The Tattered Umbrella

BY EJAZ HAMID

The Kashmiri masses have come in for criticism in the past for participating in elections that too when these elections were preceded by violent protests by these very masses. In retrospect, however, it seems that the instincts that must have guided them were not exactly wayward. Indeed the instincts must have sprung from disillusionment with the alternative leadership. Under the circumstances, it is not justified to accuse them of duplicity. If the same masses are seen participating in funerals of slain militants and the election rallies of mainstream leaders it is not duplicity on their part. It just indicates that they are not disillusioned with their aspirations but have only given up on the motley bunch of leaders who have been showing them greener pastures only to milk them for fulfilling their own ends.

Anyone who has been a witness to the recent history of Kashmir can attest to the fact that the masses showed exemplary courage, fortitude and brotherhood during the most difficult times in the past decades. The people who are now participating in rallies and standing in queues at voting booths are probably the same people who were arranging and ferrying truckloads of food during times of prolonged curfews when sizeable chunks of the population would be on the brink of starvation. If they chose to forget their reservations against mainstream leaders, it is not duplicity but pragmatism on their part, because even if the mainstream does not address their aspirations, and is in fact antagonistic towards the same, at least it is a guarantee against anarchy which is the only thing that the alternative leadership seemed to have been able to bring about.
Life cannot exist in a vacuum. There have to be viable alternatives even if they are far from perfect. The separatist leadership has consistently failed on this front. While achieving the objectives that they ostensibly set out to achieve might not be all that easy given the power and guile of the state that they have had to contend with, they haven’t even been able to provide a viable alternative to the people who sacrificed their livelihoods and their lives, their dignity and honour for the cause in which they were supposed to be the leaders. Instead of treating people’s support as a trust and a responsibility these leaders have been treating it as a source of power. In this regard they haven’t been any different from the mainstream ones who have at least provided some returns and that too for much less in terms of support and sacrifice.
The petty squabbling among its various constituents started while the movement was in its infancy. Even their common cause could not unite these leaders in their diverse ideologies. And then again it was not only about conflicting ideologies. More often it has been about clash of egos which comes when leaders start confusing their selves with their mandate and erroneously start assuming that it is their personalities rather than the cause that is bringing people on to the streets ready to lay down their very lives. In their failure to rise above their own selves these leaders have sacrificed the struggle of the people at the altar of their own inflated egos. All of them were so taken up with this process that they could not provide an alternative to the people which would address their issues at least to some extent and reduce their dependence on the mainstream parties. It is characteristic of all great revolutions that they don’t just bring about a change of the ruling elite but percolate into all aspects of life and bring a change that is cataclysmic. These leaders may have inspired an uprising but they were not able to bring about a revolution. No wonder then that the movement could not become self-sustaining and after more than two decades of bitter struggle people found themselves exactly where they were to begin with, and perhaps the worse for the wear.
The recurrent showdowns between the separatist leaders have brought the ugly schism that infests their movement out into the open which, given the way things are moving, increasingly appears to be heading towards dissolution. This doesn’t augur well for these leaders as well because they are ultimately ordinary mortals and the giant stature they lay claim to is only because of the trust people place in them. Once this trust is lost they will find themselves reduced to being dwarfs, and grotesque ones at that. Even if they attempt to trade in their statures to obtain rich dividends for themselves it will be a poor bargain indeed. Imagine somebody melting down the Nobel Prize medallion with a view to selling the metal it is made of! Now that might bring a few bucks but considering that a priceless medallion will be lost in the process it will be so poor a bargain as to be tragic. And nobody will ever forget or forgive such a criminal act.

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