The unintended casualty of the clash inside National Institute of Technology (NIT) campus in Srinagar has been Jammu & Kashmir Police. The students were well within their rights to accuse the J&K Police of the use of excessive force but to paint the whole force with the same brush has been a bit extreme.
Not only has the J&K Police been sucked into the narrative of outsider vs insider but it is also being accused of systemic bias against students from the heartland. This is not only dangerous but has the potential to create instability in the valley. Though a large part of constabulary and regional officers are drawn from the state but its cadre control is under IPS officers who come from different parts of the country, whose cadre is directly controlled by the Centre.
It is in national interest that the J&K police should be treated as a stakeholder in the peace process. The J&K police should not be constructed as force which stands opposed to mainland Indians. When we do this, we brand J&K police as an outsider opposed to national interests which is double disservice to them as they have stood with Indian Army in thousands of anti-insurgency operations. They not only play a vital role in buffering local agitations against the Centre but also act as key link between various apparatus of the state.
It is about time that unrest within the NIT campus, born out of a match, silly banter and sloganeering, should be put to an end. Those involved in the mindless lathi charge of the students should be pulled up and disciplined. Moreover, protesting students must be persuaded to go back to the classes.
But the moot issue still remains unanswered and that being as to why such an upheaval happened inside the campus?
Was it the case of a simple loss of a cricket match, loose talk, free-flowing fists and subsequent police action or is it deep rooted suspicion and distrust from both sides coupled with a new assertive narrative of demonstrative patriotism? I would go for the second as the Tricolour became the central actor in a fight which was very local in nature.
The unfurling of national flag is an act of acknowledgement and submission towards the supreme symbol of the Republic but doesn’t constitute patriotism by itself. The unfurling itself becomes performance if it is not accompanied by true feeling for one’s own country. Of late, unfurling of the flag has acquired a different meaning. Instead of reflecting a sense of commitment towards the ideals enshrined in the Constitution, the unfurling has become an act of assertion of a particular type of politics which consumes national symbols like the Tricolour and slogans for electoral benefit.
Hoisting of the national flag after a war or gaining freedom becomes an act of reclamation and assertion of national identity. But in context of Kashmir, it becomes less about national identity and more about a brand of nationalism which is less about people and more about public proof of commitment towards nation. People have celebrated love for one’s nation in different ways. The finest example is Mahatma Gandhi who espoused patriotism through silent and selfless service towards people and to him it constituted the core idea of nationalism. Gandhi just stood his ground without rebuking the other.
Secondly, it isn’t the first time that flag has become an issue in Kashmir. Even former Union Minister and BJP’s party president MM Joshi wanted to prove a point by unfurling national flag at Lal Chowk. Did it serve any purpose? Did it inspire confidence in the people of valley? Did it let to bettering of relationship between security forces and the people? The answer is – No.
So what happened in NIT? Was it only about unfurling of the flag or a subliminal feeling that people from valley aren’t patriotic enough and a point had to be proven? Secondly, how did this event fell into a binary that crowds protesting with Islamic State banners are let off lightly and patriotic students end up receiving police batons? The chain of events inside the campus involving individuals, students and officers in police can be accounted for. But what explains the ‘patriotic marches’ over a lost match.
It tells us that deep rooted discontent also exists in large parts of India and that much more needs to be done to ensure that national symbols are respected and sense of boundary oriented patriotism is instilled in the valley rigorously. But this very demonstration of discontent through the most important symbol of a nation not only ends up renewing competitive politics of national and regional symbols but also refreshes the discourse of outsiders versus insiders.
The mainstream must accept that discontent exists in the valley and it is part of a larger issue. It can neither be wished away nor settled through competitive nationalism. It can only be accommodated by showing patience. After all, it was not long ago that valley not only whole heartedly participated in elections but also side-lined separatists. So let’s not create space for those who have already been marginalised by the people of the state through democratic process.