Kashmir's experience with political uncertainty is unending

There is restlessness in every heart,
But no one dare speak out-
Afraid that with their free expression
Freedom may be annoyed.

The most popular and melodious poet of modern Kashmir wrote a poem titled ‘Azadi’ immediately after 1947. The poem is a reminder of how Kashmir didn’t fully disentangle herself from what preceded the birth of two independent countries –India and Pakistan. The poem, in the words of C  Zutshi “captures the ironies inherent in the Kashmiri historical experience.”   

Before 1947 since the ruling class -the Dogras- were Hindus and their subjects in Kashmir were predominantly Muslims, the political mobilization went along communal lines. Muslim Conference became the representative political body of these “Muslim Subjects”, as Mridu Rai, puts it.  Here it’s interesting to note that this political categorization of Hindu and Muslim played an important role in the making and unmaking of the dominant political structure – National Conference. Since the religious identities operated forcefully in the political space before and after 1947, National Conference could not escape its impact. The consolidation of politics along religious identity was intensified during the Dogra rule, and it was towards the end of this rule that Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah emerged as a voice of unrepresented Muslims.

National Conference, under the leadership of Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, emerged as the overwhelming political force in the wake of 1947 political events. Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah was earlier thrown to popularity mainly during the events of July 1931, when many people died in Srinagar, and other parts of Kashmir valley, in a popular uprising against Dogra rule.  Though at the bottom of this political mobilization was the problem of the political self of Kashmiris, but it took an overtly communal character, “setting off a chain of communal riots that paralyzed the Kashmir capital for a week”. This was the agitation that “launched the career of Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah – the ‘lion of Kashmir’.”, underlines Copland.

 The history of the political structure that emerged in the wake of that historical struggle can be divided into phases, though Chomsky is right that “history does not come neatly into distinct periods” but by doing so we can only “gain clarity without doing much violence to the facts.”

 There are some distinct, though not disconnected, periods; One, 1931-1934: this was the period of the emergence of Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah as the spokesman of Muslim grievances. Second, 1934-1948: this was the period of its transformation along secular lines, and its consolidation as a political party embodying resistance to Dogra Rule. Third, 1948-1953: this was the brief interregnum when National Conference had its initial brush with power politics. Fourth, 1953-1975: this was the most happening period in the life of this party when the paradoxes of Kashmir politics played most grindingly on it. Fifth: 1975 till today: this is the period in which National Conference finally tried to come to terms with the impending reality that New Delhi cannot be annoyed all the time if the party has to stay in power. And this is the time when National Conference tried to squeeze the political spaces for others that finally reduced its own public support, ultimately leading to a situation in which the political space for everyone, including NC, diminished.

1989 was a watershed in the political history of Kashmir. Towards the end of this year armed militants took over everything at collective level – societal as well as political. These were euphoric times for Kashmir. How the underground armed groups emerged as the most popular presence in Kashmir, was simply fantastic.

In the preceding years Kashmir had witnessed withering away of politics in the form of the most popular political organization, National Conference, losing its ground without any other political organization providing an alternative.

Even after the death of Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah in 1982, National Conference had recorded an imposing victory in the State Assembly elections of 1983, winning 47 of 67 Assembly seats.  This victory of NC was an indicator of the centrality of the political in the state of J&K. But it was short lived. Things soon took an ugly turn.

During this entire phase of political uncertainty, political spaces in Kashmir started accommodating multiple parties and perspectives. In an attempt to fill the gaps left by the waning of National Conference, people began to search for completely different political alternatives. Sensing that the political base of National Conference had eroded significantly, and also the realization that Delhi’s backing is a political pre-requisite to stay in power, Farooq Abdullah, the leader of NC, struck a political alliance with Congress. It was “a strategically disastrous political somersault”, that saw Farooq Abdullah as interim head, “pending fresh elections in March 1987.” This heralded a huge shift in the indigenous character of Kashmir’s polity. Excessive abuse of political in Kashmir ultimately gave birth to violent formulations.

The whole point of remembering this detail, at a time when people remind of the date when Sheikh Abdullah was arrested, and Kashmir was set on a disastrous path, is this: Isn’t the same set of things happenings in Kashmir again. Isn’t government completely ignoring the fundamentals of politics in Kashmir. And isn’t New Delhi missing on very crucial clues on Kashmir.

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