During trips to Kashmir, back in mid-2014 and early 2015, one had the opportunity to interact with a few editors of local dailies and people with informed opinion on the developments in the Valley. Islamic State was big news then and photographs of Kashmiri youths posing with the terror organisation's flag and guns, uploaded on social media, were creating quite a stir in mainstream Indian media.
One anchor of a popular news channel, in particular, used to go on a rant spree almost on a daily basis. Lackeys joined the high decibel noise fest during prime time debates to bring in a sense of calamity. It was almost like the Islamic State had taken over the Valley. The ground reality, a conversation with locals revealed, was different.
“There’s no Islamic State in Kashmir. The Valley’s population certainly has issues with India but they certainly have no fascination for the terror outfit as they have no fascination for Pakistan either. The youth are having fun watching the anchor go more ballistic and more abusive with every new video uploaded. They love to provoke him. How difficult is it to get a video of a bunch of masked youngsters with toy guns and quickly painted Islamic State flags in the backdrop dense forests done?” This was the refrain of people one spoke to.
Cut to now. Leave aside the Islamic State bit; the fact remains that the conduct of the mainstream media is being keenly watched in the trouble zone and the opinion and views expressed are being possibly construed as the general, if not official, view of the whole of India. Shah Faesal, the IAS officer from Kashmir who was in news recently for hitting out at the media, made clear as much in his Facebook post where he said "...The propaganda and provocation from red and blue newsrooms is breeding more alienation and anger in Kashmir than what the Indian state can manage."
As the agitation in Kashmir makes a generational shift from the old guard to the tech-savvy, educated and networked young and thus enters a potentially highly volatile phase, it becomes a responsibility for the Indian government to bring back sanity to the Kashmir discourse and avoid any macho posturing that can only aggravate an already fraught situation. Unfortunately, it has failed to convey that the views expressed by the television channels are not that of the government or the party in power. It does not help that these channels are more or less in agreement with the ideological view of the BJP and mother organisation RSS and it’s quite evident to the public.
Now, big question: How can you have a sober conversation with the people in the Valley when a big section of the media is out to provoking and alienating them? Traitors, killers, criminals, rascals, Pakistani agents... the Hurriyat leaders have been called all by the latter. A spent force in Kashmir’s politics by all account, these leaders appear to have found a new lease of life, thanks to the relentless abuse from studios a thousand miles away. They are seen as people men enough to take all the brickbat from India and still stand firm. No wonder, their cause has found a lot of new converts.
The studio super heroes would advocate a military solution to a problem that is essentially political. But the military already has a big say in the Valley and is a major stake-holder in all discussions regarding it. What more does the rant media is looking for? The massive spontaneous gatherings at the funeral of slain militants tell us the reality on the ground. No amount of military action is going to change that, particularly if it is backed by a persistent hate campaign from the mainstream media.
The Islamic State-presence maybe a matter of joke, but the public anger visible in the streets over the last many days certainly is not. The government and Home Minister Rajnath Singh in particular will be taking a big step in the right direction if they distance themselves from the media rant.