Prongs of the State, Serving their Masters

  • Wajahat Ahmad
  • Publish Date: Jul 25 2017 9:42PM
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  • Updated Date: Jul 25 2017 9:42PM
Prongs  of the State, Serving their Masters

Pro-India politics in Kashmir, despite its apparent control, has never enjoyed moral legitimacy among people


The word “mainstream” is known to carry a deep history. First invoked in 1667 by John Milton in his blank verse epic poem, Paradise Lost, the English poet conferred it the meanings of “principal, most.” Some two centuries later, the Scottish philosopher, Thomas Carlyle, commenting on the state of didactic style of writing in his times put it to metaphorical use in 1837:“The Didactic Tendency…admitting that it still forms the mainstream…is no longer so pre-eminent.” Over the years, “mainstream” has come to denote prevailing ideas, attitudes and practices shared by a majority in any social context.

In Kashmir, mass media tends to treat the mainstream of politics as the metaphor of a supposed majority, constituted by pro-India political parties. If we were to look beyond the jugglery of party memberships shaped by structures of patronage and repression, resistance politics, rather than pro-India politics, has always resonated with the Kashmiri masses on the street. Given the widespread sentiment of Azadi across Kashmir, it is the political organizations representing resistance politics and the unorganized pro freedom masses that constitute the real mainstream of Kashmir.

Barring the brief interregnum of the late 1970s and early 80s, pro-India politics in Kashmir has always lacked moral legitimacy, its survival and relevance ensured mostly by the economic dependence of large sections of Kashmiri populace on public sector employment or projects of economic development, particularly in the economically peripheral rural areas, which continue to be based on a near primitive economy.

Indian hegemony in Kashmir, though always incomplete, has been exercised through the dual strategies of coercion and co-option. From the very inception of the Indian occupation in Kashmir, repression and economic inducements have been used to contain repeated Kashmiri uprisings. However, India’s historical successes in weakening Kashmiri resistance have been realized by relying more on strategies of co-option than of violence. Sheikh Abdullah’s hunger to acquire State power and its attendant comforts led him to bury the 23-years-old Plebiscite Front, a party which at its height had reportedly attracted half a million members. The Front leaders and workers who had engaged in social boycott of pro-India Kashmiris and dubbed them vermin for around two decades, suddenly found themselves in India’s lap.

Nonetheless, the tame surrender, which was dubiously sold as a strategic compromise by Sheikh and his ilk, was soon challenged by small but significant dissident groups in Kashmir, ranging from Mahaz-e-Azadi, Peoples League to Islamic Students League, and ultimately culminating in the revolutionary political rupture of 1988 engendered by JKLF. Since then the revolutionary awareness of Kashmiri masses has been largely on an upswing. However, the lure of money and State power pushed many among those who stood with the Azadi movement in the 1990s, to cross over to the Indian camp. Many of the turncoats ended up in the Jammu Kashmir Assembly and a good many landed well paying jobs in the public sector.

With the rapid decline of the armed movement by late 1990s, the apparatuses of co-option reasserted themselves fast. Two decades of sustained repression had sapped the energies of Kashmiris. National Conference and PDP, the conduits of Indian colonial power, presented themselves as saviors to a tired population. The parties promised them jobs, relief from everyday frisking and release from prisons. They also appropriated the politics of Azadi by vouching to support the resolution of the so-called Kashmir issue. Then they ran sports events and cultural programs to distract the youth from resistance politics, and as usual misrepresented populist politics as their concern for the interests of the Kashmiri underclass.

The hapless masses could not fathom as to how the very instruments of Indian control in Kashmir could morph into harbingers of their freedom or serve their class interests. A Machiavellian play in semantics performed by pro-India political parties in Kashmir was inadvertently aided by the lack of clear languages of resistance and national liberation. The military occupation gradually accumulated a bunch of labels to be branded as an issue, a conflict, a conundrum, a dispute, and all sorts of ambiguous and shady descriptions that offered themselves for appropriation by the pro-India elite in Kashmir. People were taken in by their white lies or possibly fatigue had set in a population that had been subject to long bouts of violence, harassment and trauma.

But the mass uprisings of 2008, 2010 and 2016 and the resultant mass murders and maiming of thousands of boys shook the musical chairs of subterfuge. The National Conference, which once upon a time used to claim to represent Kashmiri interests, callously dismissed the brutal murder of Aasiya and Neelofar as a case of drowning. A year later, in 2010, the NC regime oversaw the killings of dozens of youth, infliction of injuries to hundreds, tear gassing of hospitals, and brutal attacks on burial processions. PDP, the party in opposition, attacked the ruling National Conference in 2010 for spilling the blood of some 118 youth. The hue and cry of PDP leaders on the question of human rights was only a crass exercise in political opportunism and sophistry. Last year, the PDP government came close to emulating NC government’s record of civilian killings but clearly surpassed it in the scale of arrests, maiming of youth and destruction of property in resisting neighborhoods. This time it was NC’s turn in opposition to shed crocodile tears on the mayhem in Kashmir and even invoke Azadi.

The mass uprisings from 2008 to 2016 reflect a rising revolutionary consciousness among a new generational cohort of Kashmiri youth forged by State repression and growing political awareness, facilitated by new Information and Communication technologies. At least a significant youth population is no longer willing to be duped by the shenanigans and skullduggery of NC and PDP, which was evident from the near total boycott of the recent elections enforced by protesting youth.

The resistance in Kashmir has been clearly aided by the arrival of BJP on the scene. The Congress Party, which often relied on a Kautilyan politics of ‘persuade, buy, punish and divide’ in Kashmir, is down and out for the near future. The discourse of Congress party’s liberal secularism, which actually masked the ‘Hindu Secular’, did delude a minority in Kashmir in believing that Congress was a lesser evil than the BJP. The belligerent Hindu nationalism of BJP combined with its bellicose posturing in Kashmir has surely hurt its coalition partner, PDP in a big way and shrunk its space greatly.

The continuing youth protests expose the limitations of pro-India parties like PDP to act as brokers and managers of the Indian State in Kashmir. Despite relentless arrests of youth and mass recruitments in police and military, the defiance on Kashmir’s streets refuses to die down, frustrating the wily managers and their masters, who unleash more and more repression.

Just like most zones of occupation, where economic dependence on the colonizer breeds contradictions in the lives of the colonized, Kashmir remains no different with many unemployed and poor thronging to Indian army recruitment rallies or the status obsessed middle classes and the ‘aspirational class’ proudly embracing the Indian Civil Services in times of mass protests and continuing deaths.

PDP and NC serve as prongs of a liberal Indian State that reproduces a classist society at an everyday level in Kashmir. In the politically repressed society of Kashmir, sustained involvement in active resistance can cost or stunt lives, careers and livelihoods. On the contrary, an association with pro-India parties is a sure road to upward class mobility for an average Kashmiri. The technologies of State repression are aided by bourgeois class ideology that prizes economic achievement, status and maintenance of social order or status quo and frowns upon or criminalizes resistance, upheavals and ideologies of revolutionary social or political change. Not surprisingly, class ideology like sustained State repression gnaws away at the caravan of resistance in times of a deepening consumerism and heightened material desires. Jammu Kashmir National Conference and Jammu Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party not only thrive as networks of State patronage but also draw sustenance from the dominant class ideology and dialectically help in its reproduction.

If one were to do rudimentary class and network analyses of pro-India political elites and their cronies in Kashmir, and look at the assets they have accumulated in return for helping to cement the Indian occupation, it is bound to tell you the story that NC, PDP and et al. truly represent bourgeois and at best some petit-bourgeois class interests. Any independent investigative study would tell us that the parties embody an unholy nexus between the interests of big business and the pro-India political elites in Kashmir. Not to forget General V.K Singh’s claim in 2013, that Kashmiri politicians batting for India received direct payments from the Indian military establishment, which adds an extra layer to the politics of class formation and mobility in Kashmir.

Till the time Kashmir remains under Indian control, its client parties and regimes, be it the PDP or the National Conference, would remain relevant, for they preside over a vast economy of patronage and inducement. Even though PDP and NC are gasping for space in a rebellious Kashmir for now, they are bound to survive as long as they function as safety valves for India or else new Kashmiri masks would be manufactured to provide a civilian façade to the military occupation.