Tarquin’s choice

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The situation in Kashmir is really worrisome. Trouble is not only that the life here has come to a standstill, but major worry is that the life itself is threatened. With no let up in killings, ordinary people are scared to their marrow – not really knowing if they would actually survive to see another day.

While the government so conveniently blames the separatists for provoking people for sure-loser confrontations with the government forces, the latter however is also culpable of having taken people as being expendable, who they could, and they have been targeting with absolute disdain and without any fear of law. So in any case, New Delhi as well as its State governments here (currently Governor’s administration) cannot escape their share of blame – of having relied solely on military and managerial skills to deal with Kashmir. The fallout of this strategy has been that day-in and day-out people are getting killed and injured here almost on daily basis, some of them very grievously and yet there is no let-up in the violence. The reason being that the governments does not seem willing to engage with the people whose involvement in any dialogue process actually has the potential to change the contours and dynamics of the ground situation here.

Irrespective of how different political actors may chose to articulate their positions and politics, fact of the matter remains that each party’s duplicity and hypocrisy vis-à-vis Kashmir stands exposed. Had it not been so then certainly the political helm would have shown some real urgency and resolve in ending the daily bloodshed here.

In the days of ancient Rome, an old woman is said to have approached the king, known as Tarquin the Proud, with an offer to sell him a treasure — nine books –she claimed contained all the wisdom of the world. When asked the price, she named an immense sum of gold. King Tarquin laughed. The old woman did not reply but simply took three of the books and proceeded to burn them.

Then calmly she offered Tarquin the remaining six books for the very same price. The king laughed even harder and exclaimed:  Why would I pay for six books what I would not pay for nine?  So the old woman put another three books in the fire and once again offered to sell the remaining ones — now only three   for the same price. Now Tarquin became unnerved. What if she was right and those books did contain the wisdom of the world?

As the old woman prepared to put the last three books on the fire, he broke down and agreed to pay her price. Those three books known as ‘Sibylline Oracles’, became one of the greatest treasures of ancient Rome, frequently consulted by the leadership in crises and credited with helping save the city.

Confronted with frequent crises in Kashmir, that of situational and political turbulence, of daily confrontations and killings, central government in New Delhi as well as its local face – the Governor’s administration faces a version of Tarquin’s choice. Like King Tarquin, they have before them a rare treasure they could save — in this case lives and livelihoods of the people, and her political future as well. As with the nine books, there is a certain unvarying price to pay. That price is to give up fatalistic beliefs about police and military force saving the day, and be willing to evolve better and less destructive tactics of dealing with public anger and outrage.

Some may think, just as King Tarquin did, that the price being asked is steep and unrealistic and whether the promised treasure is truly obtainable. Now the government can choose to wait just as Tarquin did until one third or even two thirds of the treasure (precious human lives) are destroyed. Or it can save people’s lives by thinking and actually going beyond the military measures in Kashmir.


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