The Kashmir Files, the film centred on the exodus of Hindus from Jammu and Kashmir at the height of the separatist militancy in the 1990s, drew a picture of the prevailing environment which can be encapsulated as follows: one, the central government was totally indifferent to the slaughter and sufferings of the Hindus (the ‘nationalist’ officer Brahma Dutt’s repeated SoSes to the Centre receives a cold response); two, the state government was protecting militants (Farooq Bitta, the villain of the film, is seen in a comfortable company with the chief minister); and three, the media was ‘sleeping’ with the terrorists and presenting their point of view (TV reporter Vishnu Ram says the Hindus, though a minority, had ‘cornered’ all government jobs and benefits, and they ‘decided to leave’ Kashmir when their ‘monopoly crumbled’ once the educated youth of the Muslim majority started challenging it.)
The BJP promoted the film on a scale of propaganda blitzkrieg no political party had ever pushed a movie in the history of Indian cinema—probably not even in the history of the world cinema, excluding, of course, the single parties that ruled many countries in the past or are still ruling several nations. No party in power in a democracy ever mounted such a conspicuous, caterwauling, and cacophonous campaign for the exhibition and viewing of a film.
Why did the BJP—from Prime Minister Narendra Modi down to the chief ministers of the BJP-ruled states to the party’s lowest officials in towns and villages—commend the film to the people and induce tens of millions of them to go to the theatres and see it?
Not just because it exposed the direct or indirect ‘complicity’ of the previous regimes in Delhi and Srinagar with the evil forces that mounted a barbaric campaign to tear Kashmir out of India, but also because it made the prophecy of a new era with the arrival of a new regime at the Centre. The prophecy is made through Pushkar Nath Pandit, the main character of the film who epitomises the spine-chilling killings and miseries of the Hindus.
Away from his homeland, just before dying, in a voice young and fruity with optimism, he tells his grandson:
It is happening. You might not see it but it is happening. The Prime Minister will write to me when they scrap Article 370. He will write to me, ‘Shri Pushkar Nath Pandit, the grandfather of Krishna Pandit, we have seen all your six thousand letters. We declare that you are no longer a migrant. You can go back to Kashmir.’ We won’t go back to Kashmir on a plane. We will go in a car. I will show you the Martand temple, Kheer Bhawani, Tula Mula, Habba Kadal, Rainawari…
There is something to ponder for Vivek Agnihotri, the director of the film, and the Modi government. The prophecy has been proven wrong. The abrogation of Article 370 has not led to a reverse exodus of the Kashmiri Hindus to their homeland. Even those living there are running away.
Why? Because the new regime has failed to defeat the terrorists. It is the terrorists who seem to be winning. They are not allowing the new regime any room to claim to have restored ‘normalcy’ even three years after the revocation of Article 370 and the assumption of direct governance.
The Kashmir Files guillotined an indifferent central government, a collusive state government, and a whorehouse of a media for the ‘genocide’ of Kashmiri Hindus in the 1990s. Today, we have a ferociously engaged central government, a militant-hunting state government, and a harem of the media. Why is there no security, order and peace still? Where have we gone wrong? Doesn’t Vivek Agnihotri owe it to the nation to make a sequel to The Kashmir Files, to tell the truth of the Kashmir of the 2020s?
It is heartrending to see the government trying to hold under five thousand rehabilitated Hindu families in the valley virtually as captives to prove to the world there is ‘absolute normalcy’ in Kashmir. We can hear them desperately bleating like caged goats left in the forest as bait to the prowling tigers of militancy. Their examples can be nothing but scary to the Kashmiri Hindus who are outside Kashmir. It is foolish to think more of them will return if only those five thousand families can be made to stay on.
The key is to liquidate terrorism. And the hard truth is you cannot liquidate terrorism by liquidating one, two or more terrorists every day. Because terrorists die, terrorism does not. Terrorism is a disease. Killing terrorists is like treating the symptoms. Unless you attack the root cause of the disease it will not go away. It will keep resurfacing.
The root cause lies in the political alienation of the Kashmiris. It was there during the previous regimes. The Modi regime’s policies have deepened it. Terrorists are fish that freely swim in the sea of political alienation. As long as the sea exists, there will be fish. The Modi regime, by abrogating Article 370 and bifurcating the state into two Union Territories, has greatly hurt the ethnic identity and pride of the Kashmiris. To rub salt to their wounds, the regime is encouraging the settlement of non-Kashmiris to change the demography and fix constituencies to control power in the state.
Delhi cannot win Kashmir without winning the hearts of Kashmiris. And Delhi cannot do it without dealing with them with a magnanimous, friendly, reasonable, self-assured, non-distrustful, sanguine attitude. If you want Kashmir to be truly an integral part of India, you have to truly make Kashmiris feel they are a part of the family.
India is a Union of states. It is a whole made of parts. Every part is given its distinct space to protect, preserve, and promote its ethnic values, identity, and pride. The Modi regime has denied that space to Jammu and Kashmir. That is what has given a new life to terrorism which was on its deathbed.
The Modi regime has to take three big steps to end political alienation. One, it must restore statehood to Jammu and Kashmir. Two, it must build a consensus on delimitation and hold free and fair elections to the Assembly. Three, it should, by its action and speech, subdue the rabid anti-Muslim groups and individuals across the country to make Kashmiri Muslims feel safe and secure in India.
(Arun Sinha is an independent journalist and author)