Today: Jun 17, 2024

Changed realities demand recalibrating political priorities

7 mins read


Caught between the millstones of political and structural violence for over thirty years now, Kashmir has been waiting for peace, even for the ‘negative peace’ for the grind to end somewhere and somehow.  ‘Negative peace’ or simply put, the ‘absence of violence’, is the first imperative to move towards building a somewhat stable and sustainably peaceful future. The question which begs attention here is how potent is this uneasy lull with specific reference to Kashmir? Can this perhaps be the much-needed clean slate to begin sketching out the blueprint for the future? Or will this crucial moment be hijacked yet again by the self-perpetuating complaint loops that feed into the narrative of the need to preserve disagreements while problematizing the same, only to escalate and sustain the conflict? The question remains, what do we choose to focus on? Which way are we headed?

Post the February 14th Pulwama carnage, the Government of India seems to be unambiguous about certain things. The first and most important point being that there can’t be negotiations with those who directly or indirectly support violence in Kashmir.

With an intention to root out the rationale behind supporting the status quo, the present government seems to be sporting a decisive stand while calling out the culprits who had previously benefited from the ongoing conflict. The methods of the implementation of this decisive position, debated by many in terms of violation of rights and also perceived by many as not inclusive of the point-of-view of a number of stakeholders must be, in my opinion, viewed through the prism of intention and political will for effecting fast-paced change.

Despite the din about the injustice lacing the process of moving through this transition phase post the shift in the political status of Jammu and Kashmir, there are Kashmiris who are still hopeful that the tectonic shift in power dynamics will eventually provide the founding steps for self-determination and progress within the Union of India.​​ A studied approach to establishing the voice of these Kashmiris, who are hopeful for the much-needed structural, legal and political change, would entail the need to dismantle the allegations to begin with that are doing the endless rounds on the Internet. Only after the myths are busted can there emerge the incentive to look beyond the popular narrative.

In this article, I have attempted thus to initiate that important conversation and present an introduction to the emerging space for the “not-so-popular” voice — the voice of the progressive Kashmiri.

Contextualizing the popular allegations

The most popular allegation against the Indian government that has been used over the decades to support anarchy under the guise of conflict hits out in a way that seeks to present the “intention” of the government to cause what has been described as the “systematic disempowerment” of the people. For the self-appointed custodians of the interests of the Kashmiris who claim to propagate this narrative, their position seems to curiously exclude the factor of sponsored violence that has created the security imperatives in the first place.

The security-oriented precautions alongside the trust-deficit generated as a result of local people being paid to support separatist and trouble mongering ideals has spiralled over the years into episodes of violent clashes. Locals have been forced (coerced), sometimes paid to, refrain from cooperating with administration in maintaining law and order while the local political class had been known to conveniently disregard the need to step in to alter the situation besides also preventing the support and benefits of democracy to reach the common people.

In the pre-militancy era, most of the ministries under the different regimes would be occupied by Kashmiris (Kashmiri Muslims). Same is true about important positions in bureaucracy. This reality started changing after 1990, when the place was pushed into the quagmire of violence, and resulted in utter despondency and deprivation. This atmosphere of fear and frustration has remained at the centre-stage of our politics and society for decades, especially for Kashmir.

The three-decades of violence and uncertainty was further used to great effect by the beneficiaries of the conflict  who got people mired into delusional slogans-from “autonomy” to “azaadi” and “self-rule” to “khilafat”. As a result, Kashmiris lost focus, found themselves disoriented, and confused. The energies that would have been utilized in aiding socio-political development and enabled democracy by helping promote equal rights, were wasted in the pursuit of these delusions.

The propagandists who have been advocating for “autonomy” sometimes in terms of cultural identity and sometimes in terms of a not-so-subtle combination of cultural and religious identity, seem to suggest that having a closed identity system insured through political expression would ensure justice somehow and magically facilitate development. They seem to be forgetting that besides vested interest in the conflict which has enabled the sustenance of the conflict for decades now, there is also the element of corruption which any critical and introspective Kashmiri would do well to take note of if they are to be a part of the conversation to aid problem solving in the current situation.

Corruption in governance and society has pushed Kashmiri society into nothing less than an abyss. Institutions have lost their credibility. The common man, the main victim of the violence, has been pushed to the wall while the rulers made good fortunes. For a government that seeks to aggressively dismantle the nexus of corruption, there is reason to consider trusting their intention to begin with.

Identity and trust; basis of discrimination?

The analysis of Kashmir’s present situation reveals a curious trend in the play of identity in a bid to build or break trust amongst various stakeholders. As Kashmir struggles to assert its independent cultural identity within the political and cultural identity of India, there is a noticeable rift in the way Kashmiris are made to perceive the interests of Indian identity as aligning or not aligning with their own. Over the years, the sponsors of violence and separatist delusions have used media to brainwash the common Kashmiri to cause them to mistrust the intentions of the Indian government.

The question that arises here is that when you brim with negativity and scorn towards the people who have been pouring in resources to support you, do you find it surprising that their attitude would gradually change to reflect your own position of negativity and discrimination too. Shouldn’t the Kashmiris introspect then and critically ask the right questions like: Why are the resources not reaching us? Who is standing in the way of our empowerment? Or, what have we done to cooperate with law and order situations to enable trust and democratic processes to flourish?

The confession of guilt and an awareness of the common Kashmiri’s role in enabling the conflict has to be the starting point to initiate a change in the way we prioritise things. It is imperative that we admit that in the 1990s, we didn’t have the courage to reject the notions that education, health and other essential indicators of development ‘can wait till Azaadi’. We didn’t have people protesting for quality education, jobs and preservation of natural resources. We were misguided not to mention ‘emotional’. Instead, ‘leaders’ who led the people to entrap them in decades of suffering based on delusional ideals were supported, their actions glamorized. The calls for strikes that affect our economy, businesses, and education alike, were not dismissed, but instead considered righteous. This manipulated and misguided social approval to political vandalism  and ensuing violence over the years have pushed us decades away from the progress we needed the most to live a standard  and dignified life. Results are there for us to see now!

When secessionist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq says “Quality education is a major tool for development and up-liftment of nations” – one can’t help but laugh at it. No one has the courage to ask the secessionists about the futility of their politics that is pushing people into further poverty, hardships and stagnation. Those who are well-off, which include secessionist leaders, have been able to take their children out of Jammu and Kashmir for better avenues of education and career prospects. The common man’s children have been left to suffer because education was seen as “anti-movement activity”.

Let us look at some facts now to support this analysis. Pir Panchal, Chenab and Ladakh regions of the state despite having geographical constraints, made education their priority. Braving all odds, youth from these areas have established themselves at the centre-stage of the state’s administrative set-up. From the IITs to IAS, these youngsters are everywhere, contributing to society’s progress. What did the Kashmiris do in the meantime? They allowed themselves to become cannon fodder for separatist politics based on a struggle to assert their identity in political terms.

Is the common Kashmiri a part of the democratic system?

An important factor for the feeling of “marginalization” which has been misused by the separatists stems from the insensitivity and apathy of the ruling elite towards building a strong democratic system at the grass-roots level. For example, their failure to hold local bodies’ and panchayat elections in the state for decades — is not only brazen violation of constitutional norms, but this way they kept denying the common man his basic right, to become part of planning for development, empowerment and social justice.

In Jammu and Kashmir, democracy has always been hampered and thwarted by the political elite. That is one of the major causes of alienation of the common Kashmiri. Political elite have been the perpetrators of corruption and murderers of merit. They have done an unforgivable disservice to the idea of democracy by preferring personal interests, party interests and family interests over the interests of the people. They disrespected democracy and the trust of people for years.

Now, it is time for the people to decide whether to move beyond victimhood, or let themselves be further exploited for self-seeking politics of the elite. There is a definite need to look inwards and introspect. Maybe the solution to every problem that we are facing today lies within.

It is hoped that in the course of streamlining the affairs of the state, particularly saving lives and ensuring incident-free day for a common Kashmiri, steps should be taken to heal this psychological wound and erosion of trust. As the world looks on anticipating chaos as an outcome of the transition, it is upto the Kashmiris now to focus on the priorities and emerge with a vision instead of violence as the choice consciously made.