Game of Thrones

  • Dr Sameer Kaul
  • Publish Date: Mar 11 2016 12:34PM
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  • Updated Date: Mar 11 2016 12:34PM

Replete with turns, betrayals, compromises and hard decisions set against a background of poverty, famine, floods and invasions, the contemporary history of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh is a tale worth telling.  Two and a half decades of continuing turmoil have whetted the appetite of our young and old to know and therewith better understand events that shaped their minds and lives over the last 60 odd years. My mind is overflowing with stories that deserve quick exposure. But there are many, so our very own Game of Thrones shall unfold in parts.
Let's start by asking and answering the basic question: Who, or what is a political leader?  It is someone who has the ability to rule the hearts and minds of his people or at least, a majority of them. It is one who obtains their love, faith and respect for a significant period of time.  It is one who is usually brave, idealistic, endowed with the ability to overlook the mundane; someone who remains focused and achieves results on the ground.
It is an undisputable fact that on the political firmament of Jammu & Kashmir, the first person to acquire this status was Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah.  He climbed his way steadily up, enlisting the support along the way of both the urban and rural masses who helped create Naya Kashmir.  Along with his stature, his organization, too, grew into a formidable regional party.  Conditional Accession to India may have been signed by Maharaja Hari Singh. But the heavy task of its moral, social and political justification fell upon the strong shoulders of Sher-e Kashmir, who was egged on by Jawaharlal Nehru. 
However and perhaps because of the prolonged incarcerations he had been subjected to, Sheikh Abdullah's thought process underwent a major change, prompting him to succumb to the Indira-Sheikh accord. To Kashmiris, this accord was the  'Great Betrayal.' Sheikh Abdullah became a Chief Minister, but he ceased to be the master of Kashmiri hearts and minds. Perhaps he still wanted to do something indelible for his subjects, and had chosen the path of power to facilitate it.  But a lot of us felt that towards the later part of his life, he had compromised and fallen into the tempting arms of personal comfort, family pelf and the desire to create a legacy.  I am sure he must have had some sound reasons too. Indeed, he put down his thoughts on the issue in Atishe Chinar. Yet, young Kashmiris today remain unconvinced. 
The second and only other person to achieve the stature of a political leader of the masses is an octogenarian around whose persona, sentiments against accession to India have continued to gather steam over the last 40 years or so. Syed Ali Shah Geelanis disenchantment with political parties morphed into defiance against the political system itself. Over the decades of turmoil, it saw the humble, stoic, simple-living, one-time independent MLA from Dangerpora in North Kashmir emerge as the primary bulwark against the mainstream today.   A significant number of Kashmiri Muslims do not agree with his philosophy of Islamic preponderance as a justification for Kashmirs potential secession to Pakistan.  Pandits, Sikhs, Dogras and Buddhists dislike him in no small measure. But they all hold him in awe for his steadfast political stand, steely resolve and easily obvious non-corruptibility.  No wonder then, that a fair number of restless and angry youth of today form the bulk of his street support.  Geelani certainly does not envisage going down the path of compromise, for he has seen Sheikh Abdullah's decline. Seemingly, he would much prefer to be at the head of the largest funeral procession ever held in this part of the world.
This prologue of our game of thrones would be incomplete without a mention of a third, distinct category: politicians who emerged on the scene from an amalgam of grass root politics, media exposure, deft political maneuvering and above all, through active collaboration of central governments and their agencies. Personal ambitions to rule the land and its people have seen CEOs, ie, Chief Ministers installed every six years.  Bakshi Ghulam Mohd,  Khwaja Ghulam Mohd Sadiq, Syed Mir Qasim. Farooq Abdullah and presently Mufti Mohammad Syed have all serially presided over cabinets, some of whose members are better left unmentioned. It would be fair to say that in varying amounts, each of these men did try to contribute positively towards governance and development, the last rendered sketchy due to interim periods of political turmoil and mass violence.  But with few exceptions,  the periods of their stewardship were marred mostly by the unhappiness of the masses and the latter's disenchantment with their rule. In letting their cleverness get the better of their principles, most of these leaders missed the opportunity that had presented itself to upgrade themselves to the level of statesmen or leaders.
The latest political fiasco committed by Mufti Mohammed Sayeed after the 2014-2015 elections saw his soaring popularity among the masses crash: he had joined hands with the very people he had vociferously opposed in the run up to polls.  With the NC and the Congress teaming up and the PDP and the BJP more recently, albeit reluctantly, coalition politics have unmistakably arrived in the state. But with politics weaving through generations, sons and daughters have been ushered into the parliamentary market place almost like political entrepreneurs. Omar Abdullah had his teeth broken in, while Mehbooba Mufti waits confidently for her inherited stint.  Given that youth forms the bulk of the new electorate, it is hardly a wonder that most are disgruntled with dynastic electoral politics today.
Storytelling is undeniably an art that requires fantasy, even the one I have set out to tell on Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.  But  one can hardly ignore the significance of the many flesh-and-blood political personalities who have dotted the landscape of our state for over six decades, in telling the story. 
Some Maulanas of Kashmir, notably the father-son duo of Sheher-e-Khas, have even offered their lives in order to protect their sway over a distinct political thought or a geographical area. The late Maulvi Farooq and his amiable son Umar may have walked the tight rope all their respective lives, but they did succeed in creating a niche for themselves in the gallery of our minds.  Given tumultuous regional relationships, there may yet be political stakes for Umar Farooq. But I find it increasingly difficult to argue against anyone who points at Umar's inherent flaw, his over-cautiousness.
The Lones of Handwara  are a similar chapter. While Abdul Ghani paid with his life for daring to walk the middle path, his illustrious son Sajad recently attempted what some would call an opportunistic transition from the wild currents of separatism to the not-as-choppy waters of mainstream politics.  Many will agree that Sajad's saga is still ongoing and that we will learn about the moral behind his story only in our penultimate years.
Religious political hegemony is what the redoubtable maverick, Moulana Iftikhar Ansari, had enjoyed over the Shias of Kashmir till cancer, the unpredictable emperor of maladies edged him out. A brave electoral challenger, a fiery orator and a keen businessman: Ansari lived all three lives effortlessly.
Finally and to those of us for whom politics seems a battle, there are the various 'warlords' like Hakim Mohammed Yasin, Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami and Ghulam Hassan Mir, all of whom have been vying for recognition in their own right.
In our game of thrones, where is Jammu?  
Although the relatively warm hills and plains of Jammu continue to provide political and climatic succor  to our people through the winter months, it has donated little other than Pt. Girdhari Lal Dogra to our galaxy of political stewards.
Dear readers, my editor tactfully pleaded with me to provide political solutions through my writing. However, I would prefer to be the narrator of events, not a political pundit. For it is only as a story-teller and not as an analyst that I can best reveal the grand sets of our very own game of thrones, frame by intriguing frame.  It is a picture that is a work in progress and hence cannot be framed yet.
(Writer, a former PDP spokesman is a renowned Surgical Oncologist)