‘Divide and rule’ is something of a cliché when it comes to ensuring that a subjugated people stay subjugated. The tactic has been employed with success innumerable times. It seems to be common knowledge, dating back to antiquity – perhaps to the very beginning of time and mankind – that it is easy to manage, not to say manipulate, a divided people. The strategy has been used successfully in Kashmir as well – not once, but repeatedly.
In Kashmir, the masters keep changing, but the strategy remains the same. When the freedom movement resurfaced in the Kashmir Valley, initially it was only a party or two fighting for the cause. But very soon, the masters from across, the covert sponsors, thought that a single party, or say two, constituted a risk with regard to control. A single hero, holding sway over the masses, might not exactly be receptive to ‘suggestions,’ as past experience had shown. To ensure that the situation remained under control – their control – the masters unleashed numerous ‘parties.’ And suddenly, there was such a profusion that often it was well nigh impossible for anyone to say exactly how many groups or parties, some comprising of just a couple of individuals, were in the fray. They ended up squabbling among themselves, and being busy with their own pre-occupations and petty displays of strength. The purpose of control was achieved, but, paradoxically, led to an uncontrollable situation – a chaos of conflicting ideologies and interests. The parties took upon themselves a plethora of ‘causes,’ and the real ‘cause’ was lost somewhere in the confusion. And even the leaders of the movement found themselves unable to stem the rapid rate of their reproduction.
This was Act I. People suffered, and survival became the only concern – the only issue.
Then the tide turned. Mainstream politics made a hesitant entry, but gradually became bolder and more assertive. Again with a ready sponsor – this time a different one – the confidence of this new brand of parties soared and soon they came to occupy centre stage, the ‘movement’ cowering in the sidelines. Fighters fell either to bullets or to the charms of political power. Statements and ideologies changed. The common man nursed his wounds, and bid farewell, albeit reluctantly, to the dreams of ‘freedom’ and all that was to have come with it.
The slate was wiped clean, except for a smudge here and there. But this was only the beginning of Act II.
Control shifted to new masters. History went into repeat mode, with new characters, and brushed-up versions of old ones, to do their bidding. As in the beginning of the freedom struggle, there were only a party or two involved initially in this peace-cum-democracy process. But the question of control rose again. A single ‘mainstream’ party was realized to be more of a nuisance than even the ‘separatist’ ones. A powerful political front in the state would hardly be amenable to control. What is more, it might end up raising ‘issues’ – issues awkwardly within the ‘constitutional framework’ and therefore more of a problem than the easily condemned issues of freedom, secession, and the like.
So, once again, Operation Confound. Previously you had a hundred parties ostensibly fighting for freedom but most of the time bickering among themselves, now you have a ‘mainstream’ version of the same old model fighting for ‘peace’ and ‘democracy,’ down to the last detail of individual survival and place in the sun. The voice of the local population was drowned again, and instead of having to manipulate its local stooges, New Delhi had gained direct control over its politics.
Recently, when separatist leaders of varied ideologies shared the dais after a schoolboy was killed in police firing at Narbal, it stirred many hearts, but the sobering fact is that this temporary togetherness was the result of a coincidence rather than an affirmation of any sort of unity. With regard to the mainstream camp, too, recent elections had thrown up a chance for an alliance between regional parties, but that did not go beyond wishful thinking. A majority was thus converted into a minority, and as in the former case, the voice of a nation was lost in the cacophony of conflicting discourse.