Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tale of two states

There are two places i was lucky to visit as a young kid. Kashmir and Nepal. I say "lucky" coz looks like in foreseeable future i won't be able to visit them again.

I visited Kashmir (the Indian administered one) in the summer of 1989. Kashmir had still not fallen off the tourism radar till that point; but in all probability we would have been amongst the last tourists visiting it I guess. Kashmir went downhill around 1991 when Rubiana Sayeed, the daughter of the then Home Minister of India, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was kidnapped by Jihadis. Suddenly Kashmir overtook Punjab in the mainstream militant news space. By the time India woke up, Kashmir has slipped away from Democratic control and Army was the defacto ruler.

Even when we were in Kashmir in 1989, we could feel something was coming. The tension was palpable. We had heard of a public toilet blown up by a bomb in Srinagar, when we were taking a ride on Dal Lake. I still shudder to think that we actually took a private tour of rural Kashmir in a rented car. Of course we came off safe!! But we were so close to the cradle of militancy and yet so ignorant. We were a group of 10 people including uncle and aunt and their family. We went to places like Baramullah, Anantnag etc, unaware that something was brewing right THERE. To think that we could have easily been held hostage or even killed, still bothers me. We were that close to hotbed of jihadi militancy which was in it's nascent state.(I may be sounding more dramatic, but it's not too far from reality as i see in 20/20 hindsight)

20 years down the line, much water has flown through Jhelum river and some may say, a red blood filled one. To see one of the most beautiful places in the world, come to such state, kills me inside. It kills me that more that 100,000 civilians have been killed, more than 35000 Army men have lost their lives, and more than 300,000 Kashmiri Pandits have been rendered homeless by mindless violence. If this is not inhuman, nothing is.
The tranquil boat house rides of Dal Lake, the beautiful snow peaked mountains of Gulmarg, the narrow roads of Sonmarg and the beautiful natural-golf-course like landscapes of Pehelgam can only be described in an Urdu word - "Jannat". And to see this jannat become a hell is heart wrenching for any one living.

My second eventful trip was two years later, to Nepal. A so called "Hindu" kingdom ruled by a Monarchy. Nepal was just about moving to a democratic set up. And boy, did we choose the wrong time to visit that place? As fate would have it, on day of first election in the tiny kingdom we found ourselves stranded in a place called Pokhra. A beautiful valley 500kms east of Kathmandu. There was no exit route for us, once government agencies decided it was going to be a bandh. Not for a day or two, but for a week. I have to salute the management capacity of my father. He is one helluva guy. He somehow convinced 2 cab drivers to drive all of us, 20 hours to Indian border in the state of West Bengal. Me, my sister and my cousins were still school going kids then. We reached Indian border all tensed and exhausted to find some of the most disgusting custom officers trying to make money of our miseries. We finally reached Calcutta on 20th May. And God was not going to leave us at that. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in Tamil Nadu next morning, and just when we had thought we had safely reached our country, things unraveled. Calcutta was under curfew and again we were stranded.

If this all looks filmy, well it was to some extent. But never for once did i see panic on face of my Dad. He was always in command. I could see his exceptional management skills and his taking initiative and taking control of situation on a royal display on both occasions - In Kashmir and in Nepal.

Things have unraveled in both these states ever since. Nepal recently voted a Maoist regime to power It's hard enough to deal with a Communist regime next door. And Maoist is the xtreme end of Communism. It is militant communism which itself by nature is aggressive. India has just added one more foreign policy disaster to it's ever growing list since days of Nehru. Nepal. Now firmly in hands of Maoists and a Chinese sidekick. China can use Nepal the way it wants from here on. How the Chinese proxy, Pranchanda plays his role out, only time will tell.

Both Nepal and Kashmir are not natural problems, but man made ones. In both cases, these two states (one country actually) have been let down my people who should not have let them down. Even today millions of Kashmiri immigrants are trying to make ends meet. They have been uprooted from their rightful places by poor and soft policies of one nation. Same with Nepal. Kashmir may still recover some day. But Nepal has very little chance from here on. The Maoist/Communist grip can suffocate any thing in sight. It's only downhill for Nepal now. With Nepal, the encircling of India is nearly complete now.


Blue Bike said...

Hey Kaunteya !
Though I haven't been to Nepal, I've been to the Kashmir valley twice in the past decade. In 2000, I went with my family on a package tour, wherever we went, we were the only tourist group. Eventhough badly affected by terrorism, the place was so beautiful ! Be it Pahalgam, Sonmarg, Gulmarg or Dal Lake in Srinagar itself. Living in a houseboat was a wonderful and unique expereince. Thankfully nothing untoward happened at that time.

The next visit was in 2005, I made a couple of kashmiri friends during my engg degree, I had a nice job by then so I could afford travelling alone. I lived in a sarkari dak bunglow in small hamlets of Dodda district. Though still beautiful, the place was very tense. Everything closed by 19:30. Army ruled everywhere and it was very difficult even for the locals to tell the difference between the tribal gujjars and terrorists. Who knows what lies beneath the shawls ! Upon talking to locals there, I felt there was a great resentment against the army and for most, the army was India ! They hated India because they hated the army ! And ofcourse, the army ain't no bunch of saints. Its all poor politics which has got us into such bad mess. All we can do is vote (whenever we can ) and hope.

Kaunteya said...

Yes Sir. 50 years of poor politics.
I wouldn't really blame the Army. They are doing a thankless job there.
I have personally spoken to some people in Army and got to know their own frustrations and low overall moral; because of bad role of government.

BTW, it's good to know you have been there twice, and that too recently.

My memory is not all that great, but the beauty of that region has a permanent snapshot in my mind, which speaks volumes of it's beauty. 20 years down the line, it still beckons.

Blue Bike said...

Yes ofcourse, we cannot blame the army. Army officers might consider theirs as a thankless job because they have no public support. But also, there are some bad officers who spoil the image of the entire unit. And in an explosive situation like Kashmir, extremists use it to their advantage.