Evolution of the electoral space has somehow not been able to take place at the cost of “all retentionist” separatist sentiment and politics.
By Suneem Khan
‘Politics’, says Niccolo Machiaveli, shares no tangent with morals. In contemporary world, there are certainly some honourable exceptions that disprove the phrase, but in the Kashmir context, this holds true of the mainstream politics, at least by the standard of how things have been shaping up off late. The stench of this kind of politics of deceit assumes even more nauseating proportions, especially when the rival groups of the same political spectrum are locked in electoral battles on the murky plank of competitive secessionism rather than the indices and statistics of societal progression and various yardsticks of community evolution and development. With the scuttlebutt of electioneering having scented the air, the season has set in when they rebel against and contradict their own present and past, against their own self and soul. The kind of political speeches or a mere vexatious demagoguery they are seen giving away is a murky cocktail of crude deception, meddling with the minds and thoughts of common people in an era where there should have been talks of taking globalisation to the next level by the “leaders”. The politics they have cultivated so far in Kashmir have only helped them to groom and strengthen self and family oriented constituency.
The mountainous failure
Evolution of the electoral space has somehow not been able to take place at the cost of “all retentionist” separatist sentiment and politics. In fact, the separatist sentiment remains or is being intently being kept intact in Kashmir. The legitimisation of the mainstream politics has been possible only because there is no clear contradiction and distinction between the separatist and mainstream political narrative, besides people were never truthfully coached by the “leaders” to make a choice between the two. The two are fundamentally seen as reflecting two different spheres of politics: one dealing with issues relating to governance; and the other dealing with conflict and its resolution. Ever since the 2002 polls, the political parties have sought to restrict the scope of electoral politics to the issues related to ‘governance’ only. Recognising the larger and primitive political realities of the state, these parties sub consciously or with deliberate irreverence acknowledge the widely prevalent separatist sentiment, reinvigorating the same with calibrated doses of adrenaline every now and then rather than going about the need of addressing it. In no way do they claim or demonstrate the moral conviction of the fact that the extension of electoral space amounts to shrinking the separatist space. The parallel existence of the two divergent hues of politics reflects a complexity that exists at the ground level, generated both by the change in the dynamics of the separatist politics, and the nature of popular responses. The more the mainstream politics is expanding, the more it becomes rooted in local responses, while generating a need to reaffirm the popular separatist sentiments. In a situation where conflict resolution has not taken a concrete shape, a danger is always felt that participation in mainstream politics may be a sign of political normalcy which might put the whole question of conflict resolution at the back burner. This is where the mainstream political leadership has not been able to score well in terms of truthfully steering their electorate, if not the indices and statistics of governance. Therefore emerged the very vexatious and peculiar situation in Kashmir, where mainstream political processes and assertion of separatist sentiments alternate. It is interesting to note how abruptly the situation changes in the Valley.
While there was a tremendous electoral upsurge throughout the year of 2007 and early 2008, it was suddenly brought to a screeching halt by an equi-potentially strong assertion of separatist politics during the Amarnath agitation. Thankfully, the affirmation of mainstream politics immediately followed when people participated in large number during the 2008 Assembly elections. The impact of Amarnath agitation as reflected in the Assembly elections back then raised major questions related to the future of the state and its pluralistic character. Rather than contesting the relevance of separatists and their role vis-a-vis conflict-related politics, the parties restricted and carved their role in the domain of governance alone. This created a clear distinction between the “politics of governance” that the parties pursued and the “politics related with ultimate resolution of conflict” that the separatists pretend to represent. It is because of this distinction that despite the separatist upsurge in the period ranging from 2008-2010, there has been genuine participation of people in the election of 2014.
Political epidemic of competitive secessionism
Ironically, mainstream leaders, on the retreat since the protests of 2016, have joined the chorus of voices speaking against the mainstream, resorting to some sort of Machiavellian posturing “with the people” and against tainted systems of which they have been a part, if not the engineers at least. For decades now, mainstream political parties in the insurgency hit Valley have won support by deploying the language of secessionism in electoral politics. For instance, while the National Conference peddled “autonomy”, the People’s Democratic Party spoke of “self-rule.” Apart from gathering support, this vexatious and meaningless rhetoric was perhaps meant to be a shock absorber for secessionist sentiments. But the demagoguery of “soft and competitive secessionism” had diminishing yields besides denting the prospects of a fundamental, vibrant and merited governance system and pushing the electorate further into a state of mental morass, especially the all vulnerable constituency of ‘youth’. This has led to a catch–22 where it is no longer just an armed skirmish between security forces and terrorists. Between the two lies a sea of civilian protestors. In the 1990s, there was an undercurrent of fear in the support for terrorism, a “gun culture” that kept people away from the polling booths. On the contrary people now respond to boycott calls during polls because they are under a well thought design made to, and come out in numbers to face security forces.
The present situation is beyond any doubt more dangerous than what we witnessed in 1989, back then the army was fighting armed terrorists. There is one defined way of dealing with combatants. How do you deal with unarmed youth? New constituencies of popular support have opened up, with older bases having hardened. The districts that erupted during 2016 had been relatively calm even during the height of the militancy. Over the last decade, the Valley has witnessed mass uprisings, in 2008, 2009, 2010 & 2016 with unfortunate civilian casualties. Yet each year, there were growing voter turnouts for elections at various levels: 61.5% for the assembly elections of 2008, over 39% for the Parliamentary elections in 2009, about 80% for the panchayat elections in 2010. After 2016, which left over 90 protestors dead, there has unfortunately been no such comeback for the mainstream. The mainstream political hue(s) in the J&K State, especially the Kashmir-centric ones, seem to be striving to outdo the separatist outfits over Article 35A, Article 370, civic polls, etc. Competitive secessionism has become the political mainstream’s favourite pastime, through which they ignite the fire of popular separatist sentiment. For the sake of taking the argument ahead, having boycotted ULB (urban local body) elections, some prominent hues of political mainstream have furthered the agenda of the secessionists, who keep saying that participation in elections is nothing but hogwash.
Time for ‘talk the talk’
The unfortunate and prevalent idea of bullet reigning supremacy over ballot is found due to the misadventures of mainstream political parties and voices. Writing on the wall is explicit and clear; Time for stop-gap arrangements for the mainstream political thought in Kashmir is over and when one can clearly say that it is the time for “walk the talk” for the mainstream politics and politicians in the State to make their respective political stature clear and ethical.