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Conscientious objection

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“The tyrant and his subjects are in somewhat symmetrical positions. They can deny him most of what he wants – they can, that is, if they have the disciplined organization to refuse collaboration. And he can deny them just about everything they want – he can deny it by using force at his command. They can deny him the economic fruits of conquest, he can deny them the economic fruits of their own activity. They can deny him the satisfaction of ruling a disciplined country, he can deny them satisfaction of ruling themselves. They can confront him with chaos, starvation, idleness and social breakdown, but he confronts them with the same thing and, indeed, most of what they deny him they deny themselves. It is a bargaining situation in which either side, if adequately disciplined or organized, can deny most of what the other wants; and it remains to see who wins.”

This is how Thomas C. Schelling has articulated the inherent unpredictability of the outcome of a battle between – say a state and its people. While the state enjoys monopoly over the use of force by way of its laws, police and military, those pitted against it can confront it with what is known as civil disobedience. Now as Schelling has made it clear, it is a battle of wits, wherein victory or failure is strictly determined by the kind and amount of discipline possessed and shown by the parties.

Looking at the situation in Kashmir, which has been on boil for nearly three decades now, one inference is there for everyone to draw – that neither government nor the people or the so called “resistance leadership” have actually shown much knack for discipline. This is indeed why the situation has only worsened over a period of time – stints of comparative calm and normality alternating regularly with periods of absolute chaos and mayhem, and violence. This has been the sad story of Kashmir. While governments can and should be blamed for reneging on promises and commitments towards the people’s political empowerment and their welfare, and for consistent strategic miscalculations, those who claim being the “representatives” of the “public sentiment” have, at best, only managed some relevance for their politics courtesy of the recurrent spells of public anger and outrage.

Neither side has shown any real commitment towards their respective ‘cause’ as is visible in their complete lack of a coherent and comprehensive policy. So if one is to draw from Schelling’s ideas, it goes without saying that in the absence of required discipline, both sides are actually perpetuating a larger status quo here. And, as the available evidence suggests, both have learned how to milk this status quo to their respective advantage and benefit.

This brings the proverbial ball into the people’s court. Since it is the ordinary people who are at the receiving end of the politics of both sides and are actually paying a very huge price through their life, limb, and livelihoods, it is the same ordinary people who will have to wake up and confront the corrupted institutions of structural violence which are both cause and consequence of their “unfreedoms”.  Why should they remain caught forever in the web of violence?  Because it suits someone else’s politics doesn’t mean that people should always involve themselves in sure-loser confrontations. It is time people try and assert themselves as people, bring their “people power” to bear on all those institutions and structures which have become habitual of thriving on their misery.

Victory, whatever it means, is no less important than the process that produces it. No goal, howsoever important, can be reached by “chaos, starvation, idleness and social breakdown”. If great Prophets are credited with introducing no and not into the people’s moral syntax, Gandhi and Tolstoy brought it into the grammar of political movements. They have actually laid the edifice of citizens’ capacity to say no when faced with theoretically inevitable forces or with troubling choices; and mind it results have been more than encouraging. People of Kashmir too will have to learn to say it. They will have to say no to the politics of deceit and duplicity. They will have to say no to the diktats that disdainfully undermine their physical, moral and social well-being. “Conscientious objection” as they call it, is the key; and time has reached to harness it for realizing the “people power”.

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