What is the difference between politics and the mafia? The former begins with ‘p’ and the latter with ‘m,’ and for Kashmir especially, this is the only difference there is. The near-synonymous meaning of the two terms in Kashmir is as old as its supposed democracy in this place itself. The recent incident of a newspaper editor being threatened by a cop-turned-politician is just one more episode in a long-running series, something to be expected where politics is more about repression than representation.
Politicians in Kashmir have always played the role of collaborators with forces that have usurped the promised right of self-determination of the local population. For Kashmir, the transition from being part of a monarch’s dominions to a possible democratic set-up became a victim of prevailing politics in a sub-continent undergoing division. The same leadership that history had placed at the head of the movement against an oppressive monarchy, and which was consequently trusted by the people, fell into an alliance that was to change the entire course of the history of this region. In order to achieve its ends, the leadership, or rather the part of it that was enthusiastic about this alliance which actually went against the aspirations of the people, made sure to effectively crush all opposition. Thus, rather than making a transition to democracy, the people of this region ended up in the hands of an oppressive mafia.
Democracy’s promise of vesting the common man with power never came to pass. Rather it was hooligans and criminal elements who became the new-power brokers. Independent opinion was ruthlessly suppressed and resistance crushed with a vehemence perhaps unheard of even in the in Dogra rule. Street toughs of the National Conference would work at the grassroots level to ensure that the masses did not question the direction the politics of the region was taking. The recent threat to the editor of the Kashmir Reader is reminiscent of those times, and serves to highlight the fact that nothing has changed in Kashmir over the years. For that matter, Kashmir has gone through a cycle to land back where it was in the days the likes of Qadir Ganderbali would ensure that the local population did not question the capricious will of their supposed representatives. Local politicians always acted as a mere extension of the apparatus of oppression but they always did more damage than their controllers in New Delhi. Not only did they act as collaborators but also, whenever the occasion suited them, they used the people to their own ends. The same leadership, when at the helm of affairs, would use its power to crush local sentiment, and when deprived of patronage from the centre, use the oppression it had been instrumental in to ‘awaken’ the masses to fight the patrons who had dumped it. It has been the unfortunate destiny of the people of Kashmir that this script has been replayed over and over again, and continues to be used even today.
Any political party, regardless of size and projected ideology, while not in power -, which is just that it doesn’t happen to be a favourite collaborator of the centre at the moment – talks big on oppression and oppressive forces, pointing fingers at those in power. Once it manages to become the ruling party or at least a part of the ruling set-up, the same party embraces the very forces of oppression it has been yelling against in the not-so-distant past. Thus, elements like the cop-turned-politician may lie low for a while, but sooner or later they will be right there by the side of our ‘leaders’ because it is people like these who are needed to run the show once the niceties of election are over.
Politics has also been called the last refuge of the scoundrel, and this may be more or less true of politics all over the world. Since there is no coherent ideology or agenda that Kashmir’s mainstream political parties can possibly lay claim to, they are open to all sorts, regardless of what their individual personality might stand for. The past of an individual doesn’t matter either because there are no bars to membership. In fact, what are generally considered negative qualities are actually positive attributes in the politics practised in this region.