One of the most overused words surrounding the Kashmir dispute is "dialogue", an idea that signifies noble endeavor between partisans in civilized societies towards a deeper understanding of its problems. It is a practice in which partisans listen to each other in a sort of give and take, eventually leading to synthesis, an integrated empathy for solving the problem confronting them. In other words, a conversation with the aim of finding a better existential arrangement in a changing world, especially a rapidly-changing one.
The upheavals following the collapse of the three-hundred-year-old colonial nation-state imperial regime between 1910 and the 1960s called for, precisely, dialogue. An exchange of ideas both intra-state and inter-state, that would lead to a synthesis of old and new, or explorations leading to the same. The Greeks termed the conclusions reached through such means "metanoia", a profound transformation in outlook on the part of the participants in the conversation. It is no wonder, therefore, that Plato's works have come down to us as "Dialogues", as have so many of the wisdoms of other traditions. The road to any sincere exchange of ideas leading to a synthetic solution begins with talking points, progresses towards negotiations and it gives way to dialogic solutions.
It is perhaps too much to expect such a dialogic trajectory in the dispute over the State of J&K, given that soon after its manifestation it became an argument about territorial politics. At the conclusion of the first war over it on 01 January 1949, India had taken possession of two-thirds of the state's territory and Pakistan the other third. Since then, for the two states it has always been a matter for negotiations between Delhi and Karachi (later Islamabad). But, as A.G. Noorani has pointed out, "India has always drawn a distinction between talks and negotiations". To evidence this claim, Mr. Noorani cites Nehru's famous declaration of August 14, 1962 in the Indian parliament, that 'There is a world of a difference between negotiations and talks." Concludes Mr. Noorani: "[Nehru] was ready to talk; most reluctant to negotiate."
In hindsight, clearly this same policy was adopted towards the peoples of the State of J&K. Indeed, Delhi appears never to have intended to negotiate. This explains the false promises to the peoples of this state in 1947, 1952, 1963, 1966, 1972, 1975, 1987 and into the new millennium including promise of "democratic elections" which had fundamental structures of meddling built into them.
But let us be plain; it was naïve of us in the State of J&K to think that any "negotiations" were in the offing, and the more so since the 1990s. Apart from furtive contacts made with the resistance and pliable partners in and out of the public glare even mere talks were rare. The ones with the Mirwaiz faction of the Hurriyat in the early years of the new millennium were just that, "talks" over a cup of tea, with no intent of the give-and-take that the word "negotiations" implies. So, it should be no wonder that even the reference to Kashmir in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's August 15th speech was met with cynicism by most Kashmiris. Among the non-cynics, almost no one expects dialogue, while a few are clinging to hopes for negotiations and others for mere talks.
The reticence on the part of the citizens of the state is because we have entered a scary terrain. One of having to fight state propaganda at every turn. The difference? Dialogue implies a discourse in which truths are sought. Propaganda is when truths are presumed to be taught. By now even the least literate in Kashmir is eminently educated politically to realize the difference between the two. That makes it menacing terrain, that of pragmatism (among the meanings of which are "interfering", "meddling", "opinionated" and "dictatorial").
The last four years have introduced that landscape. That is, not one of dialogue in search of synthetic understanding about a genuinely complex problem but being presented with the option of choosing between lesser evils in a mutated form of give and take. Put otherwise, it is a variety of the law of the jungle in which what counts is the will of the physically or militarily more powerful. A situation in which the significance of the less powerful is in direct proportion to his suppression.
Like Mr. Modi's faux softening during his Independence Day speech, the appointment of Satya Pal Malik as Governor, signals an unambiguous will to bypass legalities when it comes to pursuing the BJP-RSS agenda for Kashmir specifically and the State of J&K in general. A BJP politician who has most recently distinguished himself with unhindered partisanship in Bihar, Mr. Malik's appointment as Governor should cause deep concern in Kashmir, especially in the wake of the discourse over Article 35A. As pointed out by some Indian and Kashmiri political analysts, Article 35A is legally untouchable. Does the appointment of a politician as governor signal an intent to ignore legal niceties and address the issue politically? The more so when, if reports are to be believed, the outgoing governor was not even aware of the impending arrival of his replacement. It demonstrates a lack of concern for continuity, protocol and decency. They are the hallmark of dictatorial confidence which Delhi has not been shy of exhibiting of late. But perhaps we ought not prejudge the new inductee into Raj Bhavan, the "Ruler's Mansion". We wait, but we do not hold our breath.
In this context, the Doval Doctrine should be regarded as being more pragmatically "honest". It openly rejects negotiations and eschews the pretense of talks unless it is on its own terms. But the problem with such confrontation is that it begets confrontation. Delhi is discovering this, as the armed rebels it kills periodically are replaced with incrementally more committed insurgents. The answer, of course, is to begin talks. But, as Delhi is now ready for it, Kashmir is intent on beginning "negotiations". It is illustrative of a lack of synchronicity that has plagued the dispute over the State of J&K for seventy years now.
We live in the age of pragmatism. For the peoples of state of J&K who want to determine their own future, it is an incessant battle against state propaganda as opposed to dialogue, with little space for convergence between adversaries. Instead, it hurtles them towards confrontation in which the more powerful is confident of victory and the less powerful is willing to die. The lessons of history contradicting such confidence be damned.