Although the Congress party has formed governments in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chattisgarh following the defeat of the BJP in all three states, the revival of secularism is not a necessary corollary. The tendency to equate secularism with the Congress is rather naïve.
A couple of days ago, a court in India upheld the conviction of 88 people in a 1984 anti-Sikh riots case, which resulted in a strong sense of achievement for justice-seeking people. But several Congress honchos who went on a rampage and played a reprehensible role in the series of pogroms against Sikhs, following the assassination of Prime Minister Gandhi, continue to rule the roost. In order to truly resuscitate progressive and secular forces in India, there needs to be a paradigm shift within the Congress.
Politics are not as black and white as some people would like to think they are. In 1983/ ‘84, Indira Gandhi attempted to bolster her political platform by making overt and covert appeals to Hindutva majoritarianism against grossly exaggerated secessionist threats from Muslim and Sikh minorities.
Indira Gandhi’s mobilization of Hindutva worked wonders for the Congress in the Jammu region, where it won 22 out of 32 Assembly seats. But the performance of the Congress in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley was dismal, where it won just 3 seats, and 1 in Ladakh. A regional party won a landslide victory, enabling it to form the state government with the Congress as a large opposition.
But Indira Gandhi did not accept the unambiguous verdict given by the people of Kashmir in a democratic fashion. Her ire was particularly provoked by the alliance that a regional party in J & K formed with other non-Congress Indian parties in an attempt to unify anti-Congress forces as preparation for the parliamentary elections in late 1984.
Indira Gandhi resorted to undemocratic and unconstitutional means as his government approached the end of its first year in 1984. The Congress government in New Delhi orchestrated the formation of a new political party, comprising twelve legislators who unconstitutionally quit their party, and formed a new government with the support of the Congress legislators in the J & K Assembly.
Later that year, India’s parliamentary elections were held. Indira Gandhi’s Congress, led by her older son Rajiv Gandhi, availed itself of the sympathy wave created in the wake of Indira’s assassination by her two Sikh bodyguards on 31 October 1984, and won by an overwhelming majority. The carnage that occurred in the wake of Prime Minister Gandhi’s assassination, which lead to the brutal murder of 3000 Sikhs, was swept under the rug.
But all three parliamentary constituencies in the Kashmir Valley, Srinagar, Baramulla and Anantnag, elected candidates from a regional party with enormous majorities.
In the 1970s and the 1980s, Indira Gandhi’s Congress regime characterized every demand for local empowerment in Jammu and Kashmi as potentially insurgent, and discouraged the growth of a progressive generation of Kashmiris. Sheikh Abdullah’s strategic campaign to free J & K from the systemic violence perpetrated by the Dogra monarchy, which was launched in the early 1930s, had won strong support from the Kashmiri people, including the women.
There are times when India, including head honchos of the Congress party, gets belligerent and categorically tells Pakistan that it need to vacate the portion of Kashmir that it hold; that it needs to demilitarize the portion of Kashmir, which it hold, and ensure human rights and liberties to Kashmiris on its side of the border. Pakistan responds just as aggressively and screams itself hoarse about the Kashmiri people’s right of self-determination, and then both countries, whenever there is a spell of camaraderie puts the plight of Jammu and Kashmir on the back burner.
There has been a lack of sincerity and political will on both sides of the border to resolve the issue. Over the years, Congress governments haven’t displayed much sincerity either when it comes to Kashmir.
One of the biggest challenges to the evolution of indigenous politics that exists within Indian-administered Kashmir as well as Pakistani-administered Kashmir is that in order to gain legitimacy any political actor must enjoy the support and blessings of the establishment. So a political actor, particularly a mainstream one, in order to be successful in Jammu and Kashmir requires the patronage of the government of India. Separatist politicians in Jammu and Kashmir would require the patronage of the government of Pakistan and the military of Pakistan. In the Kashmir on the Pakistani side, no political actor is eligible to run for office unless he or she enjoys the patronage of the Pakistani military and the deep state or high-level elements within the intelligence services.
National parties in both countries will need to reconceptualize their politics in order to pay attention to the emergence of peace, political liberty, socioeconomic reconstruction, and egalitarian democratization, good governance, and resuscitating democratic institutions.