(For last few years the political space in Kashmir has been gradually made to shrink and now even the so called “mainstream” is being squeezed out!)
Recently Omar Abdullah in an interview said that the political space for main stream parties has shrunk in Kashmir. One could ask him whether there ever was real political space in Kashmir any time right from 1947. It had been totally squeezed out when his grandfather signed on the dotted line by endorsing Maharaja’s accession to the Indian Union! He tried his utmost through the worst totalitarian means to suppress any opposition to his stand, the irony of which ultimately landed him in prison in August, 1953. Kashmiris had been looking forward to their emancipation after centuries of slavery under the external masters. In fact, the colossal leader had led a movement against the Maharaja asking him to quit Kashmir. However, he then became an administrator under the same autocratic ruler. In order to squeeze the political thought of total freedom out of the local population he adopted the worst totalitarian measures. That was the beginning of the shrinking of the political space. His subordinate paid him in the same coin.
After this episode, the only political space allowed was the pro-India space which was given the name of the so called “Mainstream”! The centuries of slavery under external masters had given Kashmiris the special “Character” of “if you cannot beat them, join them”, an instinctive trait for the survival. A foreign author has truly observed that a foreigner can never know what is in the heart of a Kashmiri. According to him, “a kind word and a joke will get the best out of a Kashmiri”! Interestingly, when Bulganin on a visit to Kashmir asked Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad the then Prime Minister as to how many people were with him, he replied forty lakhs. On being asked as to how many were with Sheikh Abdullah, he said forty lakhs. When asked what the population of Kashmir was, without any hesitation he replied, forty lakhs! Well, that had been the trend all through because of refusal of the authorities to allow any other political space than the so called “mainstream”.
However, slowly the older generation gave way to the newer generations who refused to go by this formula of forty lakhs being with every leader or with every political thought. The newer generations wanted total emancipation which they first tried to get through the democratic process in 1987. On being denied this democratic luxury, the youth picked up the gun in 1990. They were fully supported from across the border who in fact tried their best to totally hijack the indigenous uprising and they did succeed in that. However, this side crushed the uprising with a brutal hand. Again the “mainstream” was introduced to create some space in a totally alien atmosphere. It did carry on for some time but being totally handicapped in trying to start a dialogue with the alienated youth, there were again uprisings even though non-violent in 2008 and 2010. These were again crushed savagely killing over a 100 youth and wounding thousands. Moreover, the youth born and brought up during the turmoil of the nineties refused to budge or get cowed down. They were all taken to be suspect and were harassed beyond endurance. The result was the 2016 upheaval, the Burhan Tsunami, which is now spread all over and continuing in spite of heavy and brutal measures. The political space of any dialogue has been totally ruled out. The unending hunting of youth and butchering them non-stop is not going to end the restlessness. In fact, Kashmir is slowly turning into a colony being held purely by military force!
The worst part for India is the so called “mainstreamers” too getting isolated. They cannot even summon courage to face the people and are for the first time boycotting polls at the ground level like the civic bodies and the panchayatelections. They cannot even visit their constituencies. People are not at all ready to listen to them. This is the result of the policy of refusal to entertain any political view point except the mantra of the integral part and total integration or rather assimilation of Kashmiris into Hindutva India or the proposed Hindu Rashtra at all costs. So, for Omar Abdullah complaining of shrinking space, the chickens have come home to roost!
It may be hypothetical now but if Kashmir had been left as an autonomous region as envisaged in the Maharaja’s Accession supported by the then most popular leader, it would surely have become something like another Bhutan! It would ironically be the other side which would have been in turmoil! The time is running out. It is difficult to judge whether any offer of an unconditional dialogue with all the stake holders will be practically possible on the ground because of the total alienation especially of the youth who now comprise the bulk of the population. The only alternative is to end the brutal repression and restore the political space for all the viewpoints including those advocating total freedom and independence. Mere expression of opposite view points does not change physical status of a place. Rather it provides opportunity for all to debate every view point which can lead to ultimate solution and peace!
Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir