Kashmir Lesson

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Kashmir psyche seems to be receding further and further away from India, even faster than some of the Northeast states. In the current spiral of public outrage, 58 people have lost their lives, and there is no gainsaying when the frenzy of street violence would end, or the body count freeze. There is no doubt whatsoever that if today a plebiscite were to be conducted in Kashmir on the issue of secession from India, the majority of Kashmiris would vote for the motion. The alienation seems much deeper than popularly imagined. To think that this is the situation on the 64th anniversary of India’s Independence is a bitter irony. Making it even more bitter is the fact that India today boasts of being one of the fastest growing economies of the world, having now climbed in hierarchy of nations as the 11th largest economy with a phenomenally expanding GDP which has already crossed the stupendous mark of one trillion dollars. Kashmir is a reminder of how despite all these tremendous achievements, the question “whose India?” remains obscure and empty for many. The same question has also found its echoes in so many corners and even the heartlands of this vast country. The challenge before the nation is thus to make the idea of India relevant to all sections of its population in a profound and intimate way.

From seeing what is happening on the streets of Kashmir, this will be easier said than done. Although it needs to be taken note that what the media (especially the television media picks up) is often not everything there is on the ground, and that quite possibly there are more moderate voices and aspects of Kashmiri life, there can be no denying that even if what we see on the television is only one part of the Kashmiri reality, the situation is nothing less than grim. Things seems to have crossed a critical point, and a great many Kashmiris it seems would not be ready to settle for anything less that severance from India. This section would include ordinary men and women, young and old. Unlike even in other burning states in the Northeast like Manipur, there seems to be a single mindedness amongst almost the entire population of the Kashmir Valley to break all ties with India. From images that come across from the valley, all embers of hope seem to have died or are under desperate threats of elimination. This desperation was also what was evident in the shoe hurled at the chief minister, Omar Abdullah, by a suspended policeman, even as the latter was preparing to unfurl the national tricolour to celebrate Independence Day. The establishment in Kashmir, and those who by profession have pledged loyalty to it are under a veritable siege, and the state has virtually no answer to it. Omar Abdullah’s deliberately publicised show of magnanimity by forgiving the policeman, was again a desperate attempt to reclaim the ground the establishment has lost in all the year, and despite the melodrama involved, it must be said it was a valiant act.

What then can be the solution? We try to answer this question also by way of a search for an answer for our own society which too is in similar bind, although arguably not as badly. As some of the panellists in a national television discussion recently hinted, perhaps it a relook at the entire violent insurrections through a different lens by the vocal, influential, articulate, middle-class Indian intelligentsia other than through those tinted overtly by nationalistic colours. The problem is, nationalistic visions automatically exclude viewpoints that suggest alternate vantages that stray out of predefined nationalistic parameters. This new accommodative vision would entail seeing legitimacy in even the radical aspirations espoused by the street protestors, and then address the problem. This is not a question of legitimising street fighting politics per se, but of accepting its sublimated version. One or two examples should illustrate. When Omar Abdullah and other Kashmiri politicians for instance posture militantly against the Union government, sometimes taking up the cudgel in favour or the street politics in his state, do not belittle them as extremists or secessionists. The same goes for northeast politicians, who arguably suffer even more of these disparaging labels hurled at them. We have all seen how the AGP, which grew out of the violent struggle of the AASU during the Assam Agitation against foreigners, were also militantly given to Assamese nationalism. Legitimising AGP’s (Assamese) nationalistic politics undoubtedly resulted to a great extent in taming a widespread sense of alienation that Assamese at the time suffered. This is to say, regional aspirations, even radical ones, should not be always seen as anti-national. The AGP lesson should not be forgotten.

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