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Merging the Popular Politics of Mass Mobilization in Kashmir with the Institutional Politics of Governance and Demilitarization: Why I worked on Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s “Reflections on Kashmir”

Before I go on to expound on my rationale and motive for this compendium as well as my political stance, I would like to make the reader aware that I have contextualized the images in this book by linking them to ideas, events, and political philosophies explained in the preface and the conclusion. The images that I have included are visual representations of ideations, some of which are still realizable. To that end, the contextualizations/ captions in the list of illustrations are recapitulated and reinforced in the preface.

Getting to know one’s ideology is a work in progress. Ironically, it was in the United States – a country that prides itself on the power of its military-industrial complex – that I cultivated the drive to study the South Asian politico-cultural matrix, particularly the intractable Kashmir conflict. My commitment to pedagogy and scholarship has been unflinching, and my faith in the critical focus that education can provide has been unrelenting. Whether people see eye-to-eye with my stated positions or question them, any one would be hard-pressed to deny that I have a firm political ideology and conviction. I have spent a lot of time and energy delving into the erosion of indigenous politics in the State in my earlier work. And I have had the opportunity to immerse myself in the culture and polity of my native land, Kashmir, without which an understanding of the rich complexity of the sociopolitical fabric of the Kashmir Valley wouldn’t have been possible. To enable a general reader to fathom the complicated political status of J & K, currently, a large part of the State is administered by India and a portion by Pakistan. China annexed a section of the land in 1962, through which it has built a road that links Tibet to Xiajiang. As I underline on my monograph on Kashmir, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir: Between India and Pakistanthe strategic location of Indian-administered J & K underscores its importance for both India and Pakistan. The state of J & K borders on China and Afghanistan.

The Kashmir conflict is driven by nationalistic and religious fervor, each side pointing to the violence and injustice of the other, each side pointing to its own suffering and sorrow. The distrust, paranoia, and neurosis permeating the relationship between a large number of people of J & K and the Indian Union has intensified the conflict. The guerilla war in the state has gone through a series of phases since 1990 but repressive military and political force remains the brutal reality in the State, which cannot be superseded by seemingly abstract democratic aspirations. This conscious policy of the Indian State to erode autonomy, populist measures, and democratic institutions in J & K has further alienated the people of the State from the Indian Union. The systemic erosion of political opposition in J & K has delegitimized the voice of dissent and radicalized antagonism toward state institutions and organizations. The exposure of some democratic institutions as a brutal facade has instigated unmitigated disgruntlement and antipathy toward democratic procedures and institutions in the State.

Our peace and prosperity are inextricably bound with the peace and prosperity of the millions in India and Pakistan. In spite of the physical delineation of the boundaries, we all live in one zone. Our hopes, aspirations, fears, and dangers are the same.

We want a lasting and peaceful settlement of the Kashmir conflict, reflecting the wishes of our people. Therein lies honor, peace, and progress for all concerned.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s interest in supporting the movement for self-determination in Baluchistan shouldn’t supersede the necessity of saving and protecting lives as well as restoring rule of law in Kashmir. The unwarranted use of force in Kashmir cannot continue unabated.

The current protests in Kashmir are being led by a generation that has known only conflict, political turmoil, and politicoeconomic instability. There is a lot of anger and resentment in this generation because no serious attempt has been made by the Government of India to mitigate the conflict while recognizing the constitutional and legal rights of the people of Kashmir. The complacency of the federal government in times of relative calm is culpable. Given the militarization and rabid fragmentation of Kashmiri society, it is necessary for the Government of India necessary to evoke pluralism in the face of divisive politics, instead of pushing people to the wall by the imposition of a monolithic nationalism, defined by the Hindutva agenda of the right-wing ultranationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. The unfinished business of the powers to be on both sides of the Line of Control (India and Pakistan) to ride roughshod over the history of Kashmiri nationalism and the evolution of a political consciousness in Kashmir, which began much before 1989, cannot continue unabated. It also becomes necessary for federal countries to reassess and reevaluate their policies vis-à-vis border states. The restoration of the autonomous status of J & K would be a viable beginning and would resuscitate rule of law and political self-determination.

Nation-states have their own interests to protect; our shared interest should be the protection of the people of Kashmir, particularly the young whose lives haven’t even begun yet.

Let’s place ourselves in the shoes of those who have suffered irreparable losses and will never know any closure. Time will not heal the wounds of such people. We need an indigenous constituency for conflict resolution.

In politics, the only viable way is forward, not a constant looking back. And policies and methods must be revisited, revised, and readjusted not just by mainstream politicians, but by separatist politicians as well in order to meet today’s needs.

Do we require the resuscitation of a concrete political ideology, which bridges divides, as opposed to the deification of martyrdom in the murky conflictual world of politics in Jammu and Kashmir (J & K)? Has the Government of India been assiduously working to engage young people in Jammu and Kashmir (J & K) in the processes of democracy, to acquire skills and knowledge that would enable them to effectively participate in decision-making and political processes, to recognize the importance of standing up and being counted as well as the value of the vote? Is there a recognition of action civics in the higher echelons of power at the federal and state levels when it comes to facilitating the growth of political processes in Kashmir? Several attempts to deconstruct the political fabric of Kashmir have been made by academics, scholars, and ideologues of various hues, but, it is high time we move beyond social commentary, demythologizing, and decanonizing to the revival of transformative progressive politics. I consider it a lot more significant to facilitate bringing about much needed systemic and structural changes in conflict ridden, politically and socio-economically decrepit polities in South Asia, like J & K. It is important for the civilian population of J & K to engage with the various political organizations, mainstream and separatist, in the State in order to evolve a solution that would facilitate nation-building.

Poring over the speeches of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, arguably the only Kashmiri leader who enjoyed mass support in his lifetime, has enabled me to realize that instead of allowing polarizing elements to disrupt nation-building, we need to cull advanced and reformist ideologies in order to build common ground. His speeches were recorded and translated by his close associates, those who fought with him in the trenches. At the time, he and his colleagues were considered persona non grata by the Government of India, preventing them from gaining access to reputable publishing houses. So, I had to retrieve and dust the cobwebs off the documents reproduced herein, which provide tremendous insight into peace-building, democratization, and the processes of negotiation, dialogue, and accommodation required to reach some kind of fruition.

I was fortunate that important documents, originals as well as translations, regarding the founding and evolution of the Plebiscite Front, the Muslim Conference, the National Conference, and Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s speeches were bequeathed to me. I spent hours listening to recordings of those speeches as well to make sure that the reproductions were authentic. Some of those speeches, which I have reproduced in this book, were independently and clandestinely published by various general secretaries of the then outlawed Plebiscite Front. Several of the documents that I retrieved had been gathering dust in the rubble of the Mujahid Manzil, the building which was once the rallying point of Kashmiri nationalist and resistance politics. Mujahid Manzil was razed to the ground in the 1990s. The historical documents in the flotsam and the debris, which were retrievable, still remain priceless. Some of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s speeches and interviews were translated and collected by officiaries and foot soldiers of the “dissident” Plebiscite Front, who parted ways with the National Conference, the organization founded by the Sheikh in 1938, after his death in 1982, interring those documents in the quarries and caverns of history. Before some of those recorded speeches would begin to exude the rancid smell of decomposition, I managed to pull them out of the abyss.  That’s the reason I chose to bring the speeches in that collection to light, because I am driven by the greater goal of engaging with the various stakeholders in Kashmir and also for setting a firm ideological foundation.

I was further motivated to complete this project by the young Kashmiris, college and university students, who came to see me this summer on my annual visit to my homeland. They observed that no one person and no one organization had copyright over Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and that a revival of the discourse of Kashmiri nationalism, which he symbolized, would repair the damaging divides and fill in the cracks in that polity.

As I underscored in The Life of a Kashmiri Woman (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014)to my mind, there is a historical value in revisiting and challenging the historical narratives about the political personages of pre-and post-1947 Jammu and Kashmir and the movement for an independent Kashmir. My attempt to highlight the history of a region in a particular era, as I’ve done in The Life of a Kashmiri Woman as well, is not to localize it. As I’ve said before, I think it is important to reshape historical memory so that it includes the humanitarian and pluralistic endeavors of leaders of the movement at that critical juncture post-1948. I have been working on Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s Reflection on Kashmir for a while, because I am of the firm opinion that a consciousness cannot be built without amechanism of political training, ideological education, and progressive action, which a close study of his speeches and interviews would enable. Unless a popular politics of mass mobilization is merged with ideological guidance, not dogma, as well a grassroots social movement, it only leads to self-destruction. A serious student of South Asian politics and the politics of Kashmir in particular could analyze the ways in which experiences have been constructed historically and have changed overtime.

In the past few years, every article that I’ve written, every radio and television appearance, as well as every Facebook post and tweet of mine have been instantiations of, as one of my reviewers puts it, “the high stakes debate on the right of the Kashmiri people to determine their own political future as an independent state.” In complementing The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, which was published in 2014, Sheikh’s Mohammad Abdullah’s Reflections on Kashmir allows me to interweave my several publications in various forums, including face book and twitter, into this compendium, bringing my work and perspective full circle.

Working on these books has enabled me to critically appraise political, cultural, and social discourses which my locations of privilege hadn’t allowed me to question previously. I have been conscious of the limited representations in some other works on Kashmir which reflect the power relations between those who represent and those who are represented.  I am fully cognizant of the collision of the ideas of self-determination, identity, and unity propounded by the young members of the Reading Room Party and the Plebiscite Front with the brutal force and suppression wielded by the Indian and Pakistani nation-states. I have appraised not just the history of the Kashmiri nationalism dominated by the elite but I have carefully looked at the politics of the people and the political mobilization engendered by such politics in my work. Popular mobilization in J & K during the 1930s and 1940s took the form of uprisings, which was a primary locus of political action. The primary question for me is “Who is speaking and who is being silenced?,” enabling me to recognize the legitimacy of knowledge produced from the point of view of the local subject, the conviction of the workers of political parties who maintain the vibrancy of conviction and ideology; the collision of the idea of self-determination with military oppression on the contentious site of nationalism.

Hard core political analysis aside, I will never lose faith in the people of Kashmir. With every breath I pray that the younger generation of Kashmiris channelizes their anger, sense of alienation, and takes the political process forward without playing into anyone’s hands. The centrist politics of both nation-states, India and Pakistan, have worked on depoliticizing our society. We cannot let that happen!

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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 nylakhan@aol.com.

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