Stop divisive politics

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Immediately after independence, the most daunting task for India was to manage its vast diversity. In a country of more than 500 spoken languages, scores of practising religions, hundreds of cultures and sub-cultures, this was no easy challenge. The project of state-building had to bridge the north-south divide, and find accommodation in the Union for dozens of nationalist and sub-nationalist aspirations. Looking back at the past 70 years of its history, India has done fairly well, barring in a few trouble-spots like Jammu and Kashmir, and North-East, and some other areas where more than the politics of ethnicity, caste considerations and economic inequities are the source of strife.

Generally speaking, the main mantra in India’s nation-building pursuit has been its reconciliation with the diversity — providing each ‘identity’ the respect and accommodation. Although nobody can claim that it has been able to do so to perfection, but somehow its record has not been very bad either.  However during the past few years, the country seems on a path of reversing all that has been achieved on this front.

Now take Jammu and Kashmir for instance. Instead of reconciling differences of varied entities, their markers of identities have been manipulated through all fair and foul means. Here not only were the differences among the people in terms of their faith and region amplified extraordinarily, but even mutual competition was infused among them in a very negative manner so as to defeat the idea of unified nationalist or sub-nationalist character. Even as this grand strategy has been unfolding steadily since 1947, but the process was further accelerated after 1990 with the onset of militancy in the state. Today after three decades of this divisive politicking, the polarization between various regions and religions is so intense that the state is staring in the face of a far bigger trouble and conflict within its boundaries along the fault-lines of region and religion.

Every individual or community has a legitimate claim on the equal distribution of the economic resources, welfare and development, and proper representation in the government. People no doubt have some really genuine concerns here or there on this count, but to crowd an actual issue of political longings and aspirations with these economic complaints and cultural nuances is sheer subversion. As of now the project of ‘assimilation’ in case of Jammu and Kashmir has been carried forward through exploitation of the given diversities in the society and by broadening differences within the different segments. Irrespective of whether the governments in Srinagar and Delhi concede it or not, fact of the matter remains that today the polarization between various regions and sub-regions seems complete, with each group looking at the other as a competitor and not as a supporter. Be it the continued friction between Srinagar and Jammu over the share in government jobs and educational institutions as well as access to the developmental funds, and other welfare schemes or even to which offices should function in which part of the state, the divide is openly visible everywhere.

Dogras of Jammu, Kashmiris of Kashmir and Buddhists of Ladakh have lived together for centuries in harmony. Different cultural and ethnic identities — Sunnis, Shias, Gujjars, Paharis, Kashmiris, non-Kashmiris, Pandits, Dogras, Buddhists — have thrived together. Obviously then if all these identities suddenly become hyper-active, the assertion seems to be unnatural and fabricated. Among the ruling class today, there is a tendency to portray Kashmiri-speaking Muslims as the only “trouble makers”. In a bid to reduce the scope of the actual Kashmir problem, a concerted effort is being made to single out Kashmiri Muslim from among the rest. This reductionist mind-set has certainly done more damage to the state’s character than having helped in reaching any worthwhile goal.

History stands witness that short-cuts and strong-arm methods have always proved counter-productive while dealing with the peoples’ longings. The rationale has to be engaged with a rationale and idea with a counter-idea. In today’s civilized world, coercive measures don’t hold much promise. Any resort to these means is akin to scuttling the very idea of liberty, equality and peace and justice. Unfortunately this is something that is seemingly not being heeded and considered. Instead the situation is deliberately being pushed towards an “us versus them” binary, wherein people in Jammu and elsewhere in the mainland are nudged to look at the Kashmiris as the “political other” who should be hounded and harassed through whatever means. This is indeed a very dangerous ploy!


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