Tuesday, 16 May 2017


Ummer Fayaz: Another Kashmiri icon

I can imagine the conversation young Ummer Fayaz might have had with his abductors in his last moments. He would likely have told them to take a hop - only more colourfully - though knowing fully well he might not make it out of captivity alive. This I can tell from reading the write up on him in the Indian Military Academy commemorative volume on his passing out course, that took the ‘Antim Pag’ (‘Final Step’ (as a Gentleman Cadet)) at the hallowed Chetwode Hall in December last year. He is described as one who could ‘debate on any topic’. Being ex-NDA (National Defence Academy) to boot, he could not have been short of sting even with a gun to his head. Shamed when confronted with a mirror to their face, his captors hurriedly dispatched him to what shall surely turn out to be eternal glory.
No doubt they justify to themselves that this is their payment for their tickets to paradise. They perhaps think that he having joined the Indian army - which to them an oppressive outfit - had signed his death warrant at their hands. Having notched him up as their victim, they fancy themselves closer to the houris reportedly awaiting them there. It beguiles as to how they still expect to at all get to heaven. They appear unable to see that Fayaz and the likes of them cannot both be eligible.
Fayaz is surely already up there. By all accounts, Fayaz has no place else to go. In his short life, he just did not have the time to notch up the deeds that could veer him off course. He was only just about to proceed on his Young Officer course. The acting defence minister – no doubt well briefed – refers to him as a ‘model’. To have been on an academy sports team – hockey in his case – is evidence of his grit. Having a gift for speaking; a sportsman and with good looks to boot, here was the epitome of Kashmir’s youth.
The army is entirely right in swearing to bring his killers to justice. However, in case the killers resist, the army should not lose any more good men in keeping the murderers from their maker. Fayaz’s killing might be their last, but not necessarily their most dastardly. A trial here would best reveal them - finally - for all they are worth and for Kashmiris to disabuse them of any notion of their utility for the Kashmir cause. Justice if at the cost of more lives can safely be left to judgment day.
It can be argued that these men – either Pakistani or Kashmiri - are also presumably young. How did they get to murder? How are they so blinded by hatred as to be unable to see that murderers can neither bring freedom to a land and a people nor please the gods? An argument could go that they are as much victims as Fayaz – their humanity snuffed out by intelligence handlers and religious indoctrinators. If Kashmiri, they – like Fayaz – might have seen no other reality than violence. If Pakistani, they were bundled onto terror assembly lines too early to be able to exercise a choice. So, Fayaz was killed as much by the circumstances of the violence surrounding Kashmir as by the killers themselves.
Consequently, the question needs rephrasing from ‘who killed Ummer Fayaz?’ to ‘what killed Ummer Fayaz?’ There can be several answers to this. The one hazarded here is political timidity earlier followed lately by political hubris.
For a political problem to be alive seventy years since its inception, it obviously escaped the necessary political attention. Some might interpret the persistence of both states in enmity as a sign of strength and a sign of their determination to remain unbowed. The alternative is truer. Both simply lack the political will to get on with shoveling the problem left over by history.
Whereas earlier the giant Jawarharlal Nehru was unable to manage the right wing critique to his Kashmir policy mounted by Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and the Praja Parishad, later towering leaders as Indira Gandhi and Zulfiquar Bhutto, at their zenith in power, could not resolve the problem in their meeting at Simla. They were not able to pull off the supposed unwritten agreement they had arrived at there, as their power steadily whittled with time.
It is easy to surmise that less powerful leaders would fare worse. This has been the case of the earlier NDA and its successor UPA regime. Whereas Vajpayee’s Lahore initiative was ambushed by the Pakistani army at Kargil, at Agra his subsequent initiative was sabotaged by LK Advani. The political sphere in Pakistan has been so weak and corrupt that it has been unable to whittle the Pakistani army’s image as defenders of Pakistan’s ideological frontiers. The latest spat between Nawaz Sharif and the army – over his responsiveness to Indian overtures through the back channel - is evidence of Pakistani political weakness.  
The story in democratic India is little different. Vajpayee set the table for Manmohan Singh. Mr. Singh could not clinch the issue either internally, with appropriate follow through on his three round tables, the five working groups and with the three interlocutors, or externally, through the back channel discussions. To be fair to Manmohan Singh, the remote on his government was reportedly held with 10 Janpath and the Congress high command there ensconsed was transfixed with the danger of any concessions being taken as appeasement. By the time of UPA II, both were afraid of their own shadow.
This however cannot be said of the current government. It has the political numbers to carry the day. While preceding governments feared the BJP would go to town crying sell out in case of conflict resolution steps that involved compromise of any sort, the BJP itself has no such fears. It has nothing to prove in terms of ‘nationalist’ credentials. It can go the distance, should it so wish. Mehbooba Mufti is right in believing that Mr. Modi holds the key.
So, what has tripped up this government? Not political pusillanimity as much as political hubris. For it to cast away the investment it has made in polarization, by seeming to cotton up to the Kashmiris and making peace with Pakistan, would be premature. It needs Pakistan as a bogey for longer. Winning a majority in parliament, followed by capture of the assembly of India’s largest state is not enough. It now reportedly has a ‘mission 2019’ lined up with a 400 plus target of parliamentary seats. That would assure Mr. Modi his second term and the Hindutva forces a long enough tenure to make India great again after a 1000 year eclipse.
The government cannot chance peace with Pakistan now. It has to keep Pakistan enmeshed in the proxy war, supposedly being waged in Kashmir, so that it can do without addressing the Kashmir problem. As for Kashmiris, most happen to be Muslim. And Muslim baiting - with the latest variant being ‘triple talaq’ (divorce in three chants) – is set to continue till the next elections. Therefore, addressing Kashmir will have to wait.
Though the BJP got to power touting development, it’s handing over of India’s most populous province to a religious figure suggests that it knows that its  strength is rooted, not in the development-minded middle class, but in the right wing formations, the foot soldiers of elections. The right wing continues to exercise a veto on the main fixtures of India’s foreign and domestic policies – Pakistan and Kashmir respectively. Thus, though Mr. Modi has the numbers - even if he wants to - he dare not strike off trying to resolve the Kashmir dispute. Political timidity of preceding governments has led up to this pass. Here on it is greed for power, for its own sake and – or so the sales pitch goes - for the greater good and glory of Hindutva.
There cannot but be a few more deaths of the likes of Ummer Fayaz and Burhan Wani. The two represent their generation. They are their generation’s offering at the altar of peace. Kashmiris must realise that far too much blood has been extracted from them by the two states claiming their allegiance. They need to collectively find a non-violent way out before their next is another ‘lost generation’.