We need to think about Kashmir in a new way

Columnist  | Shiv Visvanathan

Opinion, Oped

US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are seedy characters, yet even they seem desperate for peace.

PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti. (Photo: File)

The BJP’s decision to pull the plug on its alliance with Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party in Jammu and Kashmir can be explained sociologically as a fatal dualism that had to come apart. Some say it was for electoral reasons, and elections do make people behave differently — calculations and numbers become more important at election time.

In fact, the power of Madhar Ashish as the chartered accountant of electoral numbers is clear. As numbers drop, the nation is less important and the rules of the party take over. The PDP is then dispensable. An air of inevitability cloaks the normative issues disguised in the decision. In such a scenario, two things are clear. First, the BJP prefers the nation state to the nation and talks of law and order as a substitute for unity. Second, it prefers the party to the nation state. When the chips are down, political survival becomes critical. It is all arithmetic and there is no sense of care or concern for Kashmir or the country. People don’t matter except as voters. It is after all election time.

One can’t help but compare such regressive behaviour with what is happening in the Korean peninsula. US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are seedy characters, yet even they seem desperate for peace. Maybe the Madhav Ashishes behind the two are more courageous, more ready to take risks. Even if this political round ends in a farce, they have shown that guts and imagination can alter politics. It also shows even a Trump knows the limits of his blustering, bully boy politics.

Western politics has shown that imagination, vision and courage can create breakthroughs: the reconciliation of the two Germanys and Desmond Tutu’s attempt to create a different South Africa are two such examples. Such a politics only looks like a miracle because of Tutu’s faith in the everydayness of ordinary people transcending themselves.

The BJP, working within its politics of blinders, is content with electoralism. Its short-run mentality has no sense of the future. It can’t dream beyond the logic of history like other politicians. In that sense, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not a Tutu, a Vaclav Havel or a Willy Brandt. He can only be a Putin stuck in the quagmire of power politics. At least Vladimir Putin has football to give him a patina of popularity, Mr Modi’s game run of policy as far as Kashmir goes is losing steam.

In fact, one often wonders whether India will make a leap of faith into the future on Kashmir. Mr Modi, unlike Keynes, believes we are all dead in the short run, and that there is no opportunity to experiment. Unlike Tutu or Brandt, he does not realise a miracle is only the hard work behind a new paradigm of thinking.

One is appalled when one discovers the boundedness of our thinking. Our so-called votebanks in Kashmir behave like Pavlovian creations. They only drool when the electoral bell rings. Few seem to look at the fact that we haven’t gone beyond the Kathua affair. When rape and murder gets electoral endorsement and professional support, one wonders whether loyalties will ever reach up to decency. One sees opportunism. Breaking up after Kathua would have sent a different message. To declare the alliance as terminally and congenitally ill adds a gravitas to it, a touch of inevitability. The onus is now on governor N.N. Vohra. Can Mr Vohra produce a different cameo?

Just think about the situation in Korea. It is clear neither Mr Kim nor Mr Trump knows much about peace. Their bureaucrats must be working hard to make their intent look like content. But such rituals can create the beginning of a miracle. One wonders if Mr Vohra can go beyond the predictability of Governor’s Rule. The question is whether we can set the stage for a different kind of conversation, not of power and stability but of the rituals required for a peaceful and decent society.

The stage is already set to work against such an idea. Governor’s Rule is evaluated purely in terms of the logic of control, of decline in causalities or of future electoral advantage. Our media editorials seem to celebrate every impasse as a major achievement. Can one think differently?

The shoots of such thinking are present in the courageous groups of small voluntary groups — to think about peace, to literally secede from the language of security that seems to dominate the thoughtless thinking around Kashmir. It is almost as if machismo and management are wedded together, that Kashmir can be thought of only as a pathology and a problem.

Civil society groups think more in terms of hearing and listening rather than in accord with the logic of power as visual control. Security and electoral maps colour areas of control as if no other possibility can be thought through.

Can we use the interlude to think through differently?

Three groups have to become more significant in this new process. First, people have to be empowered in terms of voice. Some of my students who are now teaching in Kashmir observed that they have lost their existence as articulate citizens. Citizens are becoming black boxes or black holes of politics.

Violence does not merely silence people. It virtually erases the presence of a people. Second, civil society should now be ready to challenge the Orwellian language of security. Civil society in India has always been cautious, in fact, proper, when challenging the idea of security or even foreign policy. It sadly seems to accept the logic of a nation state and the boundaries of thought it dictates to a people. Civil society as rights groups, peace groups and environmental groups has to break in so that we as a nation can break out of the current paradigm which we call thought. It has to play the intellectual broker, translator and magnifier of possibilities seriously. Civil society is our major tout for peace and it has to accept this role gracefully and inventively. It should try to create a virtual parliament of representations where divisiveness can be reworked as diversity. This civil society has to create little “panchayats” of debate and problem-solving. The law and order issue makes more sense when peace is a prospect on the horizon. Kashmir desperately needs to experiment with peace from the nukkad and the bunker to the state level. Politicians, who have lost the habit of peace or even forgotten its language, should have the modesty to work with these groups and explore new possibilities. They shouldn’t forget that the seeds and ideas of Vaclav Havel’s Velvet Revolution came out of jazz concerts. Kashmir desperately needs such inventions and possibilities rather than the dreariness of Governor’s Rule, under which bureaucrats become larger-than-life creatures. Third, the university that has been subject to such corrosive undermining by the current establishment, should reassert its courage and its intellectual responsibility rethinking history and philosophy into the new idea of peace. Otherwise all we will face in the future is the dullness of terror and the hypocrisy of electoralism.