The abysmal voter turnout in the recently held Parliamentary by polls in Srinagar is indicative of the broader and wider breakdown of politics in Kashmir. In the new schema that obtains in Kashmir, the street is the arbiter of politics. That is, real power lies in the street. The street, in turn, is defined by a vociferous mood of rejection or even rejectionism. This rejectionism pertains to rejection of power political structures of Kashmir and other extant paradigms. On the face of it, or a superficial reading of the conditions in Kashmir would suggest that this vernacularization of politics in Kashmir is the culmination and manifestation of events in the past year or so- which includes the killing of Burhan Wani and the cyclical and structural nature of protests and violence thereof. But this would be a facile reading or assessment. The evolution of the street as a “rallying” point and arbiter of politics in Kashmir can, by and large, be attributed to a post 90’s interregnum in Kashmir. The 90’s witnessed a broad and deep insurgency in Kashmir which was followed by counter insurgency methods and techniques whose main premise appeared to be statistical. That is, powers that be sought the “normalcy” by killing militant cadre and also manipulating the politics of Kashmir by engineering a political process. The so called “normalcy” that ensued was all illusory. Under the patina of surface calm, Kashmir simmered or even boiled.
During this interregnum and what followed, a new politico- demographic dynamic was incubating. This pertained to the spawning of a new generational cohort of Kashmiris whose historical and political memory was that of the 90’s. In colorful terms, this generational cohort grew under the shadow of the gun. Amateur psychology would suggest that the historical sediments of collective memory determine the course of action that a certain generational cohort would take or assume. In terms of Kashmir, what was happening was that the older cohort of Kashmiris indulged in politics under a certain idiomatic and structural framework. But this framework was not yielding any tangible results. Under the rigidity and paradoxically fragility of this politico-structural architecture, was incubating the Gen Next of Kashmir. This generation, to repeat a cliché, was more connected and aware of the conflict and the world beyond. As the politics of Kashmir became trivialized and as the banality of political life sunk in, the Kashmir’s Gen Next felt asphyxiated and smothered-politically and emotionally.
At the risk of making a digression and making a quasi theoretical detour here, the theory of modernization and democratization, in one of its avatars, suggests that democracy or the logic of democracy accords a vent to politics and politically informed conflict. This vent then prevents latent conflict from morphing into overt conflict and violence. By this logic then and assuming that it holds, democratic political space in Kashmir was either constricted or was managed. What accrued was the gradual weaning of politics to the street where Kashmir’s Gen Next articulated its angst and anguish. This is one reading of the issue. The prosaic reality is that the conflict in and over Kashmir makes for a power-political paradigm wherein spaces- political and emotional – are sought to be managed. This is a conflict management strategy or technique. What it breeds is that politics in Kashmir becomes inorganic and mechanical- far and distant from the poitico-emotional worlds of the people of Kashmir. The emanation or the manifestation of this is that politics as pomp is elevated in certain domains and the street becomes arena and arbiter of politics.
This explanatory grid explains, to a large extent, the mood of rejection and rejectionism that obtains contemporarily in Kashmir. Powers that be, within and without, instead of listening to the street antagonize it by employing an inorganic political idiom. The larger aim of these powers is to pacify the street. But , the street cannot be really pacified and historically, pacification has not worked anywhere, let alone Kashmir. The politics of pacification is inherently short termist and it reduces the multidimensionality of the conflict to a caricature. If the same approach is employed again, then it would amount to a politics of ad nauseam. The dynamic that could potentially ensue in Kashmir then could be in the nature of a zero sum one in which all sides would be caught in hardened postures. This would serve no one. In the final analysis, Kashmir and its politics has been hostage to the philosophy and teleology of power. Kashmir needs an approach whose starting point approach should entail prudence, far sighted state craft and organic politics- the kind which is paradigm shattering in the Kuhnian sense. The essential ingredient of this approach would be the primacy of imagination. The power of imagination is immense and has , in many ways, been the catalyst for historical change. Kashmir would be no exception.
—The author can be reached at: [email protected]