Thinking Beyond the Existing Political Options

  • Nandita Haksar
  • Publish Date: Feb 10 2016 4:43PM
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  • Updated Date: Apr 6 2016 6:29PM


I belong to an age when we unashamedly imagined a future which would belong to the poor, the oppressed and the exploited. We argued whether we would turn Rashtrapati Bhawan into a university or a hospital; we would have heated debates on what equality between men and women would mean and we dreamed of a world without wars. My favourite line from a poem was: “We, who once were fools and dreamers, will then be brave and wise.”
Once I joined the human rights movement and saw the ugly reality of everyday lives of so many millions of people I forgot those dreams; and one day I realized I had been fighting against so many things that I no longer dreamed about the future. The only thing that kept me going was the idea that we human beings were united by our inherent humanity. It was an idea I refused to give up. It was not always easy to include all men and women in the definition of humanity.
This idea has been expressed by a poet in just two lines when he asked why it was so difficult for a man to be a human being. I am of course referring to Ghalib’s famous lines:
baskih dushvaar hai har kaam kaa aasaan honaa
aadmii ko bhii muyassar nahiin insaan honaa
Ghalib wrote those lines in response to the horrors he witnessed during the war for independence against British rule. What would he have written if he was alive and witness to the politics of hatred which is engulfing the Indian sub-continent? Not only our part of the world but the entire planet.
I do not know what his answers would be; how can I? I am not a poet. But throughout the history of our sub-continent poets have tried to bring people of different religions and castes together; they were the Sufi and Bhakti poets.
But in our times all these traditions have been appropriated by the State for its own ends; and if they have not been appropriated by the State they have been used by forces who are against the very idea that people of different communities, religions and even genders can live together. Sufi traditions in Kashmir have been appropriated by the Indian state; the satras of Assam have been taken over by the Brahmans and the teachings of Jesus have been used by Christian fundamentalists in Nagaland.
Many people dream of having a world divided among different religious communities; different ideologies and even different genders. It is no longer a world where our political imagination allows us to dream of utopias; this is an age of dystopias. Even children’s literature is full of dystopias. This reflects the depth to which our political imagination has been colonized by Western ideologies.
The appropriation of our imagination by the West has been so deep and insidious that many people feel there is no alternative to the liberal democratic politics. So we are left with either liberal ideology of the Western imperialist powers who preach democracy while bombing and destroying half the world and America has a serious presidential candidate who genuinely believes that the solution to the political crisis is to ban Muslims from America. The proposal is actually discussed on national television of the world’s most powerful democracy.
Liberal democrats countering Donald Trump seem rather weak and there is not much difference between the liberals, democrats, republicans and fascists. In the end they all want a world in their own image; the degree of intolerance is the only difference.
So we have a world in which fundamentalism and religious extremism (Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh and Zionist) compete with the liberal democrats for our support. Many times the liberal democrats seem to be our only option. But liberal humanists have been racists, patriarchal, colonizers and individualists.
Are there any other options? If we are to think of any new strategies to solve the Kashmir problem or any other political problem for that matter, we must answer this question. If we are going to search for answers within the confines of the existing political options we will not be able to extricate ourselves from the present quagmire. There is a need for political imagination.
It has been argued that politics can be defined as a struggle for people’s imagination. As one writer observed: “We live in an epoch characterized by the paradox of an excess of imagination and a concomitant lack of it.”
There are increasing number of books being written about the relationship between politics and imagination. Needless to say they are written by people who belong to the dominant group: white, Anglo-Saxon middle class men. We, the people living in South Asia, need to develop our own political imagination.
Was that not what Rumi meant when he said:
Muhammad says,
“Love of one’s country
Is part of the faith.”
 But don’t take that literally!
Your real “country” is where you are heading,
Not where you are.
Don’t misread the Hadith. 
| Nandita Haksar is a renowned lawyer and the author, most recently, of ‘The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism From the Cold War to the present Times’ (Speaking Tiger 2015)