• Publish Date: Feb 10 2016 4:07PM
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  • Updated Date: Feb 24 2016 12:48PM

Like so much else in our society, one can’t help but feel also cynical about the need for rethinking our approach towards the ongoing political movement in the state. The word that promptly springs to mind and alternately tantalizes and evokes scorn is “the strategy”. Our private conversations often veer towards the word in the context of Kashmir conflict. How often have we questioned hartals, discussed separatist participation in elections and debated the renewed recourse to gun by a section of our youth and its advisability under the circumstances. But these are the very questions we have shied away from discussing in public – albeit, not discounting some tentative recent effort to broaden the discourse which includes Hurriyat M chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s aborted debate on hartals.

Is there a need to do it now? The answer cannot be in the negative. In fact, the need to review and rethink strategies is organic to the growth of any political or social movement. But then rethinking is not an exercise to be undertaken for the sake of it. It is not necessarily about questioning the established tools of the protest like hartal, boycotting the electoral politics or the resort to gun or some such. And it is also about that: challenging these very tools on their efficacy in the transformed context.

But there is a hitch: How do we judge whether a particular strategy has run out of its usefulness? What do we prescribe as its alternative? And how can we be certain that the alternative is redeemingly different from the discarded one? More so, when 26 years is not even a blip in the long march of history, even though the period constitutes a substantial part of a life-span. If nothing else, hartal as a tactic could be defended for its gradual sublimation into an indigenized symbol of Kashmir conflict, its economic costs notwithstanding. So much so, that a day of hartal seems to store the memory and consciousness of the conflict. And over the years, the intermittent recourse to a shutdown or two has become a mode of transmission of the political conflict from generation to Kashmiri generation. Hartal guards against the all-out assault of an imposed normalcy.

Similarly, the idea of the separatists taking part in the mainstream political process can also appear inherently unsustainable. With all its scope for some bold political experimentation, the participation could end up compromising the allegiance to the basic cause. The electoral politics could oblige the separatists to work within the constraints of a system fundamentally aligned against them and perforce live by its rules.

The militancy also generates its own contentious debate, even though there is a seeming principled consensus in the society against any resort to violence. But this has hardly stopped a degree of ambiguity to persist and a section of youth from taking up gun.

So much has happened over the past 26 years: the lingering political turmoil has resulted in a violent social rending in the state. The loss of the thousands of lives, disappearances etc has left a massive humanitarian fallout in its wake. And the toll only continues to mount with each new killing and the atrocity.

We as a community have dealt with this state of affairs in a certain way: taking the pain into our stride and getting on with the fight for the realization of our political aspirations. But along the way we may not have acquitted ourselves well when it came to tending to those among us who have suffered and sacrificed. In fact, the people who lost everything have long been passed over by those who benefited from the situation and their sacrifices. Kashmir has now its own version of conflict-begotten political, administrative and business elite who are now a part of the ruling apparatus.

But this is not to excuse the apathy exhibited by the society as a whole towards the most aggrieved among us. The worst victims of the conflict have been all but forgotten even though their tragedy drives the Kashmir discourse for the resolution of the conflict. The immediate case in point is the killing of 120 youth - most of them teenagers - through 2010 and earlier also in 2008. Their families have been left alone to mop the fallout.

The mention of these youth may form a rhetorical part of the separatist discourse, nobody at the political or community level has gone back to ask their families their well-being. It is legitimate to complain about the denial of justice but it is criminal to fail in community obligations towards the people who bore the brunt of the violence of the past quarter of a century. Sayeeda, 70, of Darish Kadal in downtown Srinagar who has lost nine members of her family to the conflict, including three sons, is emblematic of this indifference. She now ekes out a subsistence level existence in a shack with an adopted child.
Do we need to rethink our community approach towards our brethren who have heavily suffered and been left to fend for themselves? The urgency to do so can hardly be overemphasised.

Separatist Politics

The past decade has witnessed a gradual shrinking of the space of the separatist and their political influence. And this owes itself to not one but several factors, the splintering of the separatist leadership being one of them. The Hurriyat diminution in Kashmir politics is also attributed to post 9/11 geo-political factors, leading to Pakistan’s pre-occupation with the war in Afghanistan and the progressive decline in militancy in Valley. This has relegated the problem in Kashmir to the background reducing the urgency to address the conflict for India and Pakistan. India’s rise on global stage too has altered the complexion of Kashmir issue, enabling the country to promote forcefully its own stand on the dispute to a largely sympathetic global community.

The separatist failure arose from the fact that they couldn’t relocate themselves and their politics to the changed geo-political context. They failed to recalibrate their approaches and methods, continuing unchanged since the outbreak of the armed resistance in 1989. As world and Pakistan turned its attention away and the militancy diminished, they were left to fend for themselves. And they didn’t know what to do, finding themselves unable to create a robust local politics to survive on their own. On occasions, though, there has been enhancement of the credibility of Geelani relative to other leaders. And through 2003-07 Mirwaiz led grouping achieved a degree of relevance in the then promising parleys on Kashmir between India and Pakistan. But the leaders have failed to generate a long-term local political momentum of their own.

There are two main reasons for this: one, of course, the failure to build a day-to-day politics. They seem to depend on sensational chance events to make them relevant rather than work through the routine and be a part of the process. Second, separatists have displayed a singular inability to enrich and expand the boundaries of Kashmir discourse. Just as the events like the three successive summer revolts to 2010 make for them a full-fledged movement, an occasional statement suffices for a narrative. For example, Prof Abdul Gani Bhat would say the UN resolutions on Kashmir are irrelevant and expect to be taken seriously. But such fundamental shifts in the policy call for a greater public debate rather than a random, cheeky mention. Hurriyat will need to build a compulsive case for the jettisoning of these resolutions, if that is really the case.

Same goes for the boycott or not boycotting the polls. The point is that the separatist narrative - constituted as it is of the hard historical facts rooted in the Partition and a few settlement ideas including the option of plebiscite based on UN resolutions - does indeed need enrichment and evolution of its terms but not through careless, stray statements. For that, separatists will need to do the groundwork and work through a process. And of course, convince people and take them along.

As of now, for Kashmir’s separatist discourse, it is a sulk that has become strategy. And static thinking as a virtue and a sign of steadfastness. What is more, sufferings and sacrifices are pursued for their own sake rather than tied to a pre-meditated, long range plan of action. More tragically, once the sacrifices are made, victims are forgotten and fresh suffering is sought and encouraged.

Mainstream politics

The mainstream politics inhabits a tricky political ground in the state. Since 1947 itself Kashmir politics has pivoted around a binary of mainstream and separatist discourse. While separatism has been rooted into the sentiment and aspirations of the people of the state for a dignified resolution of Kashmir issue, mainstream politics is made relevant by its utilitarian dimension. It mediates our engagement with the system that we require to provide services such as education, healthcare, electricity, roads etc. But since this role is inadequate to sustain any political entity, the mainstream parties derive their credibility by creating their own New Delhi versus Kashmir discourse, often interspersed with phraseology and slogans that mimic separatist narrative. More than the pursuit for a solution, the objective is to somehow placate the abiding anti-Delhi mood in Kashmir.

So, from their legitimate role at one end of the Kashmiri political spectrum, the mainstream parties feel the need to traverse a lot of gray space, sometimes even making an adventurous foray into the opposite end, in their constant bid to relate and make themselves relevant to Kashmir political scene. This demands dexterity and deftness to straddle the unabridgeable divides. And also the imagination and creativity to adjust complexity and coalesce contradictions. And it is here that they often trip. Because, the challenge here is not the slickness of performance but to carry the credibility as they do it.

But the cardinal sin of the mainstream is that it started looking at the politics in the state more with reference to New Delhi than to the people of the state. The PDP which initially had tried not to follow this mantra has now recognized its futility and hewed itself to the desires and expectations of the centre. Keeping centre in good humour is seen as the stronger guarantee of perpetuation in power rather than being responsive to the people. This approach, in turn, has grievously undermined their role as the representatives of the interests and aspirations of their people and rendered J&K leaders much less powerful than their colleagues in other states.

Thus while former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah may express his deep reservations about the hanging of Mohammad Afzal Guru, it hardly changes centre’s decision to pull him from the death row queue where he stood at 28 and despatch him to gallows. Similarly, both his and Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed’s long running earnest demand for the revocation of AFSPA has been overruled by the defence establishment. What is more, the elected government and the opposition together, couldn’t muster courage to pass the resolution in the Assembly against the execution of Guru. Ditto in 2014 when anti-beef bill wasn’t allowed to go through in the Assembly.

This is not the helplessness that comes across in the conduct of India's regional satraps like Mayawatis, Yadavs, Nitishs, Mamatas Patnaiks or even the maverick Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal who so assertively hold on to their political turfs and aggressively respond to their constituencies.
Elected J&K chief minister turns out to be the weakest among the parallel power centres ruling the state: the security establishment and New Delhi. In his tenure as Governor S K Sinha had successfully established himself as a third centre of power.

Could the mainstream do something about it? It is highly desired they do. For their kowtowing to the centre has always undercut the credibility of the mainstream leaders in the state. More often than not they are perceived to be working at the pleasure of the centre rather than guided by the sentiments and expectations of their constituencies.

The issue in the end is not whether there should be a change in strategy or not. It is about questioning the self-imposed censure on the need to think and rethink the past and the future; to assess where we have been and where we are heading. It is about introspecting the twenty six years of turmoil and weighing a future course of action. Because since 1989, the geo-politics has moved on and our strategies and tactics are far from catching up.

Or if nothing else, why shouldn’t there be a debate? Why should intellectual stagnation be zealously guarded? Why shouldn’t we discuss ideas, approaches and strategies, even if for the sake of it? Why shouldn’t received wisdom and understandings be challenged, seen through and if needed reformulated – that is, within the basic parameters and the reality of Kashmir conflict?

Or in short, why should we only go by the narratives and discourses and not by the objective truth of the situation? Narratives and ideologies have their uses but a fixation with them can obscure the unremitting play of the ground realities. We cannot afford to evade these questions. More so, when the objective is not to confound the scene or work to an agenda but to lend a clarity to the situation. It is not about compromising our integrity but reclaiming a collective sense of agency.