Three narratives on Kashmir

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Ever since partition of British India in 1947, Kashmir has been a bone of contention between India and Pakistan. There are three narratives on Kashmir – Indian, Pakistani and Kashmiri. These narratives interact, overlap, and clash on a daily basis. It is the mutual equation among them or the ratio of one relative to the other in public discourse that determines the behaviour of the Kashmiri street.

Last year’s events, triggered by the killing of the popular militant commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani, can be traced to the altered alchemy of these narratives. It was a case of an intrinsic Kashmiri narrative overpowering a generally vulnerable Indian narrative and finding support in the Pakistani discourse on Kashmir.

The origin of that strife went back to former Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed’s death on January 7, 2016. The low turnout at his funeral showed that there was deep dissatisfaction among the people with mainstream politicians in the state who were associated with the Indian narrative on Kashmir – though, Valley-based parties like the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party have long customised this narrative with nods to the state’s contentious political status.

PDP has gone a step further: its politics in opposition has, at times, abutted on a flirtation with soft separatism. The glory days for this ideological stance were from 2005 to 2010: in these years, PDP proactively appropriated parts of Hurriyat’s rhetoric and the then in vogue four-point proposal for Kashmir resolution presented by General Musharaf’s government in Pakistan. The party reaped significant electoral harvest for this, including its best showing so far in 2014 polls.

But the thinly-attended funeral of Mufti Sayeed had demonstrated that there was something seriously amiss in the way party governed the state. Mehbooba Mufti did recognise this when she kept on refusing for three months to renew her alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But, the moment she re-embraced the BJP and returned to power, PDP’s political slide began afresh.

An intrinsic Kashmiri narrative revels in the contentious status of the state. It brooks little accommodation for New Delhi and still looks up to Pakistan, but this is a fascination that has waned over the years. This narrative also prefers independence over union with Pakistan.

An intrinsic Kashmiri narrative revels in the contentious status of the state. It brooks little accommodation for New Delhi and still looks up to Pakistan, but this is a fascination that has waned over the years. This narrative also prefers independence over union with Pakistan.

Indian and Pakistani narratives on Kashmir, on the other hand, aren’t as conflicted, but their blending into the local discourse and their changing impact on everyday politics determines largely how Kashmir sees itself on a day-to-day basis. It is the process of this self-imagining through the altering blend of these three narratives that makes up the Valley’s political life.

Though she had previously played with the fragile balance of Valley’s narratives to her advantage quite deftly, Mehbooba Mufti seems to suddenly have grown complacent since she took over as the chief minister in April last year.

The leader who had held out for three months, pending fulfillment of some development concessions by New Delhi, suddenly gave in without the centre meeting any of her conditions. Far from protecting the ideological turf from which she derived her political identity, when in power Mehbooba Mufti hewed her politics closer to the BJP’s expectations. Worse still, she appeared hapless before the BJP’s aggressive nationalistic stance.

This created a suffocating sense of siege – reinforced further by an abiding mistrust of BJP’s policies on Kashmir. And, Mehbooba Mufti offered no anti-dote – least of all, a sense of assurance. Instead, she became everything she had opposed earlier on. She mirrored traits that had led to the decline of her political rivals. She abandoned her painstakingly built political middle ground, all but stopped mentioning the need for a resolution of Kashmir dispute or reiterating her party’s vision of self-rule in the state. This came as a betrayal of sorts for the people. A local magazine Kashmir Ink ran a cover story about her attitude in power with a headline ‘Imposter’.

Kashmir’s intrinsic narrative underpinned by an invariable demand for the resolution of the dispute felt betrayed once again – this time, by someone who had benefited the most by playing to that narrative. This confirmed to people that the governments they elect to power are severely circumscribed in their power and often struggle to articulate their legitimate aspirations.

This is how Burhan Wani emerged. A politics that emasculates its people creates space for someone that empowers or gives an illusion of empowerment. Burhan stood for Azadi, a word and an idea that can take on a myriad of meanings, and thus appealed quickly to a host of accumulated frustrations.

And in time, Burhan assumed a resonant metaphorical dimension – a 22-year-old man, who had restored to the people some sense of lost agency.

No matter what Home Minister Rajnath Singh said at that time, the Pakistani narrative blended into this Kashmiri narrative much later – after Burhan’s death in an encounter.

Message for New Delhi: Don’t disturb the delicate balance of narratives in the Valley. Never run athwart the Valley’s intrinsic discourse, whose principal tenet is the collective yearning for the resolution of Kashmir dispute. BJP’s fatal mistake will be in trying to forcibly reverse this discourse towards acceptance of integration of the state into India. And Mehbooba Mufti’s in playing along with the BJP.

 

 

 

 

 

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