by Badri Raina
First published in The Hindu
July 7, 2000
by Badri Raina
First published in The Hindu
July 7, 2000
`MAINSTREAM’ POLITICAL forces which have been largely responsible for the mess in Kashmir, directly or indirectly, since 1947 are busy expressing psuedo-nationalist chagrin at the happenings in the Assembly. Their political bankruptcy is underlined by the fact that the louder they have been on behalf of the nation- state, the more their practices have eroded possibilities of voluntary allegiance to the Union. More particularly, where the demand for devolution of powers from the other parts of the Union are recognised, however reluctantly, as issuing from a Centre- State problematic, such demand in Kashmir is quickly dubbed communal, even when articulated by the National Conference whose secular commitment to the Union has been repeatedly proven. After all, whereas the National Conference has never yet asked to secede, it was the entirely Hindu-majority State of Tamil Nadu that did so in the 1960s. Indeed, at the present juncture as well, the centrist forces might be well advised to worry more about the likes of Mr. Vaiko and Mr. Ramdoss. At the Erode gathering, photographs of LTTE chief Prabhakaran more freely flaunted by their cadres even as the Union Home Minister was holding forth on the need to preserve Sri Lanka’s integrity.
`Mainstream’ forces have to date only spewed knee-jerk, panic reactions to the mere mention of autonomy rather than engaged in any analysis of the Kashmir Assembly document. The notion of autonomy in itself seems anathema. It is then legitimate to ask what concrete alternatives they have up their sleeve. Any such alternative must, of course, be underpinned by the particular understanding these forces have of the nature of the problem in the first place.
Take first the RSS and its affiliates. Its most recent pronouncement about trifurcating Jammu & Kashmir lets the Hindutva cat out of the bag, and not for the first time either. The suggested division is informed straightforwardly by a communalist perspective. The accession of Muslim-majority Kashmir to India under the aegis of a National Conference-led popular movement has always presented a problem to Pakistan and the RSS. As mirrored complementarities, the Muslim League and the RSS have conceived of nationhood along religious lines. It suits both equally to suppose that Muslims in India are at heart Pakistanis, Kashmiri Muslims in particular, and to propagate that the `Kashmir problem’ has no other dimension.
The RSS/BJP opposition to Article 370 may appear to belie the above inference. Yet, a politics which seeks to trample over the specific history of accession and the specific contractual obligations flowing therefrom, and which demands a coercive `integration’ of the territory, especially the suspect Valley, is only another expression of the more blatant form of communal distrust. The abject compromises that the BJP has made over the last two years to capture and retain state power, including, ironically, taking on board the National Conferences as well, have now led the governmental BJP to political incoherence. Mr. Advani can neither express fresh allegiance to the abrogation of Article 370 nor openly uphold it; he therefore cannot but place the BJP’s eggs in the Opposition’s basket. Given the continuing `nationalist’ overlap between the BJP and the Congress. Mr. Advani knows that Parliament will say no. The Central Government would then escape the onus either to deliver on the issue or to be politically at risk.
Such a procedure would then underscore the `nationalist’ conclusion that every mischief in Kashmir is Pakistan’s doing, that cross- border terrorism is the issue, that enhanced militarism is the need of the hour. In the meanwhile, if the BJP can please the U.S. President, Mr. Bill Clinton, by making overtures to the All-Party Hurriyat Conference whose components desire either merger with Pakistan or independence from both India and Pakistan, why so be it. And if such a course, in turn, makes nonsense of the BJP’s partnership with the NC who wish Kashmir to remain a part of the Union and whose cadres continue to be slaughtered by the `enemy’ part of whose patronage sits among Hurriyat ranks, why such is life.
The Congress having been party to the Instrument of Accession, to Article 370, to the Delhi Agreement of 1952, and later, the Accord of 1975, and whose rhetoric about secularism in the Valley never ceases, has much to answer for beginning with the arrest of Sheikh Abdullah in 1953, the Congress has never known what to do with the expanding Muslim intelligentsia in Kashmir except to deny them any real stake in nation- building as components of the “mainstream” political class. Consigned to repeated quisling rule, denied both trust and Central employment, brutalised through inflictions of cronied “electoral” facade, their agony seems entirely lost on the Congress. Ask the Congress if it has any new ideas, other than instituting “development” in the State and integrating the Kashmiris emotionally, and it have none. As to the third-fronters, they are too busy enjoying the fruits of “coalition” to be reminded of whatever principles they might once have espoused.
There, however, is no getting away from hard realities. Unlike many other princely states, Kashmir did not merge with but acceded to the Union under specific terms and conditions. That specific reference, despite decades of hypocrisy, evasion, coercion, remains alive in the hearts and minds of Kashmiris. With the brutal desecration of the franchise of 1987, that reference yielded to the impulse to get away altogether from India, indeed from both India and Pakistan. In piloting the Autonomy resolution now after the exhaustion and the ravages that Kashmiri people have suffered over a decade, the National Conference, whatever be its “motives” – and who does not have motives, pray – has seized the moment, and, at one stroke, ejected from agenda and debate both independence and merger with Pakistan. One can hardly overstate both the political significance and possibilities of the turn of events. Those who know will also tell you that after the collapse of the dream of “azadi” the attainment of a self- respecting and concrete devolution of powers back to the State has the potential of realigning the mass of Kashmiris behind a refurbished democratic politics. The simple way of conceptualising the moment is to think that if answers have to be found with India and the Indian Constitution as the given, can either the National Conference or the Kashmir Assembly by sidelined?
In that context, Dr. Farooq Abdullah’s enunciation as in a recent TV interview deserves the closest attention. His argument that the Assembly document is a starting point where nothing else existed is suggestive that a modus vivendi can emerge once the problems and the Document is addressed. Even the National Conference must know that if there be any aspects to the Document that may seem tainted with a sectarian emphasis, or such others that make the demand for the abrogation of the jurisdiction of key institutions of the Indian state, such texts have little chance of finding acceptance, either at the level of the state or of even the more secular and democratic segments of the political class. There ought, therefore, to be the faith that if the moment were indeed to be seized with imagination and empathy, that if negotiaters on all sides – Ireland is a close parallel – were to make he enlightened efforts to rise above particular, fractious interest, a transparently participatory process of negotiation can lead to formulations that can transform not just the State of Jammu & Kashmir but yield a federal fruit for the Indian state as a whole. And, as part of that visualisation, I see no reason why federated possibilities cannot be worked out internally within the State of Jammu & Kashmir as well, taking care that the principles of internal devolution in no shape or form are coloured by sectarian considerations.
Politically, were the BJP more than the Congress to embark on such a creative course the qualitative enrichment of Indian democratic practice would acquire a new, lasting impetus. The moot question here is whether the BJP, now after the experience of state power, has the independent conviction to do so, and the will, thereby, to undergo its own enrichment as a political force. There is both everything to lose and everything to gain.
(The writer teaches literature at the Delhi University).