Dealing with Dissent

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti termed ‘divergence of opinion’ in a democracy as the soul of the constitution and attributed the lack of democracy as a “common factor” among the countries facing strife these days. Mehbooba also said that peace was requisite for development. Echoing her, Governor NN Vohra said in his Republic Day address that reconciliation was the only way to resolve differences and “an environment of distrust, confrontation and violence will disrupt our society and further retard the growth of our state”.

Vohra blamed the resistance leadership for last year’s uprising. Implicit in these messages by two top heads of the state is the perception of peace where dissent would be absent, or at least substantially palatable to the state, while the valley would be one big flourishing business and paradise of happiness.

But real peace would be the first casualty if this flawed idea of tranquility is pursued and demanded of a battered people. It would be helpful to revisit late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the founder of PDP, who said in one of his speeches that his greatest contribution to Kashmir politics was the creation of PDP as an alternative political grouping. He meant that the party provided an alternative narrative to National Conference, which had monopolised pro-India politics even though it had treaded a wild trajectory ranging between ‘separatism’ and meek and opportunistic collaboration with New Delhi, and hence responsible for most of the ills confronting Jammu and Kashmir.

Mehbooba and most of her party colleagues take pride in the fact that late Mufti went against the NC-dominated tide and his difference of opinion finally culminated into the ascent PDP. The existence of PDP, they imply, is the triumph of the dissent over authoritarianism. Crushing dissent was the hallmark of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s politics. As someone has remarked, Sheikh was like a tree in whose shade nothing else could grow.

However, while making reconciliatory speeches, leaders often lose sight of the historical fact that all pro-India groups in Kashmir hate dissent and crush it at the first opportunity on gaining state power. It is not the trapping of power alone. It is a pact in which certain forms of dissent are criminalised and brutally crushed, sometimes by stuffing hot potatoes in dissenters’ mouths and sometimes by intimidating people for writing an “offensive” Facebook post, or banning a newspaper. Rather than emphasising the ‘divergence of opinion’ as a clichéd sound bite, accepting it in true spirit would be the first step towards peace.