End the family drama — dynasty politics has only blackmailed J&K and Delhi
How two political family-led parties have ruined democracy in Kashmir and why a new narrative emerging now is a sign of great hope.
By: Javaid Trali
The fall of the coalition government in J&K did create a political crisis — but the emergence of a new political discourse could be a good omen for the restive state.
The promised politics of inclusiveness and participation drew me towards the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) — formed and led by the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. I became a part of the party in 2013 officially — only to part ways in disappointment.
Following the death of Mufti Saheb, who kept the party together, the reigns of the party were handed to a few, based on their surnames.
The rest did not matter.
At times, I regretted my decision of being part of a party which did not value individual efforts to strengthen and broaden it. I wore my ideology on my sleeve though and went the extra mile to defend my party through whatever way possible, even risking my life and family. I told our side of the story, boldly and effectively. I found that important, given the fact that I believed in whatever I said.
But that did not matter.
The party reached a point where there was no internal democracy, and that pushed people like me to the wall. I learnt that the price for loyalty, hard work and honesty can also be paid by humiliation and harassment. The only qualification for growth now was sycophancy.
Within the party leadership, deliberations over the way forward transformed into conspiring on how to let each other down and promote individual interests. The politics of the state is complex and the PDP simply increased the people’s anxiety and allowed the state to get polarised, and continue in severe uncertainty.
J&K’s politics have been dominated by two parties, rather, just two families — the Abdullahs and the Muftis. With family politics came a premium on surnames and blood lines, whether one was a peer or not. This ensured a pro-people government was never formed.
Despite several elections, including those when participation was overwhelming, its dividends never reached the grassroots level.
In Jammu and Kashmir, democracy has always been hampered and thwarted by the families who made it a fiefdom. It is, perhaps, among the major causes of alienation of the common Kashmiri from the Indian system of democracy, which they now see as an enabler of corruption, a murderer of merit.
The few with premium surnames have hijacked the political process. They have ensured democracy is stifled, corrupted and power is vested in the hands of very few.
This anti-people culture has to be dismantled. Now the realization of ridding the turmoil-hit state of this two-party jagirdari has finally dawned on those who have the will and strength to do so.
The coming together of the like-minded and the resolve of younger leaders to take on these political families has unnerved the latter. For the families, there can be no bigger threat to their political survival for the process of reviving democracy will dismantle their palaces of nepotism.
But will a new political formation be able to salvage democracy from the hands of these families?
It is not easy - but these new figures have shown the will to stand their ground. Their lack of mincing words and their public criticism of family politics is courageous. One would hope they are successful in their endeavor of seeing a new leadership.
This new leadership must also focus on issues that pertain to the survival of common people, rather wasting time on rhetoric and using a carrot and stick policy to mislead the emotional swathes of Kashmir.
There is a Kashmir beyond politics.
There is life in little nooks and corners and villages to which roads do not lead, where water and electricity is scarce and people seek azadi from their daily woes.
The flak for this lack of deliverance is most often taken by the Indian system, rather than the corrupt family-led parties. And why not, for the face of the political mainstream in Kashmir have been the two families.
A decisive leadership, governed by the spirit of democracy, rather than an urge to secure families’ political fortunes, can address these issues.
Whatever the secessionists say, one may not agree with them; but those who get elected on the planks of development and economic prosperity, if they talk the same impractical language for their survival, the system, and the people for whom it has been established, is bound to face what it is facing today.
That is the reason for the collapse of democratic institutions and the peoples’ trust on them.
The mandate of mainstream politicians is limited to governance and administration — they need to understand and respect their role and responsibility. People have been voting, despite threats and intimidation - and those in power have failed the very same people.
To hide their failures on these fronts, they raise emotive issues, which are neither their domain, nor can they solve them. Yes, they do have the right to talk about topics like the resolution of the Kashmir issue, the revocation of AFSPA and dialogue with dissenters, but they are duty-bound under oath to work for governance and administration.
By not performing their mandated role, they are trying to subvert accountability. This is a norm in J&K since ages, and the state's political families are responsible for that.
For example, while presiding over apparently one of the most corrupt and inefficient governments, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah would talk about revoking AFSPA every now and then. He would bash India and present it as villain before the people, while trying to come out clean himself.
The same is the case with the previous government too; it wasted most of its time by scaring New Delhi with China, Pakistan and separatists. The results are before us — there has been no change on the ground. In fact, things have gone from bad to worse.
If these family-run parties would have been truthful to the people and would tell them that whatever happened in 1947 is final, and no matter how lofty our slogans are, how genuine our arguments may seem, geography won’t be changed, the state and its people would not have suffered these unprecedented political, economic and psychological losses.
Instead, they reap the benefits of politics and democracy while they have institutionalised hate against India, and cashed in on that hate for their political capital.
The mainstream hypocrisy started with Sheikh Abdullah Saheb when he raised the bogey of 'Raishumari Tehreek', after being dislodged from his chair in 1953. Unfortunately, this practice still continues. The double-speak and lack of sincerity of these politicians have pushed the common man to the wall. Major responsibility for this despondency is on the NC, and of late, the PDP.
The level of manipulation and blackmailing practiced by the people in power, over the years, has taken away focus from the real issues that the state is facing.
The mainstream politicians have done a great disservice to the idea of democracy, and have lost credibility by increasing the level of expectation of the electorate, and failing to keep their promises.
By preferring personal interests, party interests and family interests over the interests of the people, they have disrespected democracy and the trust of people. The result is: - disillusionment and disaffection with the system. This has to be changed.
This void has to be filled.
The conscientious grouping which we see emerging now seems resolute to make political discourse inclusive and vibrant, and hold family politics accountable.
This is not the ultimate solution for our state - but this is the beginning of a process of a purpose. Politics must be separated from the whims and fancies of the political elite, the jagirdars and viceroys - who have been blackmailing both New Delhi and the hapless people of J&K.
Let’s be honest to ourselves. Let’s bid good bye to the politics of ransom and blackmailing.
- The author is a political activist from Tral area in South Kashmir. www.dailyo.in