Did ‘Bat­tle of ideas’ ever ex­ist in Kash­mir?

Views from Sri­na­gar

Pakistan Observer - - KASHMIR - Au­thor can be thekash­mir­walla@gmail.com mailed at

PFAHAD SHAH EOPLES Demo­cratic Party’s founder late Mufti Mo­ham­mad Say­eed, af­ter the swear­ing-in cer­e­mony wherein he took oath as state’s chief min­is­ter, said how Kash­mir had reached a point where dis­putes and dis­agree­ments were only ‘bat­tle of Ideas’. The vet­eran still later (af­ter tak­ing the oath) said that the bat­tle of ideas has to be won ‘po­lit­i­cally’ and that ‘it is a chal­lenge’. How­ever, within a few months in power, Say­eed led PDP-BJP coali­tion gov­ern­ment that un­leashed a crack­down on dis­sent­ing voices.

Now, when his daugh­ter Me­hbooba Mufti has re­placed him as chief min­is­ter, peo­ple still can’t find an at­mos­phere where ideas are ex­changed freely. The sit­u­a­tion is rather chok­ing for any set of ideas that do not fit in the state nar­ra­tive. But the ques­tion is whether it al­ways been a “bat­tle of ideas” in Kash­mir?

The an­swer lies in the state’s re­sponse to any kind of dis­sent over the years. There hasn’t been a po­lit­i­cal mi­lieu where dis­sent would be al­lowed demo­crat­i­cally. In this coali­tion gov­ern­ment, the sep­a­ratist lead­ers have found it hard to ‘breathe’ po­lit­i­cally. The Hur­riyat Con­fer­ence chief Syed Ali Gee­lani re­mains un­der house ar­rest, which has be­come a norm now.

Gee­lani, last week, called for a joint boycott strat­egy against the by-polls in Anant­nag assem­bly con­stituency, where Me­hbooba Mufti is con­test­ing. What one can gather from the re­cent meet­ings be­tween the three pop­u­lar sep­a­ratist lead­ers – Mir­waiz Umar Fa­rooq, Syed Ali Gee­lani and Yasin Malik – a joint strat­egy is shap­ing up. Per­haps, their ideas of are tak- ing a new shape. But the state has re­sponded to it by send­ing Malik to pri­son for a 29-year­sold case per­tain­ing to 1987 elec­tions.

The bat­tle of ideas there­fore turns out to be a po­lit­i­cal rhetoric. It is nei­ther the first time that sep­a­ratist lead­ers are be­ing im­pris­oned nor the last. The state may ar­gue that by ad­dress­ing ral­lies or hold­ing protests these lead­ers may be­come a cause of vi­o­lence. That nar­ra­tive falls short of re­al­ity when the gov­ern­ment has also been phys­i­cally stop­ping a sem­i­nar or meet­ing of these lead­ers. Re­cently, the po­lice had cor­doned Gee­lani’s res­i­dence to pre­vent peo­ple from at­tend­ing re­lease of Has­san Zainageeri’s book “Kash­mir: Aatish-iZaer Pa.” The book was then re­leased on the road­side. In another event, the po­lice also stopped a few colum­nists and ac­tivists from at­tend­ing civil so­ci­ety meet­ings in Ra­jouri.

Even though, ev­ery main­stream po­lit­i­cal group when in power fol­lows the same guide­lines; the Na­tional Con­fer­ence, play­ing role of the op­po­si­tion just like PDP used to, is now rais­ing voice against the crack­down. An NC leader, re­cently said, “To­day there is an un­prece­dented crack­down on Hur­riyat lead­ers… What kind of ‘Bat­tle of Ideas’ is this? Rather than try­ing to fa­cil­i­tate talks be­tween Hur­riyat lead­ers and New Delhi, Me­hbooba Mufti is ap­peas­ing the BJP and RSS by or­der­ing re­tribu­tive ac­tion and crack­downs on the homes of Hur­riyat lead­ers.”

It was PDP’s aim, as per their man­i­festo and the party ide­ol­ogy, to fa­cil­i­tate di­a­logue be­tween all stake­hold­ers of Kash­mir dis­pute. One can eas­ily un­der­stand that such a space of dis­sent or “bat­tle of ideas” doesn’t ex­ist in Kash­mir. Even Me­hbooba Mufti’s in­ter­ac­tion with jour­nal­ists has be­come all about food and pleas­ing. Last month, a se­nior jour­nal­ist wrote how in one such in­ter­ac­tion Me­hbooba didn’t take any ques­tions but went on to speak about her fa­ther.

Her fa­ther, how­ever, had said, “dis­sent in democ­racy makes the sys­tem vi­brant and dy­namic .... Democ­racy is a bat­tle of ideas and should not be held hostage to agree­ments or dis­agree­ments on is­sues.” The democ­racy that is be­ing pro­moted in the state is clearly in­vis­i­ble in ex­pe­ri­ence. The re­al­ity tells a dif­fer­ent story. The pop­u­lar sep­a­ratist leader Masarat Alam, whom BJP wants behind the bars, has not been re­leased even af­ter courts set him free. Is it to ap­pease the BJP?

Af­ter three troop­ers were killed last week, Me­hbooba said that vi­o­lence has no re­li­gion and it just con­sumes ev­ery­body. She urged the youth to come for­ward and help the gov­ern­ment in mak­ing peace a re­al­ity and end the mis­eries of peo­ple. “I ap­peal our young boys and girls to take full ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­ni­ties that are avail­able to them…. To­day’s youth are full of bright ideas and they sim­ply need some sup­port to turn their dreams into re­al­ity,” she said.

The state­ment is full of as­sump­tions. Ev­ery­one doesn’t take the path of “vi­o­lence” hap­pily. What could be more re­sult ori­ented is to look at the cause that forces peo­ple to be violent. Youth are cer­tainly tal­ented in Kash­mir but many of them also ex­press dis­sent by ap­ply­ing them­selves on peaceful fo­rums. What hap­pens in the forests of South Kash­mir (the PDP bas­tion), where young boys are pick­ing up arms, is the re­sult of ab­sence of any such “bat­tle of ideas.” When you’re not al­lowed to de­mand your rights even peace­fully it leads to a new era. It is not hap­pen­ing for the first time. Such move­ments have been part of the world history.

It is very late to ex­pect Me­hbooba to walk the talk now. Dur­ing her re­cent speech in the assem­bly, her U-turn from “soft-sep­a­ratist” ide­ol­ogy on which she came of age to a “proIn­dian ide­ol­ogy” with con­vic­tion puts all such ex­pec­ta­tions at rest. This also shows how her protests against AFSPA or hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions (in op­po­si­tion) were po­lit­i­cal gim­micks. The PDP could have earned some rev­er­ence as a po­lit­i­cal group in Kash­mir, if it had fol­lowed some of its own prin­ci­ples. Now it has be­come a de­tested party that is fight­ing its own bat­tle – a bat­tle of sur­vival.

While all this hap­pens un­der Me­hbooba’s watch, one is also forced to look back into the history. Was there ever a gov­ern­ment that let peo­ple to voice their dis­sent freely, without any pres­sure? Was the sit­u­a­tion in Kash­mir ever about “bat­tle of ideas”? —Cour­tesy: Ris­ing Kash­mir

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