One aspect of Kashmir that doesn’t get adequate attention in the swirling discourse about the political conflict in the state is the deep sense of political disempowerment in Kashmir.
One way of looking at it is that we have become a majority community with a minority syndrome. There is a growing sense of siege and a perception that New Delhi harbours sinister designs on Kashmir. In its extreme it borders on the fears of an impending demographic change.
There is also the perception that Kashmiris are not of an equivalent political weight when compared to Jammu province, more so with rise to power of BJP at the centre. There are many other complex factors in play.
We remain alienated from the system, suspect its credibility, hold grudges against it, but still belong in it. We boycott it but we also have expectations from it. More we tend to run away from it, more we are borne back into it.
Separatists ask us to boycott the system but while some of them can afford to live in a vacuum, the people do have to suffer the system. Our lives are influenced, shaped and buffeted by the government of the day.
And more we step into the banality of day to day lives, the separatist organizations cease to have any role.
They observe us from the sidelines, jumping instantly into the fray when something related to separatist cause becomes an issue. But then there comes a point at which they step back, leaving the field open to mainstream parties. And as our lives are handed over to a government led by a mainstream party or a coalition of them, we don’t find ourselves in charge.
The successive state governments, inherently hobbled by their incapacity to represent a wide swathe of the Kashmiri political sentiment and the aspirations, offer better governance as a substitute – a promise that is often fulfilled in breach even though that is not the point at issue this time. They talk in terms of employment and development. They also talk about the politics of the conflict but more often than not skirt it to steer clear of its bitter contentiousness.
So between the absolute separatist cause and the governance and development, there is an entire realm of political and social space which mainstream abdicates. For example, on Pandit townships, PRCs, AFSPA, separatists etc while BJP has aggressively championed its position, PDP has looked apologetic and subdued, something that is deeply disempowering for a significant section of the state’s population whose aspirations it claims to represent as the single largest party. More so, when the opposition – having irreparably discredited itself by similar actions in power – is in no position to fill in this vacuum.
In case of NC, the immediate example that comes to mind is the disproportion in the distribution of the administrative units between Kashmir Valley and Jammu. While there was public outcry over the issue, no political outfit in Kashmir was there to articulate it, not on communal grounds but for the reasons of fairness. Now guess if this disproportion was in favour of Valley, how Jammu parties would have behaved and justifiably so. The ongoing uproar in the winter capital against AIIMS for Valley makes it amply clear.
Over the years there have been many issues on which people in Valley have craved for a political articulation but have found it absent from the discourse. People want it when a teenager is killed, for no reason. Both government and the opposition enter into a conspiracy of silence. When resolution over Afzal Guru was lapsed in 2011, both the government and the opposition plotted the outcome.
The point is who represents Kashmir’s urges, aspirations, anxieties, paranoias, sensitivities, etc between the absolute separatism and the elementary governance. Who represents Kashmir’s many political and social faultlines? Nobody. If discrimination can be an issue in Jammu and Ladakh, why can’t it be a political issue in Kashmir? More so, when there are reasons to believe that it exists.
The issue is not to create regional or communal polarization but to reflect and give voice to a sense of political and social injustice that originates on a day to day basis and could simmer and blow up into a violent outpouring if left unattended and unacknowledged.
And at the end of the day, isn’t this what politics is all about; not about providing roads and employment – that is what even bureaucrats can do- but representing, responding and articulating the people who have issues of survival, identity and empowerment. Need for such a politics becomes even more urgent in a long-standing place of conflict like Kashmir, mopping the fallout of thousands of deaths and the oppression. What we have is just a pretend politics and a Potemkin democratic space that makes a lot of noise but is hollow at the core.