Maqbool Bhat and Burhan Wani:  The Burden of Kashmir’s History

By Wajahat Qazi


Two words ‘nimbus’ and ‘nebula’ perhaps best describe the collective conscious of Kashmir.  The former means a ‘large gray rain cloud’ and the latter refers to a diffuse astronomical object which appears as a dark form or shadow against luminous or bright matter’. Kashmir’s collective conscious defined by melancholy then is clouded and uncertain. It is the heavy weight and burden of history that clouds Kashmir’s collective conscious and creates a ‘nebula’ or ‘nimbus’ around it. This creates a psychical , psychological condition- both at an individual and collective level- which is conflictual. That is, the Kashmiri psyche is defined by a deep inner conflict and struggle which has individual and collective connotations. Every Kashmiri is a victim of this inner conflict and struggle. The burden of history which has engulfed Kashmir and Kashmiris creates a structuring context that creates this multi-dimensional conflict- the conflict in and over Kashmir. The men or Kashmiris who best exemplify this conflict are Maqbool Bhat and Burhan Wani. The aim here is not to romanticize both men- who, in one form or the other, resisted a certain narrative of Kashmir and paid the ultimate price for this. Rather, the premise is to understand the ‘quests’ of these two men- separated by generations- yet connected by the thematic condition of the conflict in and over Kashmir.


Maqbool Bhat, whose death anniversary falls on the 11th of February, it may be recalled was hanged by the state in 1984. The founder of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front- the outfit which spearheaded the armed insurgency in the late 1980’s in Kashmir- Bhat became iconic for generations of Kashmiris. Fast forward two decades and a half. This time around, a young Kashmiri, Burhan Wani, whose killing led to deep, and widespread protests spanning months, captured the imagination of Kashmiris. What, the question is, created Bhat and Wani and what links the two?


The answer to both questions is the conflict in and over Kashmir begat and thus linked both men. And the trajectories of both were reflective of the ‘nimbus’ or ‘nebula’ that surrounds Kashmir-historically and contemporarily- on account of the conflict. While both Bhat and Wani are no more, but the conditions that begat both remain. . Neither man was a ‘flash in the pan phenomenon’ in the sense that the conditions that begat them were neither temporary nor transient. These are, in fact, structural and emanate from the very nature of the conflict in and over Kashmir. The inference that can be drawn here is that , as long as these structural conditions remain, Kashmir might beget and engender more Bhats and B urhan’s.


This sobering conclusion should concentrate the minds of powers that be. The ‘nimbus’ and ‘nebula’ from and through which Kashmiris seek meaning and clarity is in the nature of an abstraction- albeit a very powerful one. And, to repeat, the nimbus and nebula emanates from the conflict in and over Kashmir trapping Kashmiris. The quest of powers that be should be in helping Kashmiris weed their way out of the nimbus and nebula of history. Decoded this means resolving the conflict in and over Kashmir to the satisfaction of all stakeholders in a non zero sum paradigm. Merely containing the conflict by one side and attempts at mere revisionism and hence irredentism by another side , means and entails carrying the seeds of revanchism and intensifying the conflict. Besides these inherent costs that  not resolving the conflict in and over Kashmir entails , this structural condition also means spillover and transmission of the conflict  across generations which, in turn , means more Bhats and Wanis. Death and conflict are not and should not be the fate of Kashmiris. Kashmir and Kashmiris must be defined by an existence that is  life affirming and a quest that ameliorates the human condition. For this to happen, all of us must be informed by sobriety, a sense of perspective and the yearning for a future where past need not be the prologue and which redounds to the benefit of all. There is nothing inevitable about the past or history. History is the domain of the contingent and it is not merely circumstances that make history. Men and women make history and there is a certain redemptive force to history. Let us all be this redemptive force and unshackle Kashmir from the imprisoning narrative of history in an idiom whose dividends are reaped by all. The world and the region will be better for it.


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