THE former Chief Minister of J&K, Omar Abdullah, in an interview with Karan Thapar of India Today, among other things stated that the soft separatism space that the PDP had carved for itself had been ceded away by the party by allying with the BJP. To paraphrase Omar further, the former CM drew a parallel between the PDPs decision with the 1987 elections wherein NC committed the same mistake. The implication that can be drawn from this assertion, to which Omar alluded to, was that, that given Kashmiris have no other platform now, they will perhaps axiomatically veer to separatism.
To take recourse to a quasi neologism, in a different-same theme or variation on the theme, the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti enjoined the Centre to treat Jammu and Kashmir differently given that the state was different.
Many stands can be culled from the statements of the two mainstream leaders; one is that talking about separatism and difference of J&K, -obvious terms of reference from the Kashmiri standpoint- has now become kosher in Delhi. New Delhi, historically, like the proverbial ostrich, buried its head in the sand and chose to ignore the realities in Kashmir and was squeamish about articulation of the existence of separatism in Kashmir by the mainstream spectrum of the states politics. Mainstream politicians, in lieu of this , hardly made public utterances to this effect. But now, it appears talking about separatism (any variant) has become mainstream, so to speak. (Obiter Dictum, one reason that the mainstream political class glossed over or ignored this reality, at least, in public, may have been that dealing with separatism has historically and perhaps even contemporarily been outsourced to intelligence agencies). What may explain the new trend is that Kashmir is in transition at many levels and a new class or even genre of politics is warranted to deal with this transition.
Multiple questions emerge from this new discourse around Kashmir. The salient of these are: If Mehbooba pleads for differential treatment of Kashmir, would it be recognized by powers that be at the Centre? Why, in the first instance, is she articulating the obvious? And, if Omar acknowledges the 1987 mistake and feels history has been repeated, what should or could be the nature of Centre State relations vis a vis Kashmir? And tying these questions together, with growing public recognition of the politics and sentiment that obtains in Kashmir, what would be the nature of politics that would follow?
Consider Mehboobas differential treatment plea first. It is ironic that the Chief Minister has had to make this plea. Kashmir is special and unique; this is a historical fact. But, unfortunately, this special status has been diluted by the Centre through various machinations and manipulations over time. The implication and consequence has been that the states mainstream political class, instead of articulating, aggregating and advocating larger interests of the people of the state are reduced to essentially pleading for the restoration of the status quo ante. In this sense (as in others), the Centre has an upper hand. The states asymmetric federalist relationship has been hollowed out and is more theoretical and notional than real.
Now, insofar as Omars acknowledgement and analysis is concerned, what implications flow? Will Omar and his party take up the soft separatist space and fill the gnawing void in the states politics?
What Omar and his party might do is to beat the autonomy drum again( as is corroborated by the partys recent public utterances). But the question is: are there takers for autonomy in Kashmir? Or for that matter, at the Centre? And, what vantage point would Omar and NC seek autonomy? Last but the least, what would be the nature and contents of autonomy?
Autonomy or Greater Autonomy essentially entails larger freedom- financial, economic and political- within the Indian Union. It is also related to identity and identity politics. The potential problem with this is that Kashmir over the past decades has moved on; its disconnect and alienation from the Indian Union is comprehensive. Having said this, given the constraints and the difficult achievability of maximalist ideas and goals, autonomy may be more rational but identity conflicts are never rational and as Kashmirs quotidian life reveals, rationality is superseded by emotion and as history demonstrates emotion is a motor of nationalism which in turn is the modern motor of history. Rationalist autonomy may then flounder on the rocks of emotion fed and derived nationalism- howsoever, irrational it may be. An ancillary question is: will there be any takers for autonomy at the Centre? Again rationality and irrationality come into the picture. Rationally, the Centre must jump at the idea of autonomy, if all that is Kashmiris are asking and the idea is in sync with the idea of the shrinking state and state powers and the new federal structures that are emerging thereof. But, a far right party- the BJP which derives succor from allied organizations like the RSS and the VHP, is in power at the Centre. Conceding autonomy to J&K, would axiomatically entail truncating the BJP-VHP-RSS combines Idea of India- perhaps marginally acceptable to the BJP but anathema for the rest of the Parivar. Will the BJP, if it warms to the idea of autonomy for JK, go against the Parivar? Highly unlikely is the answer.
Now, after having delineated the political and ideational super and sub structure of Jammu and Kashmir- especially Kashmir- the constraints, limitations and potential openings, what shape and form would the states politics take?
The politics of the state, in all likelihood, will be fragmented and inchoate. Nothing of substance in terms of the resolution of the conflict will emerge in the far future- at least, from within. There will be variations on certain themes which may lead to some tinkering at the margins. Kashmir, to borrow a phrase, will continue to muddle along till both the ideas of Pakistan and India will settle on a more non zero sum dynamic. The name of the game , in the final analysis, is ideational and it is in the realm of larger ideas that a long lasting, durable solution within and without- will emerge. This day, alas, is far off. Till this day, a final solution-within and without- will elude Kashmir. This is the prosaic and even pedestrian reality of Kashmir and its politics.
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