By Wajahat Qazi
Two interactions- one with the 30ish corner store owner and the other with a heterogenous group of young Kashmiris at the barber’s- validated and reinforced to me the nature of the “ social and political imaginary” in Kashmir. As I walked toward and exchanged pleasantries with Ahmed (real name changed)- the corner store walla, I asked him: “How’s business”? “Thanks to God, “ he responded”. Probing him further, I asked, “The past year must have been tough for you and your your business?. “ Yes and No”, “Ahmed replied. Responding to a quizzical look on my face and anticipating my question, Ahmed said, “ Jinab(Sir), for the ultimate goal, lack of or no business activity is a small price to pay”. At the barber’s, I again made a provocative statement: young people are dying; is there an end to all this?”. “ Till freedom is come”, the group of five people responded in unison and a chorus. These brief , real life vignettes are not aimed to privilege a point of view or narrative but to illustrate the nature of “reality” in Kashmir- that is, Kashmir or Kashmiris’ “political imaginary”. I may add a qualifier here: these vignettes might be questioned and critiqued in terms of sampling. That is, two samples cannot be held to be representative of society. I will readily concede to the sample critique but I may not be off the mark to posit that the idea or the sentiment that Ahmed and the group of Kashmiri youngsters articulated is thematic in Kashmir. I may also add that reality is subjective. Having said, this there is something called a “ social and political imaginary”.
The obvious question that arises here is: what is the imaginary?
To throw into relief and illustrate the nature of the imaginary, I will employ and cull out the concepts’ central themes or aspects from Cornelius Castoriadis’s and Jacque Lacan’s works. Castoriadis , in his book, “ The Imaginary Institution of Society” held that , “ ‘the imaginary of the society … creates for each historical period its singular way of living, seeing and making its own existence[..].., the central imaginary significations of a society … are the laces which tie a society together and the forms which define what, for a given society, is ‘real’( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imaginary_(sociology)).
Similarly, Jacques Lacan dwelling on the “imaginary order” , in his psychoanalytic theorizing, presented the “imaginary as , “ as one of the three intersecting orders that structure all human existence, the others being the symbolic and the real. In the Lacanian schema, “the term ‘imaginary’ … [..].. Is not simply synonymous with fictional or unreal; on the contrary, imaginary identifications can have very real effects”( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imaginary_(sociology)).
Having delineated the nature of the “imaginary” and placed the concept in its theoretical perspective, I will now proceed with the core theme of the essay: the imaginary-social and political- of Kashmiris is structured by the conflict in and over Kashmir and is animated by “aazaadi”(freedom). While this animating quest of Kashmiris might be held by some to be maximalist and by others as unattainable, the fact remains that this constitutes the dominant imaginary of Kashmiris which , in turn, then becomes the dominant “ reality” of Kashmiris’ psycho-emotional universe. This “imaginary” runs into another “reality”- the sovereign clashes over Kashmir, and the state’s attempts at containment of the conflict that this “imaginary” engenders. Containment which owes its genesis to the Cold War aims at “limiting” and stopping the expansion of conflict. But, as I have argued, the conflict in Kashmir stems from an idea and this idea structures the consciousness and the “imaginary” of Kashmiris. Ideas, it may be stated here , cannot be contained. By their very nature, ideas have a life of their own and elasticity, in the sense of both longevity and propagation. Given this, then the state’s attempts at containing the conflict in Kashmir, is at best transient and ephemeral. In all likelihood, the idea(s) that structure Kashmiris’ consciousness and “imaginary”, will endure. This, in turn means, that there will always be a tug of war between the state and the Kashmiris’ imaginary. In prosaic words, there will always be conflict in Kashmir which , in turn, will engender conflict over Kashmir.
But this is a structural morass which serves no one’s interests. What then is the way out?
History has structured the consciousness and “imaginary” of Kashmiris. This has led to a structural condition that has begotten and crystallized the conflict in and over Kashmir. This conflict has the potential to escalate and widen beyond its initial domain and given essentially the “nuclearization of the conflict” can lead to what may be called “ techno-nationalisms” in the contenders over Kashmir- India and Pakistan. There then are, given the nature of the conflict, apocalyptic overtones to it. It is this scenario that needs to be pre-empted for both regional and global security and the security of the peoples constituting the Kashmiri firmament. I am neither a Cassandra nor a seer and moreover prognosticating on a conflict as complex as Kashmir is a mug’s game. But common sense and prudence regarding Kashmir lend themselves to the assessment that Kashmiris’ “imaginary”-social and political”- needs to be aligned to the resolution of the conflict. This can perhaps best be done by instituting a multi-stakeholder approach to conflict resolution. Admittedly, this prognostication is clichéd and perhaps even trite but sometimes the best of solutions is the most commonsensical one. But alas, it is common sense and prudence that has eluded powers that be in resolving the conflict in and over Kashmir.