Credibility of Electoral and Separatist Politics in Jammu and Kashmir

The insurgency in Kashmir, India and Pakistan’s ideological differences, and their political intransigence could result in the eruption of a future crisis.

The atmosphere of paranoia and mistrust is exacerbated by the frightening attempts of Hindu fundamentalist groups to rewrite Indian history and the recasting of Pakistani history by Islamist organizations: efforts to radically redefine Indian and Pakistani societies in the light of ritualistic Hinduism and Islam, respectively. Writing about this anti-historical attitude, Kai Friese reported in the New York Times that in November 2002, the National Council of  Education Research and Training, which is the central government organization in India that finalizes the national curriculum and supervises education of high school students, circulated a new textbook for the social sciences and history. The textbook conveniently overlooks the embarrassing fact that the architect of Indian independence, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist in 1948, a year after the proclamation of independence.

Friese also points out that Indian history has been embellished with some interesting fabrications, one of which is the erasure of the Indus Valley civilization and the conjuring up of a mythical “Indus–Saraswati” civilization in its stead. This is a strategic maneuver to transform a historical civilization into a mythical one. The chapter on the Vedic civilization in the history textbook lacks important dates and is inundated with uncorroborated “facts,” such as: “India itself was the original home of the Aryans. The Aryans were an indigenous race and the creators of the Vedas” (Friese 2002).

Similarly, mainstream Pakistani history portrays the movement for the creation of the nation-state of Pakistan as a movement for an Islamic state, the carving out of which became a historic inevitability with the first Muslim invasion of the subcontinent. This version of Pakistani history establishes the Islamic clergy as the protagonists of the movement for the creation of a theocratic state (Hoodbhoy and Nayyar 1985: 164–77). Such propaganda to further narrow agendas makes it impossible to hold informed debates on issues of political and religious import. Jingoistic textbooks and biased interpretations negate the possibility of reaching a national consensus regarding Kashmir.

There is a dearth of responsible leaders in J & K: “Admittedly, there is no Sheikh Abdullah now, no single leader who authoritatively embodies the aspirations of his people” (Guha 2004: 15). Within the wide political spectrum in the state, one does not even come close to a representative body willing to forge a reasonable dialogue. Duda too laments the leadership vacuum in the Indian subcontinent, made more glaring by the insidious political culture in India and Pakistan. Before he passed away in December 2009, he was working on a Causative History of Kashmir Politics since Partition with Dr Pushpesh Pant, of the Department of International Relations, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Duda writes (in an e-mail to the author dated 6 April 2008):

For four and a half decades, your grandfather, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, played the same role in politics which Noor-ud-Din Wali and Lalla Arifa played in religion. I look upon him as the greatest secular leader South Asia has produced. And when I say that I have in mind Nehru and Gandhi too, who didn’t come close to him in secular and humane politics. The Kashmir matter calls for two voices: problem exists; no solution seems plausible. These leaders have come to be carrying a price-tag; almost the entire leadership is a commodity for sale and purchase; there is no idealism; no patriotism; people of Kashmir (India-occupied) will suffer if Pakistan gets control over them because they might be looked upon as apostates and suffer worse; Kashmir on boil is providing to both India and Pakistan a blood-stained bowl for begging that provides access to easy money. The material problems and ambitions will continue to be rewarding in multiples if the movement continues with slaughter, death and rape of a few to seek notice and attention. Some time back I read a gossip column that an army officer from Uri,  near the de facto Pakistan border, revealed that when some insurgents were trying to cross over from across the border, a bargain took place: five were killed (for a pat on the back from Army headquarters), twelve were permitted to enter (for booty-sharing of sizeable degree in US dollars). The Muslim leadership in Kashmir has reached an abysmally degenerate stage of the political marketplace where they sell the interest and honor of Kashmir to political mafiosos of India. The way the Hindu fundamentalist leadership is behaving is metaphorically spitting on the faces of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, manifesting the fast-depleting traces of secularism.

Efficacy of the Discourse of International Conferences on Local Realities

A feasible solution to the conflict in Kashmir must fulfill the conditions delineated decades ago by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. It should not be designed to assuage the insecurities of either India or Pakistan. But it must, unconditionally, allay the fears of ethnic and religious minorities in both countries, and it must be in accordance with the wishes of the people of the state. International legal scholar Gidon Gottleib, in his discussion of the changing world order, underlines the need to deconstruct old notions of sovereignty and, instead, construct a transnational community that would endow stateless peoples with citizenship, territorial and security guarantees:

Nations and peoples that have no state of their own can be recognized as such and endowed with an international legal status. Those that are politically organized could be given the right to be a party to different types of treaties and to take part in the work of international organizations. (Gottlieb 1993, quoted in Wirsing 1994: 233)

But the solution outlined by Gottleib is unrealistic and rather utopian. It is predicated on the nullification of national identity, cultural integrity intertwined with attachment to territory, and is clearly a politically vexed issue for the people of the former princely state, who, as I have underlined in the introduction, would stop being altogether in the absence of a body politic built on national pride. A solution of this sort could lead to further balkanization in the South Asian region, depleting national resources.

The Indian Union is on the verge of becoming an insuperable economic power. In order to enhance its economic and political clout in the South Asian region, it requires stability. Can it begin the process of establishing itself as a stable political force by initiating a serious political process in Kashmir in which the people of the state have a substantive say?  A political package short of autonomy for the entire state is viewed with suspicion by a lot of Kashmiris. Can the governments of India and Pakistan make a smooth transition into the globalized world by shelving the politics of duplicity and recognizing the autonomous status of the former princely state? I do not pretend to know the answer to these questions. I do not know if the brand of treacherous politics that pervades not just the Indian subcontinent, but also western vested interests will undergo a transformation in the years to come. Will the international community recognize the poignancy of the countless sacrifices made by the people of Kashmir over the last eighteen years?

In a post 9/11 world, political and cultural edifices that have been entrenched by imperial discourse have sanctified the convenient “first world–third world” dichotomy. Institutional politics have facilitated the construction of the “third world” subject as an eternally feral being whose essential savagery is not amenable to socio-cultural conditioning. The rationale provided for the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, is those territories’ purportedly dehumanized condition that cries out for enlightenment, underscoring the constructed bestiality of non-western, other cultures. The rhetoric of hate and destruction rent the air and engender a mass hysteria, inciting communal riots and human rights violations, as evidenced, for example, by the reprehensible negligence of human rights in J & K and the relentless persecution of Muslims in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002.

The construction of the “first world–third world” dichotomy has befouled institutionalized politics and cultures, and vitiated progressive political and social change. In such a scenario, I, as a feminist activist–scholar, have sought to reinterpret the repressive frameworks of military occupation, nationalism, religious fundamentalism, and an ethno-religious nationalism which have developed unevenly among the social classes and regions of J& K.

Subsequent to the declaration of the election results in 2008, the significance of the collective will of the people was undermined by the anxious appeals made to the Congress by our regional parties to forge a jagged coalition government with them. It was interesting to watch our politicians rush to New Delhi in order to humbly submit their petitions to the Congress “High Command,” which observed the political developments in J & K from its minaret in the citadel of quasi-secular politics. The yearning with which our politicians awaited “positive signals” from New Delhi about which party the Congress would choose to tie the proverbial knot with does not bode well for those of us who were hoping for a well-orchestrated fight for an independent, or at the least, autonomous, Jammu and Kashmir, and a sincere attempt to protect “Kashmiriyat.” In 2014, the PDP overtly awaited similar positive signals from the ultra-nationalist right-wing BJP.

Has a veil been drawn over the wishes and aspirations of the people of the state? Have the over two decades of insurgency and counter-insurgency been made insignificant by the facile claim of mainstream politicians and separatist leaders that there is a clear line of demarcation between elections within the Constitution of India and the struggle for self-determination? Is the boundary between the two truly that well-delineated?

The process of nationalist self-imagining is likely to remain in a nebulous state so long as the destiny of mainstream Kashmiri politicians is etched by the pen of the calligrapher in New Delhi and that of separatist politicians is etched by Islamabad, and determined by maneuvers in the murky den of subcontinental politics. Can our politicians rise above their myopic aspiration to willy-nilly grab the throne and scepter? The obvious lack of self-reflexivity in our regional parties shows a glaring inability to carefully consider the stakes. The two mainstream regional parties – the NC and the PDP – are pawns in a game of chess in which the dice were heavily loaded in favor of the Congress and are now loaded in favor of the BJP.

J & K in the current political context is a house divided against itself. It is paradoxical to watch political bigwigs, bureaucrats, civilian and paramilitary officers preening and gearing up to celebrate India’s Independence Day, August 15th, while several Kashmiris continue to remain in the abyss of socioeconomic deprivation and political marginalization. J & K is a palimpsest that has been inscribed upon two or three times, yet the previous texts have been imperfectly erased and, therefore, remain partially visible. A history of unfulfilled pledges, broken promises, political deception, military oppression, illegal political detentions, a scathing human rights record, sterile political alliances, mass exodus, and New Delhi’s malignant interference have created a gangrenous body politic, which hasn’t even started to heal. The various political, religious, and cultural discourses written on the palimpsest of the state may have created alternative epistemologies but without an epicenter.

On the one hand, lavish sartorial and epicurean preparations are annually made for August 15th, the day India was declared independent, on the other hand, there is a legitimately disgruntled segment of the populace which really hasn’t experienced the trickle down effect of India’s burgeoning economy or flourishing democracy. August 15th has been a day of mourning for the marginalized, the disenfranchised, silenced and invisible people of J & K. It is my hope that political actors of various hues in the state do not inter the victims of military and police brutality to the catacombs of history in their ardent desire to ingratiate themselves with the puppeteers in New Delhi and Islamabad who are adept at manipulating marionette regional representatives. August 15th is entrenched in world history as the day the nation-state, then dominion, of India gained independence and routed the British colonial master, but in J & K it remains a day that reinforces the fragility of an ill-defined democracy and is blurred by the incessantly flowing tears of widows, orphans, dispossessed people, and despondent mothers.

The intractability of the Kashmir conflict has made advocates of conflict resolution rather wary of applying a seemingly workable but facile solution to the complex political conflict. Mainstream media, intellectuals housed in academic institutions, formulators of public policy, members of think tanks are quick to point out that regardless of the bloody and seemingly infinite nature of a political, ethnic, or racial conflict a viable solution can always be found to dilute the fierceness of a conflictual situation. But one is cautioned against glibly advocating a kitsch solution to the Kashmir conundrum by the complexity of the Kashmir conflict, which embodies the brutalities of nation-building devoid of myth or self-infatuation. The unruliness of the Kashmir conflict has led many to confuse the idea of nation with the power and brute force of the nation-states of India and Pakistan. Although the idea of self-determination collides with military oppression on the contentious site of nationalism, political accommodation can lead a war-weary people out of the colonnade of duplicitous rhetoric, political domination, and forceful imposition. The debate amongst political thinkers, scholars, and policy makers about finding viable ways to placate marginalized ethnic minorities in J & K has been infinite. Since the advent of Independence, New Delhi’s self-deluding and self-serving “democratic” approach has been to allow the disaffected people of J & K to voice their “seditious” opinions within the existing political framework legitimized by governmental rhetoric. The reasonableness of the autonomy solution advocated by mainstream political parties in J & K may seem axiomatic, but what is the likelihood of its being adopted in an undiluted form to metamorphose Kashmir’s political, cultural, or territorial circumstances?

Both India and Pakistan have a long history of deploying rhetorical strategies to skirt the issue of plebiscite or complete secession of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. When feeling particularly belligerent Pakistan cries itself hoarse declaring the legitimacy of plebiscite held under United Nations auspices in J & K; India responds just as aggressively by demanding the complete withdrawal of Pakistani troops from the territory of pre-partition J & K; or, in a moment of neighborly solicitude, for conversion of the LOC to a permanent International border. Which of these solutions is the most viable? Currently, mainstream political parties in J & K have jumped on the autonomy bandwagon. Although these terms are often used interchangeably, the differences between them are not insignificant. New Delhi asserts, time and again, that a revitalized Indian federalism will accommodate Kashmiri demands for an autonomous existence. But, historically, federalism hasn’t always adequately redressed the grievances of disaffected ethnic minorities. Here, I concur with Robert G. Wirsing’s observation that, “while autonomy seems to imply less self-rule than does the term confederalism, for instance, it is generally understood to imply greater self-rule than federalism, which as in the American case, need not cater to ethnic group minorities at all” (2003: 199).

Given Kashmir’s treacherous political climate and the rampant political factionalism in that region, the appeal of an ambiguous “autonomy” remains intact for some groups but for others, as has been forcefully pointed out to me by a couple of political scientists, it is a wrong narrative to establish in the case of Kashmir. The dismal truth is that the wish to establish the legitimacy of self-determination or autonomy vis-à-vis J & K is not universal. The current political discourse in the state has strayed far from home.

Nyla Ali Khan is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan has also served as an guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. She can be reached at