The Kashmiris to talk to

But first, shun the gun

India is a democracy. So there is little reason to for its government not to have consultations and discussions with a wide variety of public opinion; even with secessionists, supporters of accession to Pakistan, religious fundamentalists of various stripes, communists or any other group of people. Indeed, these groups do not even have to swear to abide by the Indian constitution. But there is one important caveat: they must not resort to violence. There is little reason for a democratic government to negotiate with a group, or for that matter another country, simply because it threatens and conducts violence. If democracy imposes a duty on the government to engage all shades of opinion, it also imposes no less a duty to use legitimate force against those who resort to violence in the pursuit of their ends.

The very act of negotiating with a terrorist group or its proxy is already a concession that it does not deserve. Conducting negotiations over political demands of those who threaten violence is not only wrong but is also counterproductive. It reduces the incentive for other groups to pursue their political ends peacefully.

The most important precondition for negotiating with the Hurriyat should not be so much as insisting that talks be conducted under the aegis of the Indian constitution, but that they be conducted only after the Hurriyat unequivocally and permanently renounces terrorism, jihad, armed struggle or whatever else it may style the campaign of violence carried out by its agents.

Again, in a democratic setup, legitimacy comes from polls, not out of a loudspeaker or the barrel of a gun (nor, unfortunately, out of a blog). Whoever desires to represent the people of Jammu & Kashmir must first prove that the people have chosen them as their representatives. Legitimate negotiations — if not in law then in the court of public opinion — can only be conducted with elected representatives. The Hurriyat must prove itself at the polls before it can claim to be a legitimate negotiating partner.

Finally, as this editorial argues, there is an urgent need for India to make talks with the Kashmiri people more broad-based. The Hurriyat is by no means the sole representative of Kashmiri opinion, although it is the loudest. With its terrorist friends, it has managed to intimidate and silence other voices. There are several shades of opinion in Jammu & Kashmir, the Hurriyat is but one.

(This post was initially posted as a response to Raven’s question)

6 thoughts on “The Kashmiris to talk to”

  1. Thanks for the comprehensive response.

    At the risk of being trivial, may I point out that non-violent negotiation would not have worked for the Jews in Nazi Germany (a democracy of sorts)? So I guess the followup question would be: is there any circumstance under which you consider violence to be acceptable as a tool for achieving political goals?

  2. Raven,

    There is no place for violence and armed struggle to achieve political goals in an institutional democracy. The analogy of Nazis and Jews is does not quite apply in the Indian context — any Indian whose constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights are violated by the government can seek redressal from the Supreme Court. I’m not sure if they had that working in Nazi Germany. Besides your comparison is totally fallacious unless you are arguing that Muslims in modern India face the same oppression as that faced by Jews in Nazi Germany. That would not only trivialise the Holocaust but also cause affront to any Indian.

  3. My apologies, Nitin. You misunderstand me. In no way did I mean to imply any similarity(!) between Nazi Germany and India. Or to suggest that Muslims in India face any oppression at all. Neither did I mean to trivialize the Holocaust. A poor example…

    Moving on: the spirit of my question stands. You know as well as I do how access to the courts is for the ordinary and the poor. (This ties up with your Freedom Index post.) Do you honestly expect the family of a person picked up by the military in Kashmir to attempt “to seek redressal from the Supreme Court?”

    The broader point here is that no democracy – India included – is perfect. Just how imperfect does it have to be before you would consider the use of violence for achieving political goals to be justified? (It was obviously justified in Nazi Germany. Related q: what do you think of Bose and the INA?)

  4. Raven:

    Nitin is quite capable of answering your latest query but I am going to take it on as well. In all that follows, I am assuming that your question is not merely rhetorical.

    The justice system in J&K, much like the rest of India, is far from perfect but it’s far from non-existent, either. Indeed, Freedom House–not a shill for the GOI–ranks J&K state’s level of freedom as higher than Pakistan’s. I don’t mean to suggest that obtaining justice is easy in J&K. However, it’s simply not true that rule of law has been entirely superseded in J&K.

    You may well disagree with this characterization. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that’s indeed the case. What follows? I would argue that the inadequacy of non-violent means of redressing one’s grievances isn’t sufficient to justify a resort to violence. As well, one must take into account the nature and scale of the violence, as ‘just war’ theory emphasizes.

    I think the secessionist movement of Kashmiri (disproportionately Sunni and urban)Muslims has failed this test. Not only was the resort to violence unnecessary, the scale and nature of the violence–large-scale and terrorist–has left them with a ’cause not clean to fight for’.

    The allegedly secular cadres of the JKLF, after all, were responsible for the ethnic cleansing of our (Kashmiri Pandit) community from the Valley. Or consider the fate of those Kashmiri Muslims who are Indian patriots–entire (Gujjar) families massacred. So many politicians murdered, party workers murdered and on and on. None of these actions happened by accident, as Praveen Swami’s reportage makes abundantly clear (Swami is now Deputy Editor of Frontline, a magazine whose publisher is very much left-of-center).

    I don’t think one needs fine distinctions and deep reflection on moral philosophy to parse the moral vacuum at the center of this secessionist movement. And that, I fear, is a tragedy not just for secessionist Kashmiri Sunnis but for all of us: Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and Sikh Kashmiris.


  5. Raven,

    I offer Chauri Chaura as Exhibit A in the case against the use of violence in the face of grave provocation. That proves the power of the politics of moral courage.

    In response to your question about a person ‘picked up’ by the military in Kashmir, it may surprise you to know that judicial recourse is available. I’ve highlighted some salient cases on The Acorn. However, thanks to the route taken by the Hurriyat and its terrorist partners, those seeking redress feel compelled to take to the streets to demand justice. Their right to protest is unquestionable; whether it helps in a practical way is the question. I think it was Kuldip Nayar who once wrote that the Kashmiri secessionist movement has underestimated the effect it will have on Indian public opinion were it to adopt a totally non-violent approach. In my opinion, which is in line with what Kumar has pointed out, the Hurriyat is simply incapable of this.

    Back to your question: When is violence to achieve political ends justified, in (imperfect) democracies? Never.

Comments are closed.