The irony of the situation in Kashmir can be made sense of through the fact that it dominated the headlines the past five years under the Narendra Modi regime, yet it witnessed the lowest voter turnout. The cul de sac that Kashmir seems to have entered looks like it has crossed the point of no return. It has been a literal stalemate for over four decades between a growing voice for Azaadi and self-determination by Kashmiri Muslims, and in response, growing repression and everyday violence by the Indian state, irrespective of whichever political party is in power.
In open democracies, political discourse changes faster than the situation on the ground, and in conflict zones, the situation keeps ticking away, but the political discourse is struck where it began, and therefore, solutions don’t come by easily. The political discourse of Kashmir has remained, more or less the same, demanding unconditional declaration of independence and a separate nation-state. The global and national situation with regard to Kashmir has been changing. Is the political protest in Kashmir informed about these changes? Do they get reflected in the current political discourse in Kashmir?
Globally, after the Vienna Convention on International Human Rights in 1993, it was officially recognised that the period of decolonisation is over, and there are no colonies, and self-determination no longer figures prominently anywhere in the world. Most of similar struggles, such as Quebec in Canada, Tibet in China, and Nagaland in India, have settled the matter to more autonomy and not self-determination or secession.
In a globalised world, geographical territories are being re-imagined due to the interconnectedness of the global economy. Even, spatial demands within the nation-states, such as formation of separate states do not yield many results. The recent formation of Telangana is a case in point. Neither have the spate of farmer`s suicides abated, nor is the problem of unemployment resolved. In no time, discontent is brewing in Telangana, and I fathom, youth will be back on the streets protesting for their basic minimum rights.
Global models of development are not yielding space to any alternatives; agrarian crisis and unemployment are far deeper and structural in nature for a mere change in political party to resolve the issues. What do the youth of Kashmir, pelting stones on the street, expect will be their plight in the future without any debate on the model of development?
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Much of the sustained and unabated struggle in Kashmir owes a lot to Sheikh Abdullah than what is today duly acknowledged. But for the land reforms he carried out, Kashmiris couldn’t have continued with their protests. It is made possible because there is no abject poverty, and subsistence living is made possible. But this has failed to address the aspirations of the youth looking for economic mobility.
Similarly, Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front and Yasin Malik, were known to speak of socialism, which is no longer the case. Hurriyat has never had any serious discourse on model of development beyond their rhetoric of separatism. Hurriyat itself suffers from a legitimacy crisis with the younger generation.
In effect, there is no credible leadership in the valley that can give a meaningful direction to the growing discontent. The alternative of aligning with Pakistan is no longer an attractive option, with Pakistan suffering both economic crisis and itself a victim of jihadi terror. The nature of discontent in the valley does not match the political and economic situation in Pakistan any longer. Religious nationalism has managed to somewhat fill the vacuum, though the religious ethos of Kashmir does not fully comply with this kind of cultural nationalism. Even, here Kashmir is struggling to find itself. On the one hand, the youth wave the ISIS flags more to prick the muscular nationalism of `mainland` India rather than a deep belief in the character of Islam that ISIS stands for. Burhan Wani (slain Hizbul commander) became a hero of the valley and a new age symbol, not only for his death but also for expressing a deep sentiment that resonates with many when he pronounced his support for the Amarnath Yatra. This yearning for cultural cohabitation cannot go with the singularity of religious nationalism.
Internally, Kashmir`s elites are in no position to lead the struggle. Like all conflict zones, be it the Northeast, or central India, Kashmir too has a corrupt elite that has grown through the leakages of the development packages and the largesse of the Indian state. The nexus between the political, bureaucratic and business elite in the valley is stronger than, perhaps, that of the ‘mainland’ India. The Indian state has left no stone unturned in extending patronage and controlling the situation in the valley through the crony elite. The recent spate of conflict between the local police and the militants is just an instance of the rot that lies beneath the unflinching commitment that is felt and visible to the world outside.
There are no easy alternatives but what the protest in the valley could definitely do is to open up an internal dialogue on the social content of the protests that includes the prevalent prejudices against those from the border areas of Poonch and Rajouri, against Gujjars and hill tribes, against the Muslims from Ladakh, the nature of pervasive divide between the urban and rural areas, nature of classism and racism in the valley, questions of gender and place of women, nature of institutions and hierarchies within that disallow for any open thinking, model of development that could be inclusive, place for Kashmiri Pandits and all other non-Muslim communities that are in a minority in the Valley, among many other such issues. Sovereign self, while linked to the state is also deeply social in nature. Opening up such dialogue will pave way to alternatives that we cannot imagine with precision at the moment.
The writer is Assistant Professor with the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. He recently authored the book, ‘India after Modi: Populism and the Right’. The views are personal.
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