A Combustible Equation

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Violence, Conflict and Peace in Kashmir

Beneath the fervor and gaiety of Eid-al-Azha preparation, lurks an uneasy and pregnant state of expectancy in vale of Kashmir. The murmurs and even the staple of conversations, cutting across political and social spectrum, in the vale lend themselves to one theme: what will happen after Eid? Most people concur that what will happen on Eid day will determine whether peace of violence will obtain in Kashmir and this may even determine the fortunes of the current PDP-BJP combine. And most people believe that this Eid will be marred by violence. There is an impasse in the vale- a psychological one- which can spill out onto the streets of Kashmir after Eid. The question is why does Kashmir stand at the edge of a precipice? Why is recrudescence of violence a ubiquitous theme here? And what does this tell us about the politics of Kashmir?

I have maintained in my columns here and in other fora that there is a void in the Kashmiri psyche- a void defined by uncertainty, conflict and violence. This void, at times, gets submerged by periods of relative peace, and even prosperity but it is always there. These periods are, however, in the nature of band aids (or stop gap periods) that cover the void for while only for the void to return to the fore. There is also a patter to the nature of violence and conflict in Kashmir that flows from the void:  in periods of a relatively peaceful lull, incidents of a violent nature or even non violent one that have political over and undertone happen. There is a gradual build of these incidents and once they reach a certain critical and cumulative mass, the suppressed emotional universe and psychological processes of Kashmiris come out in the open. Kashmir then descends into a spiral of violence where the street becomes the theater of politics.

There then is some merit to the speculations and fears articulated by Kashmir. The context this time round is defined by mysterious killings,( the killing of a child recently), the governance and governmental failures of the PDP-BJP coalition, the tepid post flood recovery process that has engendered economic hardships for people, among other things. All these have now been capped by the beef ban which has antagonized Kashmiris and may well be the catalyst that tips the scales in favor of violence. If this happens, it will correspond to a well known pattern.

The surprising thing about this pattern is it happens despite the crystallization and deepening of the political process in the state from a mainstream perspective. Two major political parties-the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party – jostle for mainstream political space and compete for peoples’ loyalty and their votes. The National Conference is an old party which monopolized the politics of the state for decades; and the PDP, a young party, has now made inroads into the politics of the state. It has been asserted in some circles that the PDP was created as an alternative to NC monopoly and by virtue of this duopolistic political structure, Kashmiris would have a choice. Anti –incumbency which could potentially turn into separatist sentiment would either work for one party or the other. This was or is the theory, but, in practice Kashmir gyrates to a different rhythm.

From a linear and theoretical perspective or point of view, these two parties should aggregate ideally by aggregating the interests, aspirations and fears of the people have led to a condition where the conflicted Kashmiri psyche and the void thereof should have been filled. And, instead of recrudescence of violence, general peace should have obtained. But this has not come to pass. The question is why?

The answer is obvious and the reasons pertain to the conflict in Kashmir and the conflicted emotional and psychical universe of Kashmiris. This has and probably will remain unaddressed. Insofar as the mainstream political spectrum and space is concerned, it rests on two main prongs: patronage and power. Decoded this means that the bread and butter needs of Kashmiris- jobs, money, and governance related themes and issues,  among other things- form the patronage aspect of Kashmiris link to the state. The state in Kashmir is then linked to society through the tenuous links of patronage. Overlaying the dimension of patronage is power or the pull of power. Main stream politics is animated by the prospect of power or office. It is the prospect of power and office (and the spoils thereof) that is a draw for those participating in mainstream politics. Both are fine. Patronage is a feature of politics perhaps all over the world and power is the grist and mill of politics. However, both are inadequate.

Given that both are instrumental in nature, they, by themselves do not touch on the emotional, psychical and psychological domains of Kashmiris. Human beings are complex creations: we motivated by more than money and power. And self transcendence is also a feature of being human. There’s also rather abstract but powerful emotions like nationalism, broader social concerns that motivate people. Kashmiris are no exception here. To this compendium welter of extra monetary and extra economic themes coupled by nationalistic and social ones is added the conflict in and over Kashmir and the conflicted Kashmiri psyche and emotional matrix. This makes for a combustible mix that gets activated pattern explained in this piece comes to the fore.

The politics of patronage and the titillation for/by power may then motivate some and keep them linked to the state but both by their very nature are tenuous and flimsy. The dominant logic and emotional landscape of Kashmiris is defined by the conflict and issues thereof. Other alternatives can but be temporary alternatives in the nature of palliatives. For instance, the current broad based displeasure and discontent against the PDP in Kashmir will redound to the benefit of the National Conference but the same dynamics will kick in after a while and help the PDP. This cycle will continue and will be in the nature of a film on the surface of a tumultuous river, so to speak. The saga of violence and conflict in Kashmir will then be an enduring theme. Is there anything that can obviate and break this cycle and spiral of violence? The spiral and spasms of   violence that Kashmir is defined by will only break if Kashmiris –their psychical and emotional universe- attains closure. Key to this closure is resolution of the conflict in a win win paradigm and continuum. Will this happen? Not in the near future is the answer. Till then Kashmir and Kashmiris will be caught in the warp and woof of violence and conflict. Now coming back to Eid Al Azha this year and the fears of violence on this occasion, one would hope that it does not augur violence conflict but alas given the pattern that defines Kashmir and Kashmiris, this may turn out to be a vain hope.

—-Author is an Associate Editor at the Kashmir Observer.

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