Kashmir’s political sidestream


Public consent is heart of the true democracy. It’s not just the votes polled or the seats secured in the assembly that makes a ruling regime legitimate. Consent of the general mass is what differentiates a democracy from a totalitarian regime. If the ruler enjoys the public consent, he or she does not need to kill the ruled. When the rule of law entails repression, the rulers automatically lose the popular consent. Although a streak of authoritarianism often lurks inside a democratic set up, elected rulers remain sensitive to the public consent, hence the idea of PR machinery in the government. Any state’s political class that truly enjoys the public consent can genuinely be described as the political mainstream of that state. This includes both the ruling and the opposition groups.

National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party or for that matter Indian National Congress’ J&K chapter don’t operate in settled political territory. These parties need more than popular consent to retain the right of being called the actual mainstream. Politics in the politically unsettled territories is like amoeba, it changes characteristics as per the change in the relation between the state and the federal power that administers it. In such state of affairs, a mainstream party’s assertiveness for constitutional and political concessions from the centre is directly proportional to the popular consent it might enjoy among the masses. We have seen in 2010 how Omar Abdullah ate humble pie after going ballistic about the removal of a military law, AFSPA. We are witnessing the incumbent chief minister doing political somersaults in 2016. It seems they were never willing to be the mainstream, they are content with the sidestream.

Syed Ali Geelani and late Abdul Gani Lone were just sideshows in the state assembly during 70s and 80s. They shunned power politics and became the mass movement’s leading lights post 1990. Did they change their tack in order to win back the popular consent that they felt was waning by their siding with the system that was considered adversarial to the masses or they did not want to be remembered as failed advocates in a docile assembly? Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah is still remembered as the tallest of all political figures Kashmir has produced in nearly hundred years. He held sway on Kashmir’s heads and hearts. He too crossed the floor in 1975, assuming that the public consent he enjoyed would remain as such even if he worked as a pliant administrator for the federation. Sheikh took the public consent for granted and a hero got reduced to a villain. How could he extract concessions from the center when he had started off giving them unilaterally?

ConjeevaramNatarajanAnnadurai of Tamil Nadu is still remembered as the hardcore separatist, although he became the first non-Congress Chief Minister of the south Indian state. He would call Tamil Nadu a separate country and founded the Dravidian movement around the same idea. He too crossed over to the ‘political mainstream’ but he retained the public consent. Such was his influence that a party, AIDMK, was named after him. Tamil Nadu still retains Anna-style assertiveness. Whether about challenging death sentences or the river waters, Delhi often finds it hard to arm-twist the Tamils. In Northeast, Laldenga extracted a political deal from Indira Gandhi and became Mizoram’s chief minister on his own terms. He had led a militant movement against India and would call himself ‘General Laldenga’. Despite his rebellious past he got state funeral when he died. ArvindKejrival seems the modern avatar of Anna and Laldenga politics. No matter how many seats Kejrival wins in next elections, he has upheld the standards of real mainstream politics. There are more voices such as Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, Nitish Kumar etc. These leaders never beseeched the centre for relevance. They are the mainstream leaders. They earn their relevance by holding on to the public consent not the big boss.

In order to acquire public consent Kashmiri politicians have been treading a wrong course.

They peddle ‘soft-separatism’ rather than boldly engaging New Delhi on issues of public interest. The tactic does bring a modicum of popularity but it does not fetch them the all important public consent. While they try to appropriate popular aspirations with their narrow political goals the public consent swings to those who advocate the genuine aspirations. NC, PDP and others are essentially unionist forces, which lack the public consent. They meekly work in the political sidestream not the mainstream.

In fact, the slot for mainstream is still vacant. Although Hurriyat Conference enjoys the social sanctity for it espouses the dominant sentiment, it does not enjoy the consent, a must for becoming the political mainstream. For that Hurriyat has to extract big concessions from both Pakistan and India. Hurriyat leaders are riding the crest of the dominant sentiment but that is not a negotiating position wherefrom they could bargain and achieve the public consent.

Of late there seems a whiff of change among unionists. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti during her interaction with the all-party delegation on September 4-5 was candid enough when she said, “Kashmir is a common issue of national interest and should not be viewed as a political issue.” This was a clean break from her party’s fixation with Hurriyat agenda and South Asia and the resolution talk. Recently, Omar Abdullah too fluttered the dovecotes by asserting that the solution of Kashmir issue was well within the precincts of Indian constitution. Only time will tell if these candid confessions were the realization of ground realities or a political gimmick.

Those willing to enter the real political mainstream of Kashmir need to state the truth.

—Courtesy: RK.

[Author is a Srinagar-based journalist, presently BBC’s J&K Correspondent. He can be mailed at rmasroor@gmail.com]
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