Whither Kashmir Valley’s Leadership?

Farooq Abdullah, former Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir addressing the media on August 20, 2020. (Photo: PTI)
Farooq Abdullah, former Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir addressing the media on August 20, 2020. (Photo: PTI)

The decision of the Peoples’ Alliance for Gupkar Declaration to participate in the grassroot election process, viz., DDC, local bodies and Panchayats in the Union Territory is a sensible and a pragmatic one. What has made them break the jinx is the realization of the damage they chose to inflict on their respective political parties by adopting an indifferent attitude towards the democratic process in the past. By abandoning the negative approach, the alliance partners have shown political maturity which the masses of people have appreciated. It also indicates lessening of pressure hitherto exerted by the separatists in the context of elections. The mainstream political leadership should feel emboldened to take a considered decision particularly at crucial stages like the one at present. That is perhaps the healthiest sign for the revival of democracy.

Some political analysts are of the view that the mainstream political parties have abandoned their earlier reticent and even non-cooperative attitude because of the lurking fear of the erosion of their popularity in a prospect of the boycott call. By leaving the political battlefield vacant for the BJP, as was done in the previous Panchayat elections, the mainstream political parties in the valley have unwittingly given space to BJP for upturning the turf to facilitate their game plan. The gunning down of no fewer than 18 BJP activists across the length and breadth of the valley over the past one year by gun-wielding “freedom fighters” and the unwillingness of the mainstream parties to share the grief of the victims of violence will take its toll in the impending elections.

We are aware that Kashmiris are eager to dovetail their cause to a wider Islamic resurgence phenomenon in the Asian region. Of course, most Muslims are conscious of various Islamic resurgence movements and the Arab Spring is its latest manifestation. On a psychological and historical basis, there is nothing wrong in that. But the point is that Kashmiri Muslims cannot underestimate that after independence India adopted the path of democracy, secularism and egalitarianism as the political arrangement of the Indian nation with a Hindu majority. The travesty is that some valley-centric leaders, blind to the dynamics of history, would go to the length of accusing India for not talking to Pakistan because “the latter is a Muslim State”. They forget that Bangladesh, a Muslim dominated region separated from Pakistan mainland became a country by sacrificing millions of people.

For a country like India with immense diversities, the adoption of secular democracy is of utmost significance. It indirectly means conceding the rights and privileges of the minorities of various hues in the country. No Islamic country has any commitment of that kind with its minorities. Rather, the history of the Caliphate is clear about the state policy towards religious meaning non-Islamic minorities.

Apart from this, the political environment in the South Asian region at this point of time is not comparable to what it was during the previous elections for the assembly, or the parliament or the local bodies in our country. The fissures in the unity among the members of the OIC and the revolt of some non-Semitic Muslim nations spearheaded by Turkey, Pakistan and Malaysia pose a serious challenge to the influence of the OIC. Being a creation of Saudi Arabia, the centripetal force for the Muslim world, a revolt directed against the OIC cannot be expected to sail smoothly through the disturbed waters of the Middle East politics.

The expectations aroused by Pakistan for the Kashmir Valley majority group that the OIC’s resolutions on Kashmir would bring solace and strength their “freedom movement” are difficult to materialize in given circumstances. There is a new and realistic view of the Kashmir issue with many Arab Islamic States. Western powers, including the US assess the Kashmir issue from a different trajectory after the UN and the US State Department slapped a ban on some terrorist organizations based on Pakistani soil. Osama bin Laden was found hiding in a residential complex not far away from the GHQ in Rawalpindi. Pakistan Prime Minister was honest in conceding that 30,000 to 40,000 radicalized terrorists were roaming the length and breadth of that country. Moreover, owing to Pakistan’s failure to contain and control illegal funding to the home-based terrorist organizations, she has not been able to escape from the “grey list” syndrome of FATF.

Perhaps the time has come for the ordinary Kashmiris to look around and also inwards rather than become euphoric about chasing an unattainable wild dream. Unfortunately, it has been the bane of most of the less developed West Asian and Middle East societies to remain glued to a politicized rather than a reformative religion. Though belatedly, even Saudi Arabia, the known bastion of orthodoxy, has begun to feel the necessity of keeping pace with the fast advancing scientific and technological achievements of the developed countries with tremendous impact on life.

Religious, emotional and social connectivity apart, the people in the valley need to make a dispassionate and realistic appreciation of the evolving socio-political construct in the neighbouring country and dovetail it to their perceptions. The first onslaught of modernism or the age of advanced science and technology on the Islamic mind is that it throws a serious challenge to the exclusivist ideology of any community because of geo-economic constraints. Nations do not and cannot work with an exclusivist hangover.

The argument that by embracing inclusiveness, the Kashmirian or for that matter the Indian muslims will lose their identity or distinctiveness is only a figment of the imagination. Democracy and openness are contrary to exclusiveness, rather its antithesis. Since the economy is the sheet anchor of survival for any society, Kashmiris need to think of long term policy particularly when the economy of the region is not only fragile but entirely dependent on external boost up.  

Efforts are made in several Islamic countries to water down the fundamental criteria of the Westminster type democracy or at least to dovetail it to what is obtainable from the skullduggery of interpretation of the Quranic verses. The kid-glove treatment to the scriptural fundamentals seems difficult to succeed. Democracy, secularism and egalitarianism are deskbook versions of long experience through which the political theoreticians have journeyed.

Often, a question is asked by the younger generation that if India was partitioned in 1947 based on religion, why the Muslims should continue to be in India and in such large numbers? The answer is simple. The Indian National Congress-led the freedom struggle against the colonial power, not based on religion but on the basis of democratic rights of the people of India. The Muslims of India contributed to the national struggle as ardently as the people of any other faith did, the Sikhs, the Parsees, the Buddhists, etc. How could they be ignored or sidelined if they desired to continue to live in India and not migrate to the newly formed Dominion of Pakistan? After all, Pakistan was the new avatar of colonial ideology where the landlords, either living in Pakistan or migrated from India, harboured feudalist mentality and the construct of that society. Kashmiris had waged a freedom struggle of forty long years to get rid of feudalism. How come they would find comfort and reconciliation with a feudalist system evolving after the British left India?

Unfortunately, Kashmiri mind has been polluted to the extent against democracy that it cannot think beyond a half-century or a century from now. It is very uncharitable on the part of the propagators of political philosophy to be on the wrong foot.

Democracy is a long and trying process. It has no quick fixes and no cut and dried solutions. Democracy is an experiment undertaken with patience and forbearance. After a thousand years of democratic rule, the UK continues with its history of bringing amendments, new laws, discarding the old ones and reforming the society just because they have a living, vibrant and result-oriented democracy. India is also pursuing the same path and expects the same results.

What Kashmiris need to do is to study the Islamic history dispassionately and find out if there was any Islamic regime at any point of time in the history when such regimes ruled in a democratic and secular manner? I don’t think there was any. The Saracens, the Turks, the Ottomans, the Timurids, the Mughals, the Safavids, the Mamluks, take any of them; none ever practised democracy and secularism as the loadstar of statecraft. Not only that. The non-muslim communities called the dhimmis were treated outside the pale of ordinary subjects of the Islamic State. Numerous restrictions were imposed on their religious practices; they were to wear a specific black or green armband to distinguish them from the rest of the populace and hence entitled to a different treatment. The history of the Caliphate is replete with such sordid stories.

Islam polarized human population into two broad segments – the Ahl-e Imaan meaning the faithful and the kafirs meaning the heretics. The treatment meted out to the heretics was universally followed by the moments or the pious Muslims. Therefore, in such a prospect the question of giving equal treatment to non-Muslims in an Islamic State did not arise.  Consequently, democracy and secularism were not choices. 

A significant change ushered in by modernism is that the importance has shifted from religion to economy. The relationship among nations essentially depends on the quality and quantity of economic transactions that take place between or among them if the trade is multi-cornered. The Industrial Revolution of 1688 A.D in Europe is a landmark event in the evolution of modernity and the age of reason.

Secular and democratic India is making the greatest experiment ever made in the 14 century-old Islam. It is to bring about slow, silent, rational and hurtless reform in the very mindset of the Muslims of India. There are many takers and there are many who oppose it. However, the consolation is that all these changes though touching the bottom of social structure, are undertaken silently and without fanfare. That is the right way how the reforms can be absorbed and how their impact can be indisputable. We also need to learn from the Soviet experience in the Central Asian Islamic States. Of all Islamic countries, the Central Asian Republics have shown remarkable maturity in putting religion and politics in their respective compartments.

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