Rahul's 'Kashmir promise'
A battle of ideas is inconceivable in laboratory conditions
DATELINE SRINAGAR BY ARJIMAND HUSSAIN TALIB
Gandhi family's scion - Rahul Gandhi - made a promise to Kashmiri student community in September. While on a visit to Kashmir University, he said that "as a Kashmiri he had come there to talk politics." It was a rare occasion, indeed.
In a year or two, you will realise what I am promising you today was true. I deeply relate to my Kashmiri origin, he sought to impress.
Rahul's visit to Kashmir University and the Congress Party's renewed efforts to establish its students wing there have opened a Pandora's Box of sorts.
The questions being asked in Kashmir today are these: in an environment where students' unions are banned in Kashmir's campuses, how will Congress Party-sponsored unions actually take shape? Will it be only-Congress unions, or, at last, we will have a space where freedom of expression, association, conscience and free will are respected?
In recent years, the ban on students' unions in Kashmir has been guided by the presumption that allowing them a space would mean an automatic switch to azadi (pro-freedom) politics. But is this rationale or line of thinking rational in itself?
The ban on students' unions and political activism in academic institutions in Kashmir represents a serious paradox. On the one hand the notion being promoted is that we have a democratic government with "all the necessary democratic institutions" in place in Kashmir. Banning of political activism on the campuses, on the other hand, represents a serious deficit of political confidence.
A time has come when this question needs to be confronted head-on. Why blanket ban or deny student politics in the academic institutions altogether? Why not allow every kind of political activism - including that of the Congress Party?
Battles of ideas in democratic environments are known to be fought in universities. But no battle of ideas can be one-sided. Ideas alone defeat ideas. To have a one-sided promotion of a particular idea kills the very spirit of democracy. That approach also suggests inherent weakness of that idea.
If we allow all kinds of political activism in Kashmir's campuses, the end result wouldn't be violence, as some people tend to suggest. The end result would be an enriched political culture, where diverse ideas are exchanged and accommodation and understanding are promoted. Kashmir needs that culture badly.
That environment will have another positive spin off. A lack of political activity in Kashmir’s academic institutions has negatively impacted the quality of analysis, independent policy formulation and articulation of Kashmir's political parties. There is a feeling that the intellectual and technical input in the policy formulations of Kashmir's political parties today is quite limited.
Hardly any political party in Kashmir today - whether pro-independence or pro-autonomy - has expert policy-making departments. There is hardly a political party which has a system of dispassionate policy research. In the absence of policy research within political parties, democracy in Kashmir remains subservient to the bureaucratic system.
Leaving key policy-making in political and economic domains in the hands of the bureaucratic system has made political parties vulnerable to manipulation. A sound system of technical analysis and intellectual free debate to guide policies is a must for all parties in Kashmir today. That can happen only if political activism and students unions are allowed to operate freely on the campuses.
When it comes to parties and groups like the Hurriyat Conference - despite the mass popularity of their political ideas - they too have failed in crafting organisational structures and systems to promote student engagement and policy research. As long as no group promotes violence, Hurriyat Conference and all its constituents must have the same right to promote their ideas in Kashmir's campuses as others. Their exclusion will mean an expression of weakness and lack of confidence.
Congress Party is today seemingly buoyed by some positive response to its membership drive in the valley lately. As the party in power it has a moral responsibility to facilitate a free environment of political activism in all Kashmir campuses.
At the end of the day what needs to be understood is that if you got a tight-lid kettle, boiling with ideas inside, you don't expect a pleasant ending.
Kashmir's educational campuses need a breathing space, and not laboratory conditions.
The columnist is presently an advisor in international development and based overseas
Lastupdate on : Sat, 19 Nov 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 19 Nov 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 20 Nov 2011 00:00:00 IST
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