Every azadi slogan, wherever it is raised, and no matter what it espouses, finds a resonance in Kashmir. In psychological terms, one could describe this as an accrued predisposition – something which is now deeply rooted in Kashmiri people's collective consciousness and sub-consciousness as well.
This predisposition now manifests in a ready desire for political and psychological catharsis in Kashmir. So when slogans for azadi from jaatiwaad (caste system), poonjiwaad (capitalism), fascism and sampardayakta (communalism) reverberated from Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Kashmir came up with an automatic response.
JNU has always been wedded to the ideals of socialist democracy, secularism and political and judicial accountability in India. Its impressive student leader Kanhaiya Kumar symbolizes the growing disquiet among India's intellectual class about the erosion of the country's constitutional ideals. He also symbolizes the disgust for the growing authoritarian style of governance, the centre-stage rally of the fascist forces and the insecurities of the religious, caste and ethnic minorities.
In a nutshell, JNU has only renewed – a little more vigorously – its call for azadi within India. An azadi, which, Kanhaiya later clarified, symbolizes the amalgamation of a million azadis.
It is debatable whether those azadis are inclusive of Kashmir's own idea of azadi. That, nevertheless, is a different topic. Let us talk about something else today – raise the questions we seldom raise.
People of diverse political, economic and religious worldviews in Kashmir – including those on the far right – very interestingly, rallied behind the idea of JNU's azadis.
The questions that we need to ask ourselves are these: do we really understand JNU's idea of its azadis? Are we ourselves wedded to the ideals of what JNU stands for?
This rally of support from Kashmir to JNU could mean two things – a greater appreciation for the basic democratic principles of accommodation of diverse political thoughts or a mere tactical posturing. If it is the former then it is a good news. If it is the latter then, again, we need to ask questions.
JNU represents that progressive clan of people in India who strongly believe in the ideals of free thought, inclusiveness, dissent and critical political and economic discourse. It is true that some of its thought strands are sympathetic to Kashmir's yearning of political azadi. But at its nascent stages of academic inquiry and knowledge it might well be falling short of understanding Kashmir in all its complexities.
If the baton holders of Kashmir's idea of azadi are truly committed to uphold free speech, diversity of political thought, an inclusive politics – including minority rights – dissent, social and economic justice then this support to JNU is principled. If that is not so, then we have some soul searching to do.
Without going too far into our history, if we take the post-90s as a reference period for this discussion, we have some questions to answer.
For instance, was our idea of future inclusive? Did we tolerate diversity of political thought? Did we uphold free speech? Did we stem the tendencies of political authoritarianism among new power centres? Were we tolerant of the idea that economic freedom was the bedrock of political freedom? Has Kashmir's azadi narrative done enough to create inclusive, tolerant and democratic political and civil society institutions providing representation to minorities? Did we stigmatize and browbeat the people who had a different social, economic and religious worldview?
Most people know the answers to these questions. But most of our youngsters do not. These questions, importantly, must be the subject of deeper study for Kashmir's young people who have been influenced by JNU's watershed events. That is important for our future.
Any kind of authoritarianism – whether stemming from the power of a state or a non-state armed group or a vocal politico-religious formation – is antithetical to whatever JNU has been vocally advocating for over the last few weeks.
Today's successful societies are built on the foundations of democracy, freedom of expression and inclusiveness.
Kashmir's narrative of political azadi has to demonstrate its unambiguous commitment to the basic ideals of democracy, freedom of expression, dissent and inclusiveness. That commitment will have to go beyond symbolism. That commitment will also have to pervade across organizations' inner democracy, a participatory and inclusive decision making process and a space for varied opinions. That commitment cannot just be a non-living paragraph in one information pamphlet or some leader's memoirs.
No society today can afford to impose monolithic ideas of politics, economics, faith, etc. of one particular group and prosper. Cosmopolitanism and multi-culturalism are the conditional bedrocks for today's peaceful and harmonious societies.
A society aiming for political azadi will have to be based on accommodation of diverse political, economic and religious thoughts. It will have to shed the world view of political domination and monolithic superiority. The successes and the failures of the new societies having tasted their azadis tell us exactly that. The line between indignity-suffering and absolute indignity-utter chaos is too thin.
The columnist works on international development and lives in Cairo.