire movement came to become structurally bound towards being communal.

In analysing the growing influence of communal forces within the state, it is important to recognise that the state of Jammu and Kashmir comprises of three distinct regions: the Muslim–dominated valley, the Hindu–dominated Jammu province, and the Buddhist–dominated Ladakh. This cross-classification of geography and religion made the state highly vulnerable to communal tensions.

The only feature that had kept communalism at bay in a state apparently so obviously prone to it was the high level of ethno–nationalist sentiment that prevailed atleast in the Valley. The feeling of ethnicity and imagined nationalism blurred the religious distinctions to a significant extent. During the peak of militancy from 1989 right until 1993 even, there were no community–based killings in Kashmir for the militant movement was almost entirely directed against the Indian State.

But in the need to combat militancy which was threatening the stability of the Indian nation state, different arms of the State machinery, ensured that the distinction between the State and civil society was obliterated and the struggle for self–determination was presented and perceived as a revolt against the Indian (implicitly assumed to be, Hindu) society. The lines were thus drawn by the actions of the state and the first impact was that Kashmiri Pandits, a minority in the Valley, felt insecure and threatened.


That they should have felt so was but natural. But what was of utmost significance was that this sense of insecurity was legitimised by the state government, which at that point of time was controlled by the governor, Jagmohan Malhotra (now a BJP MP). By legitimising the fear of the minority and providing them with logistical support to move en masse out of the Valley, the ethnic movement was communalised almost instantly. The other operational factor that heightened the communalisation of the militant movement was the complete decimation of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, again by the Indian State. Even though the JKLF was fighting for secession, it was avowedly secular in its outlook. The decline in the mass and muscle power of JKLF resulted in the control of the secessionist movement going over from a secular leadership into the hands of Islamist organisations, most notably the Hizbul Mujahideen. Once the (JKLF) loss control of the movement in the Valley, its communalisation was imminent. The fall of JKLF and the consequent rise of the Hizbul Mujahideen was partly related to the fact that the Indian security forces managed to completely eliminate the top rank leaders of the JKLF by 1993 while a similar assault could not be carried out against the Hizbul Mujahideen.Apart from the deliberate acts of the Indian State, the JKLF’s loss of base also had to do with its own ideological failure, thereafter. Bereft of arms, the JKLF was not radically different from any mainstream regional political party, especially the National Conference. Looked at closely, the pristine agenda of the National Conference for autonomy is very close to the concept of azaadi that the JKLF had been propagating. In that sense, it did not envisage a very innovative change in the system.

On the contrary, the Hizbul Mujahideen offered the people of Kashmir a new system based on the principles of Islam — Nizam–e–Mustafa. Without getting into the desirability of such a system, what it offered the people was a change from the existing system that hadn’t delivered. The groundwork for this had already been done through schools set up by the Jamaat–i–Islami in areas where state schools did not exist.

This is turn changed the contours of militant activity which had been confined to the urban part of the Valley. Militant activity shifted to the plains of Doda and Kishtawar (and from thereon to Udhampur) which had a strong presence of other communities, unlike in the Valley where Kashmiri Pandits were in a minuscule minority. And by 1993, they had almost completely left the Valley.

With militancy losing much of its gun power and the writ of the state being re–established, its continuation hold was sought to be ensured through the targeting of the vulnerable minorities in areas outside the Valley like Prankote in Udhampur.

As pointed out earlier, with the activity shifting to the plains, there was a sense of normalcy returning to the Valley. A trickle of Kashmiri Pandits started coming back to the Valley especially those from the rural areas. With the character of the rural area having changed in the last seven years — Sufist Islam (known as Rishism in the Valley) having given way to more regimented and ritualistic and perhaps even more aggressive forms of Islam— the communal element started getting primacy over the ethnic element that had earlier dominated.
This change in the basic feature of Kashmir will take not only time but also an enormous amount of genuine effort backed by political legitimacy to reverse it. This doesn’t seem likely in the short run as the continuation of militancy even in the form of a virulent communalism suits the interests of those who are ruling the state — be it the army or the civil authorities.

(The writer is resident editor, Business Standard, Mumbai).



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