Mainstream, VOL LII No 51, December 13, 2014
JAMMU AND KASHMIR POLL 2014: Wonders Will Never Cease
Monday 15 December 2014, by
Here is what seems to be the historic irony of the coming election season in Jammu & Kashmir: that the “nationalists” should be pinning their prospect of success on a silent collaboration of the “separatists”. A veritable Benzene ring with a double valency bond, what?
But, maybe not quite. Word is that Geelani sahib, always first to sense the shape of things, has already withdrawn his earlier call for poll boycott, realising that this time around the interests of Kashmiris can only be met by an emphatic voter turnout in the Valley, whereas the votaries of “integration” have been hoping to win a “democratic” victory with as few votes as possible, making the migrant Pandit vote a decisive factor.
It remains to be seen whether the Mirwaiz and Yaseen Malik will follow suit, or convey the message through covert channels, achieving two purposes simultaneously. Like Geelani sahib, they too must be weighing the fact that this once democracy may be less an anathema than a form of integrationism that seeks to transcend democracy, however flawed the latter be.
The larger speculation must bear on whether what is sought to be claimed has substance on the ground or whether political realities in the Valley remain, after all, undeterred and unim-pressed. Ergo, are Muslim Kashmiris truly going to go over to Modi, disregarding the perspectives he represents? Is his slogan of “development” likely to be puissant and persuasive enough to drown out the preferred federalist and secular political habits and traditions among Kashmiri voters? Is the frustration of Kashmiris with “regional” political voices suddenly so overwhelming that they may decide to go with a “strong” Central leader who they think will deliver “development” without being able to upset the applecart of “special status” that hinges so indubitably on the ineluctable immutability of Article 370 of the Constitution of India? Can it be said that generation next in the valley now is as apolitical as their counterparts in India’s cities and metropolises, and as indifferent to the politics of communal fascism? Is it possible that they are now as willing to jettison “special status”, not to speak of the goal of “azadi”, as those Kashmiris who in parts of the Jammu province principally have been pushing for? Or do they think that a decisive “nationalist” footprint in the Valley will make little difference to Kashmiri disaffection with the Centre and Kashmiri refusal to succumb to blandishments or coercion, regardless of who wields them?
What is interesting is the fact that the BJP, its habitual bluster to the contrary, does not seem so sure. Or else why would it sing different tunes on Article 370—“principled” in Jammu, appeasing in the Valley? Why would it leave untouched its designated candidate in the Ameerakadal constituency whom I, among many others, heard say on TV that were anyone to touch Article 370, “I will be the first to raise the gun”? We are told, typically, that the lady in question has “withdrawn” her statement: the question is what has she withdrawn, her boast to raise the gun or her allegiance to Article 370? Let us be cognisant that Saam, Daam, Dhand, Bhed remain the guiding philosophical bullet-points of the Hindu Rightwing—to wit, persuasion, pricing, punishment, fracture, any or all of these tactics may be used on the antagonist to get at his jugular.
On the other hand, is it an unlovely prospect that the failure of the BJP to obtain comparable results in Jammu and Kashmir provinces severally could reinforce rather fatally a communal divide that has been in the making for a quarter-century now? And would such a prospect carry within it the seed of a balkanisation fraught with poisonous consequence to the rest of India?
Clearly, this election for the Kashmiris is like no other they have participated in, and they will bear responsibility for what choices they make, the vagaries of the first-past-the-post system notwithstanding. Just as the responsibility will equally devolve on secular parties for their success or failure in obtaining consolidation of the secular vote.
Also, were a Maharashtra to be replicated in Jammu and Kashmir, it would be of consuming interest to see what parties or factions would be willing or not to help the “nationalists” to form a government. It remains a testimony to the deep-rooted secular traditions in the Valley that spokespersons of all regional parties have made an explicit repudiation of the sentiment that the State’s Chief Minister must come from only a particular community. This forceful enunciation ought indeed to reinforce our faith in the outstanding history of the state as well as teach other States to emulate the secular-democratic adherence of the Kashmiris to the principles enshrined in the Indian Constitution.
It cannot but be a remarkable fact for a Kashmir observer of any persuasion that the Bharatiya Janata Party of Modi vintage has been able to find some thirty odd Muslim candidates to stand for it in the Valley. This in stark contrast to the near-total absence of any Muslim BJP candidates either in the bygone General Elections of India or in the subsequent by-elections and elections to the Assemblies (Haryana, Maharashtra). There is of course the obvious fact that once the BJP decided to make a bid for State power in J&K, it had little choice in the matter if the Valley had to be included in its electoral arithmetic.
Nonetheless, it should not be any surprise that such a contrast should, above and before all else, cause some interesting speculation about the equation that Muslims in Kashmir bear to those in the mainland. To recall, one does not remember any great hullabaloo in the Valley when the Babri mosque was dismantled or when the Gujarat killings happened. It would, of course, be quite wrong to conclude that such somewhat tepid reaction to those events was for want of feeling. More to the point, the habitual self-absorption of Muslims in Kashmir betells the sense they have of a very distinct history and distinct identity, facts that in their own minds set them apart from Muslims in the rest of India, indeed of the subcontinent.
If that is true, then the further question suggests itself: having made bold to own a BJP ticket, what in their minds is now their equation with the agenda of the RSS, who, quite blatantly run the affairs both of the BJP party and of the government in Delhi? For example, has their decision been dictated merely by a revulsion with things as they have been under the dispensation of the two main regional parties, and to the decline of the Congress generally, a sort of impulsive and contingent throwing of the hat in a new ring for kicks without any great thought to the far-reaching implications of the choice they have made, or does this new engagement betoken a more conscious commitment? Namely, the beginning of a willingness to acknowledge that the accession of the state to India is after all a fait accompli, unlikely to be reversed or greatly modulated, and hence why not be on the side of the party that seems most strident on behalf of an integrated “nationalism” and where, over the next five years, the dividends may be the most meaty.
Or, is there a third possibility? The calculation on behalf of the Muslim BJP candidates and their support base that the consequences of their choosing may not be so one-sided as seems apparent. That, indeed, if returned in sufficient numbers, their influence as Kashmiris upon the BJP may in time turn out to be of greater weight and significance than of the BJP on them. That refusing ever to concede the desirability of the abrogation of Article 370 and the “Special Status” thereof, they might in time bring the BJP round to such an acceptance rather than cave in themselves to the RSS view of things? After all, after the Shah Bano fiasco and his severe disillusionment with the Rajiv Gandhi Congress, my friend, Arif Mohammed Khan, had rather similarly determined to switch over to the BJP with a view to influencing its ideology from the inside. It is of course another matter that the predictable happened, and Arif-bhai remained an even more disillusioned intellectual.
The other all-important question must, in the meanwhile, pertain to the import of the concertedly heavy polling on the first day of elections on November 25. If it be the case that, disregarding any overt or covert call for a boycott, voters came out in droves in the Valley especially in order pointedly to defeat the BJP, then how in the days to come may the equation between Muslim supporters of the BJP and all other Kashmiri Muslims shape? Were the BJP to be trounced decisively in the Valley, the lesson would not be lost on those who for now have chosen to ride the Modi bandwagon, and were the BJP to trounce the Congress, the NC, and the PDP in bulk of the Jammu province, a binary situation might emerge in the State corresponding somewhat to the status of the BJP and the Akalis in Punjab. Even though a rather pronouncedly communalistic arrangement, a regional party in the Valley and the BJP in Jammu could have the prospect of cementing a stable partnership that would, however, leave any final political resolution of the “dispute” in limbo, if not actually exacerbate separatist frustration to dangerous extremes.
Altogether, where most elections to the J&K Assembly hitherto have been proforma exercises, this one may be pregnant with far-reaching fall-outs, one way or another. For one thing, many or most Kashmiri Muslims might well feel that this once an electoral exercise was, thankfully, a welcome tool to turn back a footprint replete with troubling consequence. Who knows but such a recognition might in time enrich the view that the Kashmiris have democratic forms of assertion within an Indian connection that they otherwise claim to dislike, even disown.
Not for nothing has it been put down that “politics is the art of the possible”.
Here, thus, is one Kashmiri wishing the best of luck to all Kashmiris.
(Courtesy: Kashmir Times)
The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His latest book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012.