After three summers of dissent, Kashmir had three peaceful summers. Summer of 2013 is third in the row. For having ensured peace continuously for three years, men in authority have been patting their backs- perhaps they have been rightly doing so. In the recent history, having three peaceful summers in a chain is almost making a history of sorts. For stifling major voice of dissent, denying space to leaders of stature many have been stating that it is ‘coerced peace.’ Here, I am not going to join the debate if peace as has been obtaining in the state during past three years is “genuine” or “coerced” but like many other Kashmir watchers, I too believe that it is as brickly as thin layer of ice on the Dal Lake on the first day of its freezing during winters.
The year 2013, started at melancholic note. On February 9, of the year Muhammad Afzal Guru was secretly hanged without informing his wife and child, ‘his body was interred in Tihar jail’ next to Muhammad Maqbool Butt- exactly after 29 years and 2 days. Shell-shocked people on seeing yet another chapter of deceit and injustice horrendously added to the history of their land were burning with rage. To tame people’s anger against what was termed as ‘judicial murder of an innocent’ millions were ‘lulled to curfew’ for weeks. The pent up anger in overwhelming majority against hanging of Muhammad Afzal had made many a political analysts within and outside skeptical about peace in the state during 2013. Some had started believing that demand for return of his body will emerge as a rallying point for dissenting Kashmir leaders – the two factions of the Hurriyat Conference and other parties outside the ambit of two conglomerates. They believed that the demand would snowball into a movement as powerful as that of 2008 against transfer of forest land to or like 2010 when millions had converged on the roads against the killings of young boys in police firing and in support of demand for ‘right to self-determination’. These analysts or commentators could not be faulted; historically peace in Kashmir has been always a matchstick away. But as the time ticked on and sun started shinning brighter and promise of tourism boom began getting louder the valley started limping back to normalcy- the demand for return of mortal remains of Guru and Bhat for their burial in their ancestral graveyards took a back seat for all the political parties across the political divide. It would not be overstatement to say that as on date the ‘Guru-narrative’ that held sway for some months in the state has been stealthily taken over by the ‘electoral discourse’.
It is not a new phenomenon. It is part of our political history, slogans and political demands are born with a bang and they die with a whimper- but what has been surviving against all odds is the ‘sentiment’. People en masse have held it dear to them during the darkest period. Even when leaders and political organizations made about turns the ‘sentiment’ did not die. It survived the ‘political holocaust’ of 1947, when all voices of dissent were brutally gauged by once protagonists of freedom of expression. It refused to get buried along with the burial of the Plebiscite Front. It is also our history that many times the forgotten political demands and slogans are reborn with tornadoes power and these wash away all ‘dominant discourses’ and ‘orchestrated narratives’ down the stream. Moreover, the gusty winds thus created have often brought down the power structures like pack of cards. In this ‘summer of peace’, ‘coerced’, ‘managed’ or ‘genuine’, what has been intriguing me is the intensified and increased activities of some “academia-NGOs’ and ‘peaceniks’ and ‘civil society members from New Delhi in Srinagar.
What brings them here, engage with political leaders, and hold seminars, have one-to-one confabulations with academia and opinion makers inside and outside the campuses, make the University campus hub of their activities is a hammering note of interrogation. It is not to suggest that these ‘peaceniks’, ‘NGO-academia’ or ‘activists’ have no right to be in Srinagar during peace times. But skepticism that inflicts political spectrum of the state sets one thinking because on the face of it these developments seem to be in conflict with sixty-three years more particularly twenty-three years history of activities of such organizations in the state.
Since, 1947 more particularly after 1953, whenever Kashmir was on the boil, big names in India from Jayaprakash Narayan to doyen of progressive literary movement in India Khwaja Ahmad Abbas made it to Kashmir to see peace returning to the state. Khwaja Ahmed Abbas in 1984 told me in an interview, that whenever there was trouble in Kashmir none but Prime Minister Nehru would send him to Sheikh Abdullah for asking him to drop the demand for right to self-determination and suggest him reviving old cordiality and returning to power. Abbas with some other leftist journalists met Sheikh Abdullah in even Kud Jail. Jayaprakash Narayanan, during the Plebiscite Front movement through his writings and statements had emerged as the greatest friend of Kashmir. For Kashmiris holding him in high esteem perhaps he too had started believing that they would follow all his dictums as word from bible. Nevertheless, in 1968, no moment he told people to abandon demanding right to self-determination he turned into bête noire- never to reappear again at public gathering in Srinagar.
In nineties, when profile of the political movement in Kashmir changed, hundreds of youth took to guns and the “dispute” once again caught international attention “peaceniks” again from New Delhi started coming to Srinagar. From human rights activists like Justice Tarkunde to Prof. Ali Muhammad Khusro, from Tapan Bose to O.P. Shah every important name in Indian academia and civil society frequented place to see end of, what militant leaders preferred to call as “urban guerilla war”. They did succeed in convincing some important militant leaders to their point of view- but once militancy level dropped to almost a naught, they never ever worked as catalyst for the resolution of problem. So holds true about 2008 and 2010, peaceful agitation, a beeline of civil society activists, ‘peaceniks’, ‘NGO-academia” made to Srinagar as troubleshooters…and succeeded in “calming” dissenting leaders and ending agitations..
However, what brings them to Srinagar- have their activities something to do with next election and seeing another MUF in state calls for a debate