The Jasmine revolution in Tunisia is only the latest manifestation of the power of the people to decisively compel dictatorial forces to yield. In February 1986, the Philippine people had brought down a dictatorship and restored democracy in their dramatic four-day People Power Revolution. Though the Soviet communist regime had quelled both the Hungarian uprising in 1956 and the 1968 Prague Spring with tanks in the street, the influence of Lech Walesa’s Solidarity movement in Poland led to the intensification and spread of anti-communist ideals throughout the countries of the Eastern Bloc, weakening their oppressive communist governments.
In August 1989, a Solidarity-led coalition government was formed in Poland and, almost simultaneously, the citizens of neighbouring Czechoslovakia threw off the shackles of four decades of totalitarian communist rule in what has been called the “Velvet Revolution”. The victory of the Ukrainian people’s Orange Revolution over their country’s corrupt leadership and the installation of Viktor Yushchenko as President in January 2005 represented a new landmark in the history of people’s movements for democracy. The Cedar Revolution in April 2005 ended the Syrian military occupation of Lebanon after 30 years. The Nepalese revolution in April 2006 led to the overthrow of the monarchy, reaffirming once again that the power of the people ultimately prevails.
The fragrance of Tunisia’s jasmine has spread rapidly to other Arab states including Algeria, Egypt, Jordan and Yemen. Libya and perhaps even Saudi Arabia may soon be smothered by its scent. Morocco and Syria may be next in line. Can non-Arab states ruled by tin-pot dictators under various garbs be far behind? Iran could be ripe for another revolution. The Pakistan army and the government of the day must surely be deeply concerned that the people might rise in revolt. They would be even more concerned about the prospects of hard-line Islamist support to the people’s aspirations for genuine self rule.
Even though India is a legitimate democracy and the people have enough avenues available to them to air their grievances and let off steam, many sections of society have felt a sense of alienation from the national mainstream for several decades. Some of them may take inspiration from the happenings in West Asia. Almost 100 stone-pelting youth had died in the Kashmir Valley in the summer of 2010 and many more were injured in police firing. The reason for the spontaneous students’ uprising appeared to be the collective weight of the hardships suffered over 20 years of militancy and terrorism and the central government’s often heavy-handed response. Though the sorry state of affairs was eventually brought under control through a measured response and the initiation of a sustained dialogue by government interlocutors with the people’s representatives, the situation remains volatile. Subterranean tensions may again rise to the surface without major provocation.
If the Kashmiri people come out on the streets of Srinagar, Baramulla, Sopore, Kupwara, Anantnag and half a dozen other towns like they did in 1988-89, in today’s mega-media age, it will be well nigh impossible for India to keep Kashmir by force. The Government of India must lose no further time in meeting the aspirations of the Kashmiri people for autonomy and self rule within the framework of the Indian Constitution. It is time to stop inflaming passions on vote-bank based party lines and to act in a statesman-like manner in keeping with the national interest.
(Gurmeet Kanwal is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi.)