The curious case of missing icons

  • Ajaz Ahmad
  • Publish Date: Jan 19 2017 4:43PM
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  • Updated Date: Jan 19 2017 4:43PM
The curious case of missing icons

                                            Illustration by Suhail Naqshbandi

Why is it that our political leaders after playing their part, which may have had negative as well as positive aspects to it, fade into oblivion? 

Great cities all around the world have eminent landmarks which are synonymous with them. In fact it isn’t unusual for great cities to owe their pre-eminence at times to these imposing landmarks. Thus Egypt has its pyramids, China its great wall, Paris its Eiffel tower and New York City wouldn’t perhaps be what it is without its Statue of Liberty! What is true of landmarks holds true for personalities as well. A tiny country like Cuba becomes magnified beyond its size because of a Fidel Castro and while China may be big enough but Mao at times looms even bigger because he had grown beyond the boundaries of China. Nearer home India too has its galaxy of stars – Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and scores of other icons. On a smaller scale so do its states and cities and possibly villages too. But Kashmir being a land of the dispossessed seems to have been deprived of its icons as well.

Take the case of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. The fact that a lot of people did turn out to vote him to power cannot be belied, and yet when he died just a year after assuming office the thin attendance at his funeral made it  apparent that he no longer held them in sway. A year later his anniversary too is met with a chilling indifference and apathy by the general public notwithstanding the official functions and events to mark the occasion. Now isn’t that a paradox? Of course one can easily explain away the paradox or deny it altogether by blaming the initial apathy on a supposedly unpopular alliance that he made and the later to the decidedly unfortunate events that transpired since the middle of last year. But this contention won’t survive a deeper scrutiny. A couple of years down the line the PDP, even with its apparently dented image, won’t be entirely wiped out just like floods or 2010 did not entirely wash out its rival NC. Going by past history it is not quite inconceivable that huge rallies and long lines of voters will again express their support to the heirs of Mufti’s political legacy in near future. That’s quite likely in fact and that’s what makes the absence of the mourners a paradox.

The case is not much different in the case of Kashmir’s other political leaders. Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah’s funeral procession was miles long and reportedly a million strong but the paradox exists in his case as well. The mammoth gathering on his funeral notwithstanding, it did not take long for him to lose relevance so far as the general public is concerned. In his case it would be easy to lay onus on the ‘betrayal’ that he is blamed for but the fact cannot be ignored that the mammoth funeral that marked his death occurred three and a half decades after his supposed betrayal. And yet three more decades down the line he has been relegated to oblivion. In fact even during his lifetime he was consigned to political ‘wilderness’ for decades after his deposition.

Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammed, with more than a decade of uninterrupted rule, enjoyed the longest stint as Prime Minister of J&K. Reviled for his ‘betrayal’ of his political mentor Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah and also for paving way for the erosion of the state’s autonomy, he has yet been credited with a lot of developmental works with many of J&K’s premier institutions coming up in his tenure. Yet he too doesn’t exist anywhere in the political discourse in Kashmir and most people of this generation don’t even know where he lies buried. Other political leaders have not fared any better.

The case is not any different if we consider the ‘alternate’ leadership. How many people remember Sofi Mohammed Akbar for instance? Heroes of the ‘resistance’ who might have had large gatherings at their funerals too do not seem to figure anywhere except perhaps in the perfunctory press notes issued by their colleagues on their death anniversaries. Why is it that our political leaders after playing their part, which may have had negative as well as positive aspects to it, fade into oblivion?  Is it that our leaders lose their relevance when they lose power through deposition, electoral defeat or death? How else do you reconcile large rallies and voter turnouts or mammoth funerals with the amnesia that follows! Is the rallying around not about the personality but about the power or influence wielded by that particular personality at that particular point of history?  It can be argued that this rallying around power is a sign of insecurity of a politically neutered populace but on the analogy of the egg-came-first-or-the-chicken-came-first argument one can equally blame the fickleness of the Kashmiri people for their neutered state in the first place. 

Public memory is notoriously short but in Kashmir it seems to be a complete blank and whatever way the argument tips, the fact remains that no enduring icons exist in Kashmir. Now that is definitely a loss and perhaps it accounts, at least in part, for the Kashmiris being a lost people.