In the wake of the NIT and Handwara events, a plethora of articles have appeared in print and online media. And broadly speaking, they represent the two perspectives: statist (Indian) and non-statist (Kashmiri). The statist perspective views and propagates the recent (renewed) political mobilization in Kashmir as the handiwork of some external forces (read Pakistan) or as discontent created by some troublemakers within (read Hurriyat). In Mukul Kesavan's words (Telegraph: April 18) these are "a set of diagnoses and arguments that are quasi-colonial in their logic." Because the British Raj also employed similar arguments to crush dissent and undermine the Indian freedom movement. On the other hand, the non-statist perspective frames the recent events either as human rights issue or a reiteration of the Kashmiri self-determination movement. This latter perspective also, unlike the statist view, emphasizes the broader political questions of Azadi and the Kashmir conflict. Expectedly, the statist perspective was dominant in the writings of the Indian journalists and academics, while as the non-statist perspective was dominant in the writings of the Kashmiri students and intelligentsia.
In order for us to get a more nuanced account of this phenomenon, these perspectives on the recent political mobilizations in Kashmir need to be historically contextualized. If we take a broad overview of the literature on the Kashmir conflict we can see diverse, and contentious, views abound. The earliest dominant perspective on the Kashmir conflict focused on the inter-state aspect i.e., the conflict on Kashmir between India and Pakistan (Thorner 1948, 1949; Hafizullah 1948; Barton 1948; Korbel 1949; Birdwood 1952; Palmer 1953; Lamb 1991; Jha 1996; Nasr 2005). The latter dominant perspective emerged in the wake of the armed uprising of the late 1980s and it can be called as the post-colonial institution building perspective or the institutionalist perspective (Ganguly 1996; Trembley 1996; Kohli 1997; Bose 1997, 2003; Bahera 2000; Tavares 2008; Baba 2011). It focused on the conflict in Kashmir aspect. After India and Pakistan conducted their nuclear tests in 1998 and Kashmir became a nuclear flashpoint, more writings based on the inter-state perspective came out. However, over the years, other perspectives have also been utilized when writing about Kashmir. But, here I will focus on the dominant perspectives and their problematics.
I argue that the two dominant approaches are problematic for at least two reasons: one, the inter-state perspective privileges and focuses on the inter-state relations in its analysis and thereby marginalizes and defocuses the voices of the native Kashmiri population and their experiences of the conflict and the militarized occupations. Second, the post-colonial institution building perspective resorts to what John Cockell (2000) calls as the "precast statist parameters of inquiry" in which extra systemic political formulations are not seen as legitimate institutions in themselves or on their own terms and thereby denying the political agency of Kashmiris. As a result of these two dominant approaches of inquiry employed too often in the literature on the Kashmir conflict, the subject is often misread, and most crucially native Kashmiri voices are marginalized and their experiences of the conflict and extensive militarization ignored or misrepresented.
The institutionalist perspective acknowledges that the Kashmiri armed uprising was internally driven and not externally started. For example, Sumit Ganguly (1996) argues that it was the increasing literacy that made Kashmiris assert their political rights but in the absence of institutional avenues to express their "disenchantment with the flawed political process, they resorted to violence." Sumantra Bose (2003) argues on similar lines under his "denial of democracy" paradigm. Stephen Cohen (2001:216) also echoes Ganguly and Bose: "[Kashmiri self-determination movement] had been present but muted for decades and burst into view in late 1989 after a spell of particularly bad Indian governance." Robert Stern (2003: 208) sums it up thus: "In reality, Kashmir has been under Indian paramilitary occupation for most of its history in the Union, and its parliamentary democracy has been managed from New Delhi." To put it differently, the Indian state persistently interfered in the internal politics of Kashmir and undermined and subverted its institutions and as a result people revolted against the state.
John Cockell (2000) criticised this institutionalist perspective because it does not look beyond the state and its institutions as a framework of political participation. Drawing on the subaltern studies, Cockell argues that Azadi movement in Kashmir is expression of autonomous insurgent consciousness which is underpinned by "strong sociocultural identity and the shared historical memories of four centuries of imperial domination" (p. 326). The state has institution-specific understanding of politics which it deems legitimate while as Kashmiris see their Tehreek as locus of their genealogical group identity and solidarity. The resultant incompatibility between the post-colonial state and the Kashmiri Azadi movement gives rise to the "structural paralysis" not the institutional decay and the Indian ruling elite responds to the vacuum created by this paralysis by resorting to force and oppression.
As you can see, Cockell's paper raises some fundamental issues in relation to the dynamics of the Kashmiri Azadi movement. The one issue I would like to highlight is that in any analysis of the Kashmir conflict it is crucial to foreground the "autonomous origins and ideology of the Kashmiri community." Analysing the Kashmiri movement through the narrow prism of Islamic militancy (For example, Praveen Swamy or Aarti Tickoo) or as a response to the Indian state's denial of democracy (For example, David Devadas or Mukul Kesavan) means denying autonomous political agency of Kashmiris. Moreover, privileging the inter-state perspective i.e., seeing Kashmir through the narrower prism of Indo-Pakistan territorial and geopolitical contest obscures the native Kashmiri experiences of the militarization and oppression of the coercive state policies.