New Delhi: A long time ago in a room filled with cigarette smoke either in Srinagar or his home in Sopore, Abdul Ghani Bhat expressed sadness about the Kashmir movement being increasingly imbued with religion. Bhat was always a lonesome figure at odds with the Hurriyat but he had known and seen much. He thought the Kashmir movement may have gained support from the rest of the country had it been less faith-based. This writer would doubt that happening but it was, at any rate, Professor Ghani’s opinion.

Ghani said what he did at a time when the by and large religion-neutral JKLF was being decimated by the Pakistan-backed Hizbul Mujahideen. The Hizbul name betrays its religious character and it was, indeed, the military arm of the Jammu and Kashmir Jammat-e-Islami starting out. If a secret poll is taken of Kashmiris, the JKLF would top in public support, the Hizbul would rank a distant second, while the Pakistani Punjabi outfits masquerading as Kashmiri ones would manifest zero standing. The reason for this is simple. JKLF stood for independence whereas the Hizbul wanted Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan.

But much water has flown down the Jhelum since Professor Ghani’s lament. And it’s a lot muddier. The Hizbul itself was forced to bow to Kashmiri public opinion and take an ambiguous position on the merger. This was naturally not to the liking of the Pakistan deep state which switched support to one hundred percent Pakistani outfits such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed. With the rise of these outfits, terrorism displaced home-grown insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir. Religion ruled.

Nevertheless, curiously, Kashmiris were not infected with the hard line of the Lashkar and the Jaish. They stuck, more or less, to their Sufi roots. Police researches presently do not mark a different trend. Indeed, this could be the real problem faced by Pakistan. Despite the fighting and the violence since the late 1980s, Kashmiris have not radicalized. A new trend towards insurgency has started which this writer analyzed in a previous commentary. Unsurprisingly, the insurgency is not driven by religious differences with the Indian state which is constitutionally secular anyhow. Rather, it is Kashmiri sub-nationalism which has come to the fore. It needs delicate and nuanced handling which may be beyond the present rulers at the Centre.

The Ramzan ceasefire and the ugly politics that surround it is a case in point. Assorted Central ministers make statements conveying as though the Centre has done Kashmiris a favour with the ceasefire. Do you do favours to your citizens? There are a number of parties which would provoke the Centre to break the truce. Pakistan is one of them and its terror proxies operating in Jammu and Kashmir the other. Who would gain if the Ramzan ceasefire comes apart? Not the Centre or the Kashmiris. The Pakistan deep state certainly would. Pakistan would exhibit the broken ceasefire to Kashmiris as another example of the untrustworthiness of the Indian establishment.

Kashmir needs less religious identity and Bharatiya Janata Party ministers are unfortunately reinforcing it. This is, in fact, the core problem with the PDP-BJP alliance. The alliance was supposed to have neutralized the identity politics between Jammu and Kashmir regions. The opposite has happened, and the Kathua outrage has added to the fires. In consequence, Kashmir’s militancy has acquired a new and altogether alarming dimension. To blame it all on Pakistan won’t help although Pakistan will be -- and is -- exploiting the situation. Kashmiri sub-nationalism has erupted on a scale not seen in decades, and the roots of the tragedy lie in the alliance.

This writer all the same would not seek an end to the alliance as others have. The alliance has followed the logic of voting and only another election in the normal cause could decide whether it goes or stays. Even so, the alliance is problematic. There is such a thing as coalition dharma. Jammu and Kashmir is not just any state of India. It is a border state claimed entirely by a hostile neighbour. The two coalition partners have to dissolve their divisive identities and work unitedly for the state. Mehbooba Mufti has displayed maturity and forbearance. The BJP on the other hand has been an unmitigated disaster. Its leaders and ministers are still in thrall to provincialism and communalism.

And the leadership at the Centre either does not understand or is too afraid of the RSS to show caring and concern towards Jammu and Kashmir.

Heaven knows what Professor Ghani makes of all this.