The Indian Army has been a major pillar of democracy in India. In the mid-1970s, when Indira Gandhi was at the height of her power, there stood an honest Chief of Army Staff, Gen Tapishwar Narain Raina, a Kashmiri by birth. He famously refused to allow the Army to serve the interests of any political party and said the Army “would not be used to further her ends but obey only those orders of a legally construed government.” When Indira lost the post-emergency elections in 1977, her son Sanjay Gandhi, in the presence of Gen Raina, advised re-imposition of emergency. Gen Raina ignored Sanjay’s suggestion, and went on to tell Indira that the history will honour her for respecting the people’s verdict. When Sanjay visited Punjab, he was given the protocol of a visiting Prime Minister. A message went out from the Army Headquarters that no officer was to participate in the function honouring Sanjay, as he was not the PM.
Back home in Kashmir, the Indian Army has a chequered history. Many Kashmiris see it as an “Army of occupation.” Our memory is clogged with massacres committed by the Indian soldiers. Scores of young men, and some teenagers too, have vanished into thin air after their arrest by the Army and India’s paramilitary troops. But in our experience, while junior officers tend to be rash and impulsive, there’re many seniors who have had fair understanding of the basic political issue that plagues Kashmir. For example, in 2016, Lt Gen DS Hooda, the then Northern Command Head, called on “all parties to take a step back,” when the state violence against Kashmiris protesting on the streets was at its worst after the killing of young militant commander Burhan Wani. Gen Hooda refrained from calling the protesters “anti-nationals or over-ground workers.” Post-retirement he has maintained that there is a need for dialogue.
Contrast this with the belligerence of incumbent Army Chief, Gen Bipin Rawat. In 2017, he labelled all protesters at encounter sites as “over-ground workers of militant outfits.” He announced that “the Army will get you,” while talking about militants. In 2018, he has already said he will “call Pakistan’s nuclear bluff,” potentially derailing a fledgling peace process between New Delhi and Islamabad. He has called for the education sector in Kashmir to be reformed, saying, “Students are taught two maps in the state.” Why is that important, if one may ask him? Students in Karnataka and Maharashtra are also taught two maps – no one seems to get radicalised there. His recent pronouncement that Kashmiris “have not got from militancy what they wanted,” is provocative, as also the statement that “Kashmir can never secede from India.” Does not this betray the fact that an overwhelming majority of Kashmiris want freedom from India? That Kashmiris actually embraced militancy in response to a failure of governance and a betrayal of historical promises made to them by India’s political leadership? That the head of the world’s third largest Army should chose to use such language against a few million people displays arrogance, a lack of basic decency. History is replete with the defeat of arrogant Generals.
Everyone in Kashmir, from the fruit vendor in Lal Chowk, to the Major in Siachen doing his third tenure of duty, knows that Kashmir is a political problem that demands a political solution. No amount of bellicosity is going to cow down the genuine aspirations of the people of Kashmir. The very fact that these lines are being written 70 years after the landing of the first soldiers of the Indian Army in Kashmir shows that Kashmiris have not given up on their rights, even in the face of worse odds. It is sad to see that an officer of the rank of the Army Chief speak the language of rabble-rousing ruling party politicians who are fed a diet of anti-Kashmir, anti-Muslim propaganda by a section of Delhi-based media. Wherever one goes in Kashmir, there is unison on one topic: demilitarisation. And all the political parties know that that has to be the first step towards any meaningful rapprochement with Kashmiris. A confident India, with belief in its ability to assimilate people of all faiths and colours and histories, does not need an Army Chief who shouts down the peaceful aspirations of Kashmir. Is it that he knows that the Army is now less relevant to the process in Kashmir, and he wants to preserve the Army veto in all things Kashmiri? Is he looking for a bigger slice of the pie? Or, is it that the interlocutor appointed on Kashmir by New Delhi has communicated to the government that any peaceful rapprochement with Kashmir that does not involve demilitarisation is stillborn?
The editorial appeared in February issue of Kashmir Narrator. For subscribing to hard copy, contact [email protected] for details