Kashmir’s contemporary political history, particularly 1947 onwards when India and Pakistan won freedom from British colonial rule, is essentially a history of transition. During this continuum we have seen the end of Dogra autocracy. It was followed by a brief time of ‘liberation’ when redistribution of land among those who tilled it was enacted; access to education expanded and a certain idea of a nation began taking root. A Kashmiri political agency sprouted, giving birth to a multitude of ideas of freedom and independence. But soon afterwards, a few supposedly tall political leaders began representing those still-shaping popular ideas without much accountability to anyone except New Delhi.
Just as the demise of British colonialism was registered, the direction land reforms tended to provide to an imagined nationhood inside Kashmir was met a new colonial response from the Indian state. What followed was incarceration of leaders who appeared to disagree with the Indian union, bringing Kashmir under laws that its representatives had little or no part in evolving. A prime minister accepting to return from long years in jail as chief minister was not just a change in nomenclature, but a consolidation of absence of democracy in Kashmir. The ‘special status’ for the former princely state fructified into a mirage, and then turned a hoax. ‘Democracy’ as experienced in Kashmir quickly became a process of deceit, manipulation and political arm-twisting, which culminated in the patently rigged elections just four decades into Indian rule of Kashmir. Then, following a full-scale discrediting of the NC politics of aligning with the Indian union, the party embarked on a more sophisticated and deceitful process – post 1996 elections – of ‘reclaiming autonomy’ that it had systematically bartered away.
However, that was not to be, and alongside came the Peoples Democratic Party, a la Congress of Nehru, trying to replace the idea of ‘autonomy’ with a apparently grandiose competing idea of ‘self-rule’. The PDP’s tactic was to promote itself as the more loyal representative of Kashmiri nationhood than the NC while still aligning with the Indian union. But the party’s allowance of projecting itself so exhausted completely as soon as it joined hands with the BJP. The PDP’s imminent re-alliance with the BJP to form the next government in J&K would, for the last time perhaps, signal attestation of the fact that the state cannot be truly represented by so-called mainstream politics. Does that end the ‘representative character of mainstream parties’ in Kashmir?