A History of Resentment and Nominal Power

  • Mohamad Junaid
  • Publish Date: Jul 28 2017 1:54AM
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  • Updated Date: Jul 28 2017 1:54AM
A History of Resentment and Nominal Power

                                                  Illustration by Suhail Naqshbandi/KI

 

What pro-India parties in Kashmir hold on to and what remains of them

 

 

I. 

In watching Indian establishment figures, from government ministers to military generals, openly condone and advocate abuses and crimes against Kashmiris, and Indian TV pundits float wild, indecent theories, that beggar all logic and reason, to demonize Kashmiris—every poisonous statement fogging the minds of Indian citizens further—it is hard not to fall into despair and ask: what has befallen this country of more than one billion people? Why has the country publicly turned on the spigots of hate?

Each evening, the 9 o’clock TV pundits serve Indians a three-course meal of falsehoods, animus, and chest-thumping jingoism. As TV studios become incubators of political violence, vast cyber armies of Hindutva have created a thriving online ecosystem of threat and genocide. Careless (or careful, who knows) words then become machetes, lathis, and mobs that descend upon the weak and the vulnerable. The signs of detriment are festering, evident in the assaults on Muslims, Dalits, universities, and activists in India. Of course, Kashmiris manage to get Indian establishment’s goat the most. That is why violence against Kashmiris is not only condoned, but incentivized and rewarded. Who can blame Major Gogoi for what he did to Farooq Dar, or begrudge his medal, when the whole country is asking for worse from him? 

Yet, the colonial occupation has run out of talking points. Brazen violence has moral defeat written all over it.

Until very recently, Indian writers were celebrating the uniqueness of their country, extolling India as the “largest democracy” and a “righteous republic,” and explaining to the world what India was, exemplified in book titles ranging from “Being Indian” to the “Idea of India”. But the country has hit back with a vengeance against such airbrushed biographies of itself. Modi’s India is all-too-ready to let the base instincts of Hindutva rewire the country’s political DNA. The crisis is irredeemable; Hindutva isn’t about electoral victories—RSS hardly cares about democracy—but about permanently transforming India’score political identity from a multi-religious, multi-ethnic state centered on Hindu majority (which was already normatively indefensible) to a brazenly fascistic pyramidal system enforced by an upper-caste Hindu domination.  

 

II. 

In this context, it is worthwhile to ask what are pro-India parties in Kashmir left to hold on to. For years, the “secular” and the “progressive” veneer of India was sufficient pitch these parties made to Kashmiris. India, they argued (unconvincingly), was large enough to accommodate difference and autonomy. Sheikh Abdullah and his progeny, probably knowing better, kept repeating the mantra to hold on to power. Their opportunistic opponents, who realized that currying favor with Indian establishment is the only way to acquire power in Kashmir—and who invented People’s Democratic Party out of thin air (with no clear organic ties to Kashmiri masses)—parroted the same line, only more punctiliously and with a new buzzword: Self-rule.

But as it turns out the only ones truly committed to secularism in India have been the religious minorities and the ones committed to equitable progress and social justice have been the Dalits. Hindutva has congealed a large enough majority of upper-castes within the Indian political-military establishment to obliterate any movement for justice. Pro-India parties in Kashmir still arguing for India, thus, have no guftaar—a coherent argument; they sound like crows taw-tawing (Kashmiri crows don’t “caw-caw”). They look like hair transplants that have rejected the body and are now cannibalizing it just to remain on top.  

The state of PDP is absurd—and comical. On every point that they taw-tawed to their constituents, they have made an about-turn, and in the process tying themselves into one knot after another. Ever since their “partner” BJP turned them into mules for their fascist agenda, PDP ideologues spend half the time spitefully justifying barbaric state violence against Kashmiris and the other half griping about Modi not listening to their advice of “restraint.” Like shamans whose trickery is exposed for all to see, they invoke the poltergeist of India’s dozy ex-PM Vajpayee—who was no Apostle of Restraint—still expecting people to fall into a trance.Yet, this seemingly paradoxical contradiction within PDP’s discourse is not paradoxical if one takes a long view of its origins and its relationship with Kashmiri politics.

 

III. 

For those with an eye on pro-India, loyalist politics in Kashmir, PDP’s initial rise in the early 2000s had come as a bit of a surprise—some even suggested PDP was an Intelligence Bureau operation, which might very well have been true. But it did attract a bunch of support.Why? Besides the unmitigated state violence, India (and the NC) had unleashed Ikhwan on people, especially in South Kashmir. Occupying the gray zone between the people and the state, and operating as a hybrid mafia-militia, Ikhwanis not only killed and tortured, but also sought to implode Kashmir as a society from within. The untested PDP appeared like a lesser evil—at least for Jamaat, whose opinion mattered in some areas, if not all. Also, Mufti Sayeed met all the village elders he could to apologize for the past (his long history of anti-Kashmiri politics), while the daughter staged the green-pheran-and-mountain-salt show in front of grieving and distraught people.  

Why did PDP come about in early 2000s and not before? That needs an even longer view. First, the National Conference had, for close to fifty years, sucked all oxygen from Kashmiri political aspirations. Sheikh Abdullah’s progressive economic decisions (Land Reforms and debt cancellation) coupled with mindboggling political decisions (endorsing Treaty of Accession) split Kashmiri political consciousness in the middle. This was followed by long years of catatonia in which many of Abdullah’s followers desperately waited for him to pull the miracle of freedom out of his karakuli; he only produced a forked-tongued son, Farooq, who organized his political wardrobe with costumes for every occasion. But there was an important side-story, which provides clues to PDP’s true origins. 

Historians of Kashmir have so far only considered the degrees of impact of Abdullah’s land reforms on the Kashmiri peasantry and the artisanal class—both of which, by expert consensus, did benefit enormously. But what was the impact of these economic decisions on the established, governing classes in Kashmir. Landlords, small and big, Hindu (mostly) and Muslim (not an insignificant number), suddenly had their power and privilege yanked from beneath their feet. The rise of the subaltern peasantry and artisanal class to a more secure footing simultaneously produced tremendous resentment among those who had been privileged under the Dogras. These were mostly upper-caste Hindus as a class and several Muslim families who considered themselves sharif (which in French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s terms would be a claim to social capital based on imagined purity and links to a dominant cultural-religious tradition). 

These governing classes, while still powerful, were resentful because they had become accustomed to expropriating the products of blood and sweat of others, which after the land reforms was hard to do. At the same time, when one’s cultural frames and senses of self, long dependent on a naturalized domination of others, is shaken, it creates fear, anger, and intense feelings of resentment. 

The forces that felt they lost out in the reforms of early 1950s drew their first blood in 1953, when Nehru sent Sheikh Abdullah on his long banwas-cum-bharat darshan tour. The real reason for Abdullah’s fall was not his flirtation with independence, but his decision not to pay landlords compensation for the lands that were confiscated and distributed among peasants. However, the reforms had acquired their own logic; the genie could no longer be put back in its bottle.The sly G. M. Bakshi even promised lorries and lorries of chaendi bateh, the subsidized India-loyalist rice, to symbolically undercut Abdullah’s aelweh (potato) autonomy. But, the long suppressed Musalman peasant and artisan—the only productive forces in Kashmir—could no longer be subdued. 

While upper-caste Hindus found a natural home in the imperial Indian Congress, which had clear Hindu leanings, the sharif and ex-petty landlord Muslims dispersed, falling into anything that could be defined against the NC—from Congress to Jamaat-i-Islami—and developing identitarian convictions aligned with Indian and Pakistani states. Showing fealty to postcolonial elites in India and Pakistan seemed the only way to become dominant in Kashmir once more. These resentful formations thus stood in stark opposition to the political demands of Kashmiri masses.

The political imagination that the pre-1947 Kashmiri mass movement had unleashed, leavened by dollops of socialist sensibilities, was oriented toward Kashmiri freedom and independence, even though it had been interrupted by Sheikh Abdullah’s long, drawn-out betrayal. This imagination, during Sheikh Abdullah’s absence (1953—1974), took the embryonic shape of revolutionary national liberation politics that exploded in the late 1980s. 


IV.

The key political assemblage that produced the 1990 Tehreek uprising was primarily made of cultivators and the artisanal classes, who, having tasted the benefits of land reforms, now wanted to realize the political promise of economic freedom: Independence. New politics opened; the politically suppressed Kashmiri masses cast off Abdullah’s ghost. (Not without its own silences though: the historically marginalized, yet non-beneficiaries of land reforms—the Muslim Dalits—bore the brunt of state violence,yet had little voice in Tehreek).One can argue that Tehreek erupted from within the unfulfilled promise of the NC’s early politics, but for its success the ossified NC had to be shed off. 

During all this, the resentful formations had bided their time, seeing an opportunity in late 1990s, with the NC finally turned into husk on the ground (even though still hanging onto administrative power), and India unleashing all its might to bludgeon down Kashmiris demanding an end to the Indian rule. PDP became an umbrella for the resentful forces who momentarily instrumentalized portions of Tehreek language without any commitment to the political project of Kashmiri masses. It is too reductive to say PDP was just an intelligence operation, but it was certainly a malignant implant—cells that pretended to be part of the body until they exploded into Kashmiri political lifeblood. 

With Hindu upper-castes consolidating communal power in Jammu, sharif Muslims (not all, of course) became PDP’s key nodal points in Kashmir. In early 2003, PDP’s core support came mostly from formations and families who remembered the divestment of their ill-begotten jagiri, mukarrari, and muaffi lands in 1950s as “dispossession without compensation.” They still hated the long-dead Abdullah; not for his political decisions but for his economic ones.Yet, they mobilized and misled the voters with this message: play the ball with the Indian elections for now, but remember internally we are with you—with Azadi. But this last year has shown that the historic resentment has not died; it remains the dominant drive within the loyalist scene around PDP.


V.

In the last seventy years, Indian occupation has thrown everything it could at Kashmiris, from systematic violence and tactical suppression to psy-ops and ear-piercing propaganda. Though Kashmiri resilience has braved it all, often it has been driven to the brink of falling apart. The puerile “debates” on Indian TV notwithstanding, there is hardly an inch of shared ground where Indians and Kashmiris can meet eye to eye. Why does PDP not resign, especially when it really has no power in front of BJP’s might? The answer is the historic resentment that courses through its spiteful veins. It is hard to imagine that they enjoy power (a power they don’t have). What enjoyment can it give to live with a “past injury” (memory of 1950s divestment), which was in truth only a rectification of a past injustice? Living with past injury is painful, especially when one can’t even utter it openly and when it becomes part of the political unconscious.The only solution is to let go of the resentment and the nominal power, and dissolve itself. For now, PDP is just a grudge held against Kashmiris.