Beyond abstract symbolism
Any serious commentary on the politics of Kashmir tends to be disdainful of the political elite; and more than their ‘person’, of their politicizing the mundane for selfish ends. There are reasons for it. At a place where even the bare essentials of life are packaged and passed on as favours to the ordinary have-nots, popular heart-ache and disdain are bound to be there. What people of this God-forsaken land get to witness day-in and day-out are nothing beyond the symbolic and superficial crowd pleasers, restricted to narrow political gains, and thus a poor disguise for the real business of politics — people-friendly service delivery. This is evidenced by the fact that the successive governments despite pledging and promising a great deal to the people have ended up doing precious little; and for this, they have hardly shown any remorse and regrets. On their part, those on other side of the political divide too have not been any different. They too have milked the sentiments of the common people on the back of emotive slogans for too long without actually showing any real promise of being able to take what they call “movement to the logical conclusion”.
Now see the irony, both sides have made even the routine life processes here subservient to political considerations and their own calculations. Those who have the power to thwart normality, pack up their political messages in moral wrappers in such a way that it sounds as if they are being too considerate and kind to allow the people to breathe. If separatists do not ask for strikes and shutdowns, there are others who do it for them, some actually by enforcing it using stones and bricks. Actually nobody here can live without strikes for long, not even the traders. So everybody has traditionally remained on lookout for the issues and triggers that would justify what seems to be their favourite politics and largely the only political tactic and maneuver – call for ‘hartal’ (shutdown)!
Similarly the successive governments, despite each one of them and on each occasion having promised to ‘change’ the “rotten system” have squarely failed to bring about any change in the people’s wretched lives and life situations. With an eye on gross populism, the mainstream leaders have all along used emotional symbols as part of re-branding exercises so as to woo and fool people into believing that they are the cause and the reason for everything “good” that has happened to the state – while all other, and particularly their immediate political adversary “sleeps with the devil” and should not/cannot be trusted. History of Kashmir is replete with innumerable instances and anecdotes that could be cited to prove the power of the “political symbolism” that has been employed here time and again to lead people into believing into something which later on never really happened.
It is high time that politicians here, both the separatists as well as those in the political mainstream, and the government in particular, instead of banking on symbols alone start moving beyond them. For this all that is needed is political will and a realization that the ordinary people have been fooled for too long, and that now they must also be given a different frame of reference so that, at least, their general despise for the political class starts showing some signs of CHANGE. Those who have and still promises ‘change’ will have to change their attitudes and beliefs towards and about the common people first. They will have to be appreciative of the people’s power, acknowledge that it is the vote or support of the ordinary which is the source of their power and reason for their privileges. Once there is change in thinking at the top, then only could one expect it to percolate down.