For the last thirteen years, the valley of Kashmir has been witness to a series of political crises that are significantly different from the conflict that broke out in 1989. The situation in 1989 was marked not only by militancy but also by a breakdown of political order. Last year, in August 2019, all the political actors in the Valley wer e once again made ineffectual and there is once again a political vacuum similar to that in 1989.
It is being argued that the crisis that emerged in 2019 had its roots in the episodes of 2008, 2010, and 2016, which exacerbated the alienation of the mass of Kashmiris from mainstream Indian politics. In understanding as to why alienation was triggered by these episodes, it is important to go beyond the immediate context and place it in the wider political context of Kashmir. While emphasising such a wider political context, the political identity of Kashmiris formed by the relationship between their ethnicity and the process of politicisation must be analysed.
Despite strong religious orientations, the Kashmiris have been influenced primarily by their ethno-cultural identity. Four interrelated developments in the post PDP-BJP coalition politics contributed to the crises of political legitimacy of mainstream leaders: first, the increasing intervention of the center in the politics of Kashmir; second, the issue and process of constitutional integration of Jammu and Kashmir with India; third, the failure of structures of articulation of democratic responses; and fourth, the failure of mainstream ideology and the decline of socially purposive politics.
The intervention of the center in the politics of Kashmir, that had the double impact of impinging upon the local political space as well as disturbing the nature of political competition, started quite early in independent India. Post the PDP-BJP coalition, the politics of Kashmir is being more closely monitored by the center. For more than three decades, Kashmiris experienced a politics that was superimposed on them. Such a politics had the effect of marginalising a highly mobilised political community. Kashmiri people are now being forced to be mute observers to political events. The politics that has evolved post the abrogation of special status does not have any reference to the aspirations of the people. Its main logic is governed by the conception of ‘national interest’ and the politics of ‘integration ‘ of Kashmir with India.
The internal dynamics of Kashmir politics has been marked by the absence of interactive politics and lack of an ideological tradition. This has two implications for the present crisis: firstly, there is virtually no space for articulation of dissent; and secondly, there is no basis for genuine representative politics. The popular political response, therefore, cannot be democratically represented as reflecting political discontent. On the contrary, there is now a homogenised response of one set of political elite, which is in the form of a compromise with the politics superimposed on Kashmir.
Alienation in Kashmir is a reflection of the discontent accumulated over the past five decades. It is a discontent that has multiple dimensions. It is as much a result of the differential class structure and uneven economic and political advantages among the people as it is a consequence of the unresponsive political elite and the corrupt administration. It reflects the disillusionment of a highly mobilised community whose political expectations at one point of the time had been heightened but whose vision of the ‘New Kashmir’ stands absorbed, its politics having lost its autonomous character, and its structures of political mediation having come under the weight of political manipulation.
The political discourse that was initiated post the PDP-BJP coalition may have a long-term impact on the political consciousness in general and the specific political responses in particular.
Democratic politics in Kashmir went through a decline under the leadership of Mehbooba Mufti. She sought to legitimise her political power by using corrupt methods and manipulating sentiments. She centralised the political, administrative and political structure and initiated a politics of personal patronage and loyalty. In her political regime, the People’s Democratic Party declined as a party. The role of the organisational structure was minimised to the extent that all important offices of the party were held by her relatives.
With the collapse of the PDP-BJP coalition government in 2018, the political discourse in Kashmir witnessed significant changes. The PDP that had emerged as the single largest party in the 2014 assembly polls was trounced in the next elections. Except a few, all its main leaders, including some founding members, left the party. The party fell because of the many draconian decisions it took after assuming power. The most notorious was the joint press conference that was given by Mehbooba and then Home Minister Rajnath Singh post Burhan Wani’s killing. Mehbooba spoke arrogantly against the Kashmiri people in that press conference.
Now, the emergence of Altaf Bukhari as leader of Apni Party has raised many doubts among people. They say that it is the B Team of the BJP. When IAS topper Shah Faesal launched his own party, all condemned him. But when Altaf Bukhari launched his party, the move is being welcomed by the BJP. The role of Altaf Bukhari is under a cloud. No decision about Kashmir can be taken behind closed doors. The political discourse has entirely changed from independence and autonomy to the status of J&K now.
—Shabir Ahmad is a freelance writer from Raiyar Doodhpathri.