The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism: From the Cold War to the Present Day
Anorak- a person who obsessively is interested and follows niche subjects and perhaps even detailed trivia- appears to best describe Sampat Prakash-the Kashmiri Pandit around which Nandita Haksar builds her detailed and engaging(and at times incisive) account and narrative on Kashmiri nationalism in her book, The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism: From the Cold War to the Present Day. I would apologize to readers here for making a digression: It is, however, not clear to me whether the title is a kind of a double entendre- loaded in the sense of conveying what Haksar may want her audience to believe is the Janus faced nature of Kashmiri nationalism or a prosaic version of it and its various manifestations.
Now let me return to the theme(s) of the book.
Haksar writes from the vantage point of a Nationalist- a committed follower of the composite nationalism or The Idea of India that defined post independence India but now appears to be a curious aberration foisted upon India by secular intellectuals and leaders like Nehru- or in other others a tiny elite that had incubated in the West. Her secular, humanist credentials are impeccable and right throughout the book till its end , Haksar wears her hear(liberal) on her sleeve(not in an ostentatious, supercilious and superficial way but sensibly and with great sobriety and sensitivity).
Haksar weaves her narrative around a Kashmiri Pandit, Sampat Prakash and in the interests of balance throws in Afzal Guru- a Kashmiri who was hanged for his alleged role in the attack on the Parliament- as part of the mix. Sampat and his story, however, dominate the narrative. Sampat, as described by Haksar seems like an oddity: he is neither a Marxist nor a socialist but a Kashmiri communist or a nationalist and a communist- an odd combination that goes against the grain of communism, a creed that strived against nationalism and believed and strived for a class less Utopia. And so committed is Sampat is to his alleged ideals that he not inspires what would amount to a Union movement in Kashmir but also inserts himself in almost every stage and phase of conflict over and in Kashmir- something that would have elicited admiration and awe from the most committed of his creed elsewhere. From a prosaic perspective, it is perhaps only eccentricity or anorak behavior that explains Sampat’s Union activism , admiration and activism for Sheikh Abdullah’s plebiscite front movement , re-insertion into Kashmir’s politics during the ebbing phase of the insurgency or being part of Yasin Mallik’s- the JKLF Chairman- Safr e Azadi ( Journey for Freedom). Sampat then appears to be like Percival the fool with the intellectual perspective-of the King Arthur legend who because of his natural innocence appears to be foolish to others or in a less charitable perspective, innocence is not involved here. But then this is speculation here and is perhaps beside the point.
Haksar eloquently, brilliantly , without recourse to verbosity or academic jargon takes the reader for a tour of Kashmir’s modern history- its ups and downs, convolutions and involutions, the intrigues, state policies, convoluted politics of the state and then the insurgency mode and phase. The narrative is vivid and sequential- all illustrated through the struggles-personal , political and ideological- of Sampat. Afzal Guru is interspersed initially for some illustrative purposes but towards the end Guru and his travails and hanging is given space and treatment liberally. The larger point that Haksar appears to be making is that the idea of a composite nationalism, if it existed in Kashmir has ebbed or has even died. While Kashmiri Pandits hold themselves to be the real repositories of Kashmiri nationalism, Kashmiri Muslims believe Kashmirs history begins with them, according to Haksar. These contending and competing ideas of nationalism were superimposed on Kashmir and its polity and society for a long time but the contradictions were bared out with the onset of militancy. The idiom of politics , identity and culture that contemporary Kashmir gyrates to is that of religion and Islamic fundamentalism. With Pandits no longer in Kashmir, the Muslim majority vale is gradually but inexorably becoming more Islamic, posits Aksar. It is in the interstices of events, larger historical forces, ideational and ideological realignment in Kashmir , the competing ideas of Pakistan and India, complemented by foreign policies of Western states that the lives of Sampat and Guru pan out and intersect. The West is implicated by Haksar throughout in the book by Haksar-right from the Cold War to the Global War on Terror with the Wests (read United States) interest in Kashmir as merely instrumental, cynical and self serving.
Despite the tragic denouement of events and a pattern that appears to emerging in Haksar’s narrative- Gurus Kafkaesque odyssey and then hanging, the color of Kashmir’s politics contemporarily, Sampat’s unfailing and unflinching faith in Kashmiriyat despite alleged evidence to the contrary, and other relevant themes which smack of pessimism- Haksar does not brood or conclude with despair. In the final analysis, in Haksar’s schema, the antidote to tragedy of Kashmir and the peculiar problems , does not lie in hopeless brooding or even politics but in insaniyat (humanity) and given this there is reason for Haksar to rest the case on hope.
Haksar cannot be faulted for her humanism, humanity, liberalism and her commitment to secularism- despite her agonizing take on secularism in the Third World which at times has been twisted by authoritarianism.(The West is implicated again here by Haksar). Haksar reaffirms her faith in the ideals of secularism. But besides the curious privileging of Sampat in the narrative, and the various oddities and peculiarities of the man, what Haksar either elides over or does not appear to know is the nature of nationalism in Kashmir. Kashmiri nationalism has either remained in suspended animation or it has been inchoate. It was incubated and then reared its head in the form of the projection of Kashmiri hopes, fears and aspirations on the personality of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. But the state killed it or attempted to kill it with the political isolation and repeated incarceration of Sheikh Abdullah. Its final obituary was laid with the signing of the Accord between Sheikh Abdullah and Indira Gandhi. The interregnum between the Accord and the onset of insurgency in late eighties- a time of intrigues by the Centre, and events of mega historical import- the Iranian Revolution, the rise of political Islam, and the Afghan War and ironically some sort of economic development in Kashmir- was a period where the semblance of Kashmiri nationalism or the rudimentary and inchoate form in which existed was in suspended animation. Unmoored and bereft of a psychological anchor, political undercurrents in Kashmir gyrated to what could be called Islamo-nationalism- an ideational rubric wherein Kashmiris sought succor in religion and an inchoate nationalism. The Muslim United Front, its formation and participation were merely an expression of this. The continuation of political intrigue and machinations towards Kashmir by the Centre in conjunction with Islamo-nationalism rendered the Kashmiri collective conscious ripe for extreme action: armed insurgency which captured the imagination of an entire generation of Kashmiris. Inchoate Kashmiri nationalism complemented by religious idiom found its expression and a renewed avatar in the desire for azadi (freedom) which captivated all sections of Kashmiri society. The forces of attrition, fatigue and methods of counter insurgency dissipated the energy and momentum behind the insurgency but the dominant sentiment that defines Kashmir even this day is that of separatism. Kashmir is tied to the Centre by the forces of patronage. But amidst this melee and churn, what defines the contemporary Kashmir Muslim consciousness? Larger integration and ideational and psycho-emotional affiliation of Kashmiris with the corporate identity of Muslims the Ummah with Kashmir and the ideas related to it collapsing in the vortex of Pan Islamism? Or a distinct Kashmiri Muslim identity that is accommodative and tolerant?
Identities, culture and the ideas that inform both are processes that take centuries to unfold and build. The ideational super and sub structure of a culture and a community is a process of osmosis and fluidity and is contingent on the institutional and quotidian practices of a community. Neither can be erased by traumatic events. The same holds true for Kashmir and Kashmiris. Our Sufi ethos and the premises of tolerance, accommodation, respect for all cannot be disfigured and erased by traumatic events or even the creeping of alternate forms of ideology. Yes, the Kashmiri consciousness and imaginary was fractured by the peculiar politics that defined it but to posit that the historical idea of Kashmir is about to be supplanted is not correct. I conclude with a caveat: sustained stress and trauma in the absence of a more compelling narrative and ideational rubric can indeed lead to a condition wherein the familiar Kashmiri consciousness and ideational super and sub structure can lead to less familiar modes of thought in action. I will, unlike Haksar, not rest the case merely on hope but on purposeful action defined by Insaaniyat.
Wajahat Qazi is Associate Editor of the Kashmir Observer. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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