Grandstanding in front of an applecart

Decades earlier, India’s first prime minister Pandit Nehru along with the chief minister’s grandfather Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah had addressed the cheering people of Kashmir from Lal Chowk promising them a plebiscite. What a pity his grandson brought a Congress party leader to the same Lal Chowk to grandstand in front of an applecart with short change in his pocket!

The cycle appears to be complete, what if nothing has changed in the monotony of the state narrative of denial and hegemony. ‘Peace’ must have indeed returned to Kashmir. If the number of tourists and pilgrims visiting the manufactured crown head of India was not enough evidence, the Indian home minister Sushil Kumar Shine’s three-day visit during the harvest season must suffice.

This past Saturday was a day of grandstanding when chief minister Omar Abdullah personally drove Shinde around Srinagar in a sparkling luxury car to shop and buy some Kashmiri apples from the fresh harvest. This was not the first time though that a leader from mainland India willed to do so. Many years earlier, a compatriot of Shinde marched to Lal Chowk under curfew and under the shadow of the state’s gun to hoist the tricolor amid an atmosphere of fear and siege.

Decades earlier, India’s first prime minister Pandit Nehru along with the chief minister’s grandfather Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah had addressed the cheering people of Kashmir from Lal Chowk promising them a plebiscite. What a pity his grandson brought a Congress party leader to the same Lal Chowk to grandstand in front of an applecart with short change in his pocket!
This kind of a grand act would have perhaps fitted much better in the state narrative if it were planned to happen just two weeks later on October 27. The residents of the capital city would have then at least been spared from getting caught in a horrible traffic jam, facing belligerent lathi and gun-wielding security personnel and silenced mobile phones.

During the decades since 1947 when Indian soldiers landed at the Srinagar airport with the intention of never leaving, the Indian state has managed to do an Orwell to the language it deploys in dealing with the Kashmiri aspiration of self-determination. Military domination has come to mean peace and a struggle for political rights and against state hegemony is terrorism.

When an international political dispute disrupts peace, it is sought to be re-established so that the dispute itself could be resolved without retreat to violence. But in Kashmir, establishing ‘peace’ at gunpoint is meant to re-establish state hegemony by dint of the jackboot and partnership with local statist political actors who derive power from upholding the status quo and milching it.

A similar record of the Indian state in Kashmir between 1947 and 1987 of choosing hegemony over negotiations led to the armed struggle and a catastrophically violent military response to it.

During the last two decades New Delhi appeared to be trying negotiations twice. The first time with the armed groups in Kashmir during early 1990s, and the second time in 2010 when hundreds of thousands of unarmed Kashmiris turned out on the streets demanding a resolution. We saw New Delhi bent backwards almost begging for yet another chance for peace and negotiations. Now that ‘peace’ of whatever kind has returned again the Indian state is back to its old hegemonic and grandstanding ways.

All this happens in collaboration with the ruling class in Kashmir that is never tired of repeating its ‘pledge’ that elections at any level have nothing to do with the Kashmir dispute, that never stops using ‘people’s mandate’ for bolstering the Indian narrative about the embattled territory and its claim over it.

Yet, they go to the people again and again before every election with the plank of ‘Kashmir needs a political solution’. One might ask, what happened to New Delhi’s latest assurance just two years earlier about its desire and willingness to find the ‘contours’ of a political solution to the Kashmir dispute? ‘Peace’ cannot be used to perpetuate a military order under which ‘election’ of a ruling class already in agreement with the state’s objectives in Kashmir is brought about once every six years.

Shinde came to Kashmir to tell its people once again that for New Delhi peace means to accept being at peace with military control and hegemony that silences dissent, that does not tolerate real democracy and that chooses to (mis)represent them rather than allow the people to represent themselves through a peaceful mechanism of choosing freely.

But that is perhaps not what the people of Kashmir deserve. They are busy struggling to secure subsidised LPG supply as the winter heralds, just like they were after subsidised rice in lieu of subsidising their political rights a few decades ago. That is perhaps why, in his attempts to let the people know that he is working for them, the chief minister could afford to request the Indian home minister for easing the cap on bottled gas knowing well that he is not the one in control of the issue.

The way ahead for the people of Kashmir seems in going back to the old ways of material independence and weathering it with dignity.

[Kashmir Reader]