Did ‘Battle of ideas’ ever exist in Kashmir?
Views from Srinagar
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