Understand people’s anxieties

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The daily happenings are an ample demonstration and proof of how dangerous a place Kashmir is. Years and decades of systematic disenfranchisement and constant bullying have sowed the seeds of anger and aversion so deep into the popular psyche that the situation here remains ever-volatile. All it needs is a trigger for the pent-up rage to spill over, out in open, and incinerate everything – the government, its credibility, institutions, and even the lives of the common, ordinary people. It has been like this, always. As have been those at the helm, oblivious to the brewing tensions on the ground, always complacent that managerial ideas, skills and methods is all that’s needed to run a ‘project’ as complex as Kashmir. This is why there has never really been any anticipation of what is coming.

Every time there is an encounter between the militants and the government forces, there is also an outburst of public emotion and anger. But its causes even though visibly evident in the mixture of arrogant inaptitude and bad management, are never accounted for. Making matters worse is that the political executive seems so seduced by belief and reliance on “managers” that it has lost track of the common people, whose lives and life situations are affected the most by its decisions and methods. Besides other inadequacies, our policy-making leadership suffers acute incapacity of thinking with the real lives of the real citizens. This is why when faced by public resistance, “their tendency has been to wait it out or offer bagatelles, distractions.”

This is what is happening right now. Pitt the Younger once said that the excuse for every tyranny was necessity. So whatever people have been through in past thirty years – all the civilians killings and blindings and maimings – were a “necessity”! This is what we are told it is. And there is absolutely no mention of other pressing need — of acknowledging the wrongs committed on the people, of constantly pushing them to the wall on a host of issues, some of which are at the heart of the very idea of people’s identity – their land and religion. Remember that famous Dee Brown statement: “They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one – they promised to take our land, and they took it.”

The current Kashmir unrest goes beyond militancy and regular encounters between them and the state forces. And it needs no further reiteration that its causes are far deeper than what the statist discourse centered exclusively around the “hostile neighbor’s provocative meddling” makes it sound and look like. The state needs to mind it that no amount of force is going to help. It hasn’t, historically. Only thing it does is that it stiffens the resolve of the recipient population to fight back, with whatever they can – even if stones or sticks may not stand chance against the modern high-tech firepower of the state!

Recall the 1874 British war to remove regimes in Egypt and the Sudan. The war threw up Mahdi, a messianic guerilla leader. After leading a successful uprising in 1884, Mahdi took over Khartoum next year, and killed the famous English general, Gordon. Now the British could not give up—their prestige was on the line. But the war dragged on until the battle of Omdurman in 1898, when the other side was finally massacred. What happened next is certainly not what the British and others had desired or expected. “Omdurman marked not the end but the beginning of modern Arab and Islamic nationalism. It also set the pattern for modern Western democracies finding themselves on the wrong side of Islam.”

As is evident by the events that have followed since, and are unfolding currently with far more ferocity not only around the North Africa and West Asian regions but even in the Europe and the Americas, makes it clear that ‘success’ in this sort of conflict can easily be the same thing as ‘failure’.

This is what New Delhi will have to understand. The point is that the system must acknowledge its follies, and be willing to rectify the wrongs. Then there is certainly a case to look at the anger in Kashmir also as an expression of anxieties felt by the people here in the face of their systemic and structured disempowerment. Leaving aside statist egotism, it must respond to these anxieties.

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