Politics of the Gutter

BY EJAZ HAMID

The political debate between the mainstream parties in Kashmir has been reduced to the level of mutual caterwauling of alley cats. The two major mainstream parties leave no stone unturned in trying to show the rival party down. Of course this is expected in politics. As a rule, rival political parties are not known to serenade each other but then there are limits imposed by decency. The bickering between the two parties has now come down to worn out clichés for want of any real issues. Even petty issues are sought to be magnified and the spokespersons of the two parties are continually haranguing their rival parties in a manner that speaks of an utter lack of imagination. State politics – the mainstream part of it – has become confined to washing dirty linen in public. In fact, that is the only thing these parties are capable of doing, suffer as they do from a paucity of constructive ideas and a total lack of ideology and agenda.

          The only identifiable agenda these parties have is to grab power and they can stoop to any level to do that. And it does not stop at that. The two parties – and this applies to other mainstream players as well – are ready to barter away anything so far as it ensures them the spoils of office. One would say that these parties would be ready to compromise anything in their bid to get to the seats of power, but then that would be needlessly stating the obvious because politics of compromise are their very identity.

          Even if it be granted that popular politics in the valley is all about the separatist sentiment, it cannot be denied that the mainstream too would have at least some takers. But, if any, the situation (for them) is one of total disarray. There is no genuine mainstream ideology, and even the most ardent supporter of politics that would be inclusive of the mainstream sentiment has cause to feel nothing but despair. All  mainstream actors in the valley – be it the major parties or small stakeholders – are basically freelancers who are willing to join forces with any party or ideology so long as it translates into something positive in their lust for power and lucre. This state of affairs provides more than enough reason for a common man to reject mainstream politicians and, by extension, mainstream politics itself.

          Every government in Kashmir is a care-taker government in that it has to take care of the concerns of the centre at whatever cost that may come. The parties thus perform not on the basis of any worthwhile agenda but on the basis of tacit agreements. The arrangement is not much different from the bureaucratic set-up that the British established in India – a set-up the main responsibility of which would be to take care of British interests in India. Even if their efforts would translate into something useful for the native population it would be a mere corollary of their basic agenda. Say, for example, if the railways laid by the British revolutionized life of the common Indian, that was only a corollary to the fact that it was good for British business and substantially increased the outflow of profits from India to Great Britain.

          Even in the presence of an overwhelming sentiment for the separatist cause, the mainstream parties could still be relevant because of the argument that there are issues other than a yearning for the right of self-determination or a desire for freedom from India.  Mainstream politicians could fill an important void in this direction. Far from that, the parties get exposed as self-serving entities at every step. The contempt which is an overriding sentiment of the common man towards these parties is more a result of this self-serving nature of mainstream politicians than being about any conflict with their ideologies.

          The rancour between the two major political parties of the valley, i.e., the PDP and the NC, makes them blind to even issues on which they should have been having a similar stand, at least ostensibly. An apt illustration of this would the failure of the parties to unite in their demand for the return of Afzal Guru’s mortal remains following his hanging in the Tihar Jail. Instead of giving reinforcing each other on the issue, the two parties continued with their usual game of brinkmanship.

          The lack any coherent policy in the two major parties, as also other minor players, might be a deliberate strategy to remain pliant enough to enjoy the favours of their sponsors at the centre. Even if, apparently, these parties take up issues which might spell betterment for the common lot, there is usually an agenda in that as well. As in the instance case, the sops doled out by the NC may be a measure of the despair in the party, but on close observation, these seem to be aimed more at queering the pitch for the rival party which appears all set to form the next government.