… and people’s disempowerment continues!
Immediately after the September 2014 floods, when Election Commission of India decided to go ahead with the electoral exercise in J&K, it assured that it should not impact the rehabilitation of the flood-hit population. However, this assertion, as was expected, proved no different than countless similar promises which have been observed only in breach. The state which lacks the capacity and competence to deal with natural disasters of any magnitude was overstretched – both in terms of its attention as well as resources. So juggling between the rehabilitation and the election process, the elections became the ‘top priority’ for the state apparatus and rehabilitation of deluged population slipped the priority list. In a place like Kashmir, such debacles come with a lot of political baggage, adding to the popular feeling of “neglect” and “discrimination”, which are the main causal factors of increasing alienation here.
Irrespective of how people may look at it, fact of the matter is that growing anger in Kashmir also stems from the sustained and systematic disenfranchisement of people over a period of time. The bitter truth for all, including the governments in New Delhi and Srinagar, as also for the separatist leadership here is that people have long back forsaken their dream of a life “of, for and by the people” (democracy), as also in the “Azadi” (freedom). Not because they do not value the attributes of democracy or freedom, but because they know that ‘their leadership’ does not have the competence to deliver them from the clutches of political, economic and social gloom. The hope in their hearts has been displaced by cold cynicism of their minds. They are longer impressed by the separatists’ discourse about freedom, not by the Unionists’ hymns in praise of democracy. Kashmiri people have learned it very hard way that they do not have a hand or say in shaping the destiny of this nation and its people. They know that matters concerning them are decided at New Delhi and Islamabad; and subsequently at the Civil Secretariat complexes of Srinagar and Jammu; and then at countless other places, but certainly not on the basis of their “free-will and aspirations” which in any case has become a political cliché.
People have not forsaken their dreams “because of any desire or positive action of their own; they have been driven down into the depths of great despair born of frustration, hopelessness, and apathy”. Any people’s movement that lacks in popular participation dies of paralysis. This is exactly what has happened in Kashmir and those representing diverse ideologies are equally culpable of having eroded the public trust in their respective politics through their “all preach-no practice” behavior.
Following a survey conducted about a similar feeling among the American public, Gunnar Myrdal in 1944 publication ‘An American Dilemma’ points out: “Political participation of the ordinary citizen in America is pretty much restricted to the intermittently recurring elections. Politics is not organized to be a daily concern and responsibility of the common citizen. The relative paucity of trade unions, cooperatives, and other civic interest organizations tends to accentuate this abstention on the part of the common citizens from sharing in the government of their communities as a normal routine of life.”
This is the bitter truth of Kashmir as well. The stifling of opportunities for mass participation has throttled people’s interest in the politics concerning them. Social interests have long been replaced by selfish interests. People in leadership roles no longer think as Kashmiris for Kashmir –they rather think for New Delhi and Islamabad, of course only after thinking of and securing their own interest cliques. The welfare of their narrow groups completely overshadows any thought of the Kashmiri interest and collective welfare of its people.
Interestingly, while the mainstream politics, through recurring elections every five and six years, provides (though only a limited) opportunity to the people to participate in government formation, and election or selection of their “representatives”, separatist politics is yet to accord this right to the people. And yet each group (including the Unionists) claims absolute copyright over the people’s thinking – that they are the “real representative”, the “chosen one”. Assuming that they do speak for all of their members, which certainly is not the case (if it were so, there wouldn’t have been separate factions or interests groups within each party), still the total membership of each party and group is nowhere near to the numbers that would make them representative of the entire population. These are bitter facts and they have embittered hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris. Today if they are not interested in the government’s rhetoric, it is certainly not their endorsement of the politics preached by the separatists. It must be read and seen as their protest against their systematic disempowerment by the both.