End of Battle of Ideas?

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In yet another blow to Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s battle of ideas policy, state government didn’t let Hurriyat doves to hold annual May 21 rally to commemorate the death anniversaries of Molvi Farooq and Abdul Gani Lone.  Contrary to all expectations, the government imposed de facto curfew in the old city areas to pre-empt the event.  The rally, if it was allowed, could have been the biggest advertisement for the PDP’s professed politics of accommodation in which all shades of political opinion, including the separatist, were expected to get a level playing field. The policy began with a bang when within days of the new government being sworn in, Mufti released Masarat Alam, a high-ranking separatist leader jailed for past five years for organizing 2010 unrest.  But from then on, the policy started slowly unravelling and suffered its first big setback in the re-arrest of Alam over the waving of Pakistan flag at a rally he held to welcome Geelani home from Delhi. And now the crackdown on Mirwaiz rally has all but signalled the end of the ideas battle in the state. 

The state of affairs, as they are shaping up, show the ruling PDP being steadily hollowed out of its political agenda, something that is at a stark variance with the party’s earlier term in the government.  As Chief Minister from 2002-05, Mufti in coalition with Congress had presided over a sweeping political transformation in the state. He steered a new discourse for the resolution of Kashmir that was a cross between separatist agenda and the state’s unique place within India.  He backed it up with an aggressive politics that almost paled off the Hurriyat presence. The separatist amalgam found its slogans adapted and mouthed by PDP politicians. PDP also made the most of the then ongoing Indo-Pak peace process which held a fleeting promise of culminating into a Kashmir settlement, and led to the re-opening of cross-LoC routes  for travel and trade. But if the first three months of the party’s return to power are any guide, PDP sorely misses the punch of its previous term. It may have made a dramatic start by praising Pakistan for peaceful elections and releasing Masarat,  but the party has since drastically mellowed – almost cowed down by its hyper-nationalist partner BJP. And nothing exemplifies this more than PDP’s growing prevarication on the ideas battle philosophy.

 From the release of Masarat to denial of permission to Mirwaiz rally,  the party has traversed the quick trajectory from promise to disappointment. The promise was of a vibrant democratic space where different ideas and ideologies could compete for public attention – not in an idealistic sense but in the manageably flawed and disorganized way, typical of democracy.  But barring the Hurriyat rally betrays that the government has baulked at such a healthy turn of events. There could be two explanations for this: one, the government may have felt it was difficult to match separatists on political turf. And second, it seems that BJP has now complete control over the political agenda of the state government. And PDP’s own agenda has taken a back seat.  The latter is an impression that is now fast resonating with the people of Valley – in popular opinion, it is making the PDP indistinguishable from its discredited rival, National Conference. But this is an impression that PDP can do eminently without and attempt to change for its own long term political well-being. 

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