The politics of pseudo nationalism has led to an unfortunate denouement: It has deepened the existing fault lines in Kashmir, triggering a chain of events that could have long-term repercussions.
There are conflicting versions of what happened at the National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Srinagar over the past few days. But, every story leads to one trigger: competitive nationalism.
The drama began when some local students celebrated India's loss in the T-20 world cup semi-final against West Indies. As a counter, students from outside Kashmir raised slogans supporting India.
But, matters spilled out of the campus when some students wanted to take a protest march outside the campus on Tuesday, Tricolor in hand, Bharat Mata ki Jai on their lips.
Students complain the Jammu and Kashmir police intervened at this point, stopped them from taking out their march, beat them up and snatched the flags from their hands.
Cops claim they tried to stop students from marching on the roads of Srinagar since it could have led to clashes between people outside the campus. They used force when the students became violent and misbehaved with a deputy Superintendent of Police at the spot.
The NIT campus is close to the Hazratbal Shrine in Srinagar. All around there are shops, houses and the posh Nigeen Lake area. Just a few kilometre away is downtown Srinagar, where anti-India protests, stone-pelting after Friday's prayers are regular events.
So, it is difficult to predict the course of events if a group of students had protested on the streets of Srinagar. Even the heavily armed Indian security forces find it difficult to manage violent crowds when they start protesting, throwing stones in downtown Srinagar, near Hurriyat strongholds like Khanyar.
A few students, nationalism singing in their veins, rousing slogans on lips, unaware of local sentiments and sensitivities, marching in the heart of Srinagar could actually have been a security nightmare.
There is no doubt that Kashmir is an integral part of India. But, there should not be any doubt about this either: it is not like any other state in the country. Kashmiris have their issues with the Indian government, some of them still have a soft corner for Pakistan, many still want azaadi and dream of an independent Switzerland-type tourist haven locked between two rival nations. Anger and resentment simmers just beneath the surface, it can come out--like it did during the Amaranth Board controversy-- at the slightest provocation, lead to dangerous ramifications.
The slogan-shouting, jhanda-waving brand of nationalism students of NIT wanted to practise on the campus or on the streets of Srinagar is a classical symbol of the ordinary Indian's inability to grasp the complexities that surround Kashmir.
In every corner of the Valley, Indian security forces face a tough time guarding against terrorists, quelling unrest, sometimes fighting against their own people. They battle hostility, sudden attacks and non-cooperation from the local population.
Just a few days ago, while they were battling LeT militants holed up in a building in Pampore, a few kilometres from Srinagar, hundreds of locals men and women gathered on the road to thwart their mission against terrorists. While militants lobbed grenades and fired bullets at them, the locals pelted stones, shouted hostile slogans throughout the 48-hour operation.
The short point is: Kashmir is complex and even Indian security personnel face immeasurable hostility. It is not a place for hot-headed students to ply their politics or parade their patriotism.
In 1992, BJP leader Murali Manohar Joshi had tried to pursue a similar brand of jhanda politics when he insisted on flying the Indian flag at Srinagar's Lal Chowk at the culmination of the BJP's Ekta Yatra that started from Kanyakumari.
This is what transpired next, according to The India Today: "A willing prisoner of the Jammu and Kashmir administration and surrounded by scores of men in fatigues. Joshi drove up, on the morning of 26 January, in a police car, to be greeted by the sound of gunshots. In a hurry to leave the confines of the Valley, Joshi quickly got down to the business of hoisting the tricolour he had carried with him from Kanyakumari. And while a contingent of 67 BJP workers raised feeble slogans of Vande Mataram, Joshi and yatra convenor Narendra Modi struggled with the flag presented to him on 21 December, its pole snapped into two. Finally, Joshi had to make do with the state administration's flag. The ceremony lasted precisely 12 minutes, and there was not a single Kashmiri to witness Joshi's embarrassment. Despite the hype preceding the hoisting, Joshi had to fly into the Valley under cover of darkness, the night before the event, swapping his symbolic houseboat for a staid Indian Air Force an-32."
Students, however well-intentioned they are, should remember this: If flag-waving and slogan-shouting could have solved the problem, asserted Indian control over the Valley, the security forces have done that long ago and returned home.
The grim battle can't be fought with vacuous slogans and pseudo nationalism. It requires the full might of the Indian army and the art and craft of diplomacy, bureaucracy and politics to ensure Kashmir doesn't spin out of control.
The pursuit of pseudo nationalism in the Valley will only harm the Indian cause and hurt our security forces.