Misplaced Optimism

It seemed that the one after another Intifada, since 2008, with each one of them causing ripple-effect in the global media had made New Delhi to realize that both the denial mode and strangulating the voices of dissent had not helped it in deconstructing the seventy year old Kashmir narrative. Moreover, despite some television channels sparing no occasion in tarring and feathering the people of the state, the narrative has been gaining strength at the international level. Commenting on the Intifadas in Kashmir, even the New York Times some time back wrote, “Kashmir’s demand for self-determination is sharper today that it has been perhaps any other time in the regions troubled history.” What really matters is the strength of the narrative

The past Monday, when my column, ‘Geelani Release- A Way Forward,’ appeared in this newspaper, I felt remorseful of having written something outlandish – far fetched from the ground reality. It was flagrantly in contradiction with the black bordered banner lead stories, ‘Bloody Sunday: 20 Killed’ in all the newspapers. The blood curdling details of the bloodbath enacted in the wee morning hours of Sunday in a couple of villages in Shopian district of South Kashmir jeered at my optimism; for reading too much in the government announcing restoring the denied public space to the Joint Resistance Leadership and also all those under the resistance canopy. The blood soaked history of the past thirty years has countless bloody Sundays and Black Saturdays, but in the recent past 1 April, 2018 was the goriest day. Twenty two boys mostly teenagers killed, two hundred youth injured with many with bullet wounds and over forty boys fired with pellets in face, giving ‘dead eyes to many more children and youth.’ In sombre villages like Padderpora bodies of teenagers arrived one after another, some charred beyond recognizition amdist weeping people and chest beating mothers.

In allowing Syed Ali Shah Geelani, to say congregational Friday prayers in a Masjid in neighborhood, after eight years of house detention had sparked streaks of optimism in a section of people. Perhaps New Delhi’s mindset of strangulating all space to the voices of dissent and using coercive methods had changed. Notwithstanding, skepticism of Geelani’s second in command, Mohammad Ashraf Sehari the belief had gained strength for the announcement about allowing the resistance leadership to articulate its point of view freely not coming from the chief minister but New Delhi’s horses mouth in the state- the topmost IPS officer.

The announcement about not any more choking the resistance leadership and releasing them from house detention by one of the senior most officials of the State had sparked speculations that the move might be a way forward in as much as New Delhi creating a conducive atmosphere in the state for initiating a new political process in the state. The dispensation in the capital may be conteplating picking up the threads about Kashmir from where Manmohan Singh left these in 2005 and 2006. Manmohan Singh had carried forward the policy of engagement with Islamabad pursued by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and had initiated some Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) vis-à-vis Jammu and Kashmir. Vajpayee in spite of many hiccups including two year long standoff on the Line of Control had continued engagement with Pakistan behind the scene and directly. In fact, these engagements were trilateral in as much as these involved India, Pakistan and Kashmir leadership. For Washington being in the loop, the engagements could also were as good as ‘proximity talks.’ The opening of the Jhelum Valley Road in spite of the apprehensions, if it was not a move towards converting the LoC into permanent border under the guise of ‘porous border’ was a landmark achievement. For about forty five years, from the day the road was closed, thinking of public movement on it was unimaginable. In a way, it also put at rest the debate the change of nomenclature of ceasefire line to line of control had made the dividing line permanent. The opening of the Jhelum Valley Road was a pointer suggesting that there is a possibility of the resolution of the Kashmir Dispute if the two countries start a dialogue with sincerity of purpose. Of all the CMBs, this one during past thirteen years survived many an ugly tides in the relations between Islamabad and New Delhi. Had the Manmohan Singh shown with same statesmanship, that Vajpayee had shown after the Kargil War and 2001-2002 India-Pakistan standoff perhaps a lot of ground could have been covered for resolving the most important outstanding dispute between the two countries?
The optimism of a new start generated on Friday had the briefest ever life, and it died with a whimper on grisly Sunday morning in sleepy orchard villages of Shopian. Instead of generating some hope in the suffering beleaguered people many more ‘wailing museums’ were created that will continue to echo for decades with sobs and cries of sisters, aging mothers, and ailing parents. More mausoleums of struggle and martyrdom were added that will stand as a testimony for the future generations about the commitment of their ancestors to their political beliefs and cause. The killings had put everyone on mourning and cast deep gloom across the state. Further more, it was to use Antonio Gramsci phrase ‘the hegemonic discourse’ describing the killings young boys as ‘major victory’ and ‘a very special day’ that extinguished the lost flicker of hope even from the most optimists in the “mainstream” groups.

In the political struggles, it is not the modus operandi or medium of the struggle but the strength of the narrative that matters. In the history of nations, there are umpteen stories that very candidly tell that it is not military power but the narrative of struggling that ultimately wins. One of the classical examples of narrative triumphing over the military power is the Evian Agreement of Sunday 18 March 1962 signed by the National Liberation Front of Algeria and the French Government.