Democratising mohalla sabhas, integrating Kashmir

The Aam Aadmi Party did not take too long to prove that politics born out of revolutioncan be channelized into electoral battles. It took even less to prove that electoral victories aided by revolutions are not so empowered as to revolutionise polity. They may eventually settle down as an intrinsic part of the existing body politic – corrupt to the core, communal and caste-ist in nature and democratically autocratic leaving behind a trail of inherent prejudices and hypocrisies. The row over alleged anti-Muslim remarks by one of the AAP ideologue and the controversy that Prashant Bhushan’s Kashmir comments have churned are just two cases in point revealing the unshakeable inherent prejudices within the system. The Prashant Bhushan related row is of much more significance here, demonstrating the deeper dichotomies of a newly formed party that strives to achieve greater accountability and greater democracy. 

That Prashant Bhushan had to climb down from his earlier Kashmir position of referendum to decide to political future of Kashmir to referendum on deciding the fate of Armed Forces Special Powers Act is only one aspect of the issue, though it does reveal that power dilutes the zest for peoples’ aspirations. That the party top brass had to strike down even that dilution is a more glaring aspect of the inherent stubbornness of the system. The AAP has yet to spell out a clear socio-political ideology for rest of the country, to expect it to have one on Kashmir so soon would be expecting too much. But the way this controversy has shaped itself, it has revealed the shocking truth of some traditions of the ruling elite remaining unquestioned. Kashmir is an obvious case where the official policy is unlikely to undergo any change, leave alone an upheaval, even amidst this propped up picture of a happy revolution and rise of the aam aadmi. Clearly, the Kashmiri has yet to graduate to the level of that ‘aam aadmi’. Even in this imagination of the nation, an ordinary Kashmiri continues to be the ‘other’ required to be guided by a different set of principles and policy. Kashmir is supreme, Kashmiri does not figure and so policies related to Kashmir must be dictated and doctored somewhere else – New Delhi, offices of intelligence agencies and the military; certainly not to be decided democratically by the people. That has been the tradition and continues to be endorsed by this revolutionary brand of politics. 

Curiously, Prashant Bhushan’s suggestion of referendum on AFSPA is much in line with the AAP’s much hyped move to bring in a representative form of government where issues of public importance must be decided in consultation with the masses. The AAP decision to take over the reins of Delhi government was taken after a kind of unorganized referendum it conducted for getting feedback from the masses. The party again went back to the masses to decide on the issue of an official bungalow for the new Delhi chief minister. And now it has mooted mohalla sabhas for a more systemic way of keeping the public involved in issues of governance and policy matters for better democratisation. If Delhi’s public can decide through its mohalla sabhas what is good for it, why can’t Kashmir’s public be even consulted to know what it feels about the laws and policies that are specially designed for them? 

When the discourse is about transparency and accountability, why is it that it goes against the national interest or democratic to hold the man in uniform accountable for the murders he commits, for the people he tortures and for all his misdoings? When the nation is mesmerized by the idea of a revolution against corruption, why is it that it is important to protect laws that perpetuate a corrupt system of rewarding personnel on the basis of the number of people they kill, number of people they co-opt through arm-twisting or pay ups, people including higher up politicians are corrupted through unaccounted money in circulation, released and disbursed secretly in the name of security related expenditure? Will questions ever be asked why more than half a million force, enjoying unlimited impunity and perpetuating a culture of militarising a section of public against the rest, is needed in Kashmir? What national interest does it serve and what democraticpurpose does it serve? 

Prashant Bhushan has been snubbed by his own party top brass for his Kashmir centric suggestions and the former has been quick in falling in line with the oft parroted one-liner: Kashmir is an integral part of India. To stonewall any democratization of Kashmir with this favourite mantra has been a historic burden Indian politicians have carried on their shoulders for decades. The AAP cannot break this tradition and does not dare to even bring to public scrutiny the truths about the several wrongs perpetrated on the people of Kashmir by using the cloak of so-called national interest, which selectively vests in the power of some to perpetuate a cycle of corruption and undemocratic culture. People of Kashmir, unlike the mohalla sabhas of Delhi, will never be consulted – be it the issues of their daily lives, intertwined as they are with the larger socio-economic narratives and thus politics, nor on the larger question of demilitarization, much less on the political dispute itself. Kashmir will always be invoked as an integral part of India, a distinction that the mohallas of Delhi will never earn.