Sometimes meeting an embittered politician, enables one to peep into a domain of politics that otherwise remains obscure. Moreover, on occasions sharing experiences about such meetings helps in analysing the games behind popping up of new characters at the time of elections like mushrooms during rain with alternative narratives for fortifying the 'dominant discourses'. And it also helps to understand contemporary politics and its undercurrents.
Since student activism days, I might have met many distraught leaders and bitter politicians. Nonetheless, two of the meetings, one, with Mirza Mohammad Afzal Beg, in October 1978, after he was thrown out of the National Conference and second, with Syed Mir Qasim in 1982, when Mrs Gandhi had humbled him, after her return to power in 1980 with thumping majority, firstly subtly conveying him he was not needed and then denying even a room in the Kashmir House. Those days it was in the grapevine that Mrs Gandhi had not likened some of Mir Qasim private conversations about Sanjay Gandhi- perhaps with M.L. Fotedar. In this election, Sanjay Gandhi, despite his dirty role during the emergency had been elected member of the parliament.
In his endeavour to enhance personality cult of his leader among students' couple of times, I had heard Afzal Beg using a cliché, 'I don't have an identity of my own, but I have been basking in the reflected glory of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah.' During this meeting, which was an interview for The Onlooker, Bombay, he had no good word for him, and in every syllable he spoke, he exposed most veiled aspects of his political life. Stating that for safeguarding his material and other interests Abdullah could sacrifice anyone, he tried hard to dissociate himself from the political blunders committed by him landing Kashmiri out of frying into the fire. The meeting prompted me to look into life and politics Sheikh Abdullah beyond the 'pedestrian discourses' and hagiographic accounts breastfed to our whole generation born in the fifties and the sixties.
Nonetheless, revealing the harsher historical realities and demolishing the 'pedestrian discourses' and 'conjured narratives' are essential for exposing forces inimical to the aspiration of the people. And those with vested interests engaged in trying to entice young generation by playing upon the 'syrupy alternative narratives'. To that extent meeting with Mirza Beg become relevant in as much as in understanding how the 'dominant discourses' could blindfold people and take them into a dark tunnel with no light at the end. That is not subject of today's column. But for understanding, why chasing the dream of democracy has so far been a mirage the meeting with Syed Mir Qasim and revelations made by him are more relevant to the scene that has been building up in the state, after the theatre of the PDP and BJP crumbled under its own weight.
Syed Mir Qasim was sharing accommodation with a Member Parliament in Lodhi Estate. My two friends, Sheikh Manzoor, then with the United News of India (UNI), and Abdul Hamid Bhat, later on, a senior police officer knew him, I had never met him before and never met him after. On a Sunday, on our way back from Lodhi Garden, we called on him, he was excited to see three young Kashmiris visiting him and instantaneously opened up his heart to us. Like a chronicler, he filliped one after another page about his role in the struggle for the ending feudal autocracy in the state. 'His steadfast loyalty to India and the Indian National Congress, in all its avatar, his deep commitment to Nehru, Indira Gandhi, and his role in bringing Sheikh Abdullah back into the "Indian mainstream". With discontent writ large on his face he narrated story after story how he and many in his tribe of politicians became useless cogs in New Delhi's scheme of things in Jammu and Kashmir and how they were put into the trashcan of Kashmir politics. He summed it up beautifully in a parable in chaste Kashmiri. To Quote him, "For New Delhi, we are like Polo Ponies, some are picked as colts groomed and trained in tricks of the game, some are selected after judging their stamina for outsmarting others. The breed does not matter, but it is agility to respond to the command that counts. Even for a single match, they keep several ponies. Once, they feel that the horse on the ground is fatigued and is not racing on the programmed track, he is removed and put in the stable and fed for some time then finally fired."
Perhaps doubting our knowledge of the contemporary politics, he culled one after another instance from the post-1947 electoral politics of the state and explained to us how New Delhi has been living up to adage diamond cuts diamond in the State and using one politician against another. 'Right at the time of installation of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah none but first Prime Minister of Jawaharlal Nehru groomed Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad to replace his leader as and when required.' Narrating his personal experience he recounted the day when Mrs Gandhi had invited him to New Delhi to tell him that Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq the incumbent Chief Minister had lost support of the house and they wanted him to head the government. Mir Qasim had expressed his ignorance about the support she was talking about, at this Mrs Gandhi had informed him that 'you don't know about it, but I know it.' She had directed him to visit Srinagar and told him the MLA's would approach you….'. Mir Qasim could not complete story as someone else intruded in the room.
Mrs. Gandhi in the mean time had to rethink about replacing Sadiq. Some years later, I learned from an MLA who launched new party (who had resigned as minister from Sadiq's cabinet)', that when Qasim supporting MLAs (he was one of them) called on Mrs Gandhi, they received a harsh dressing–down from her. She harshly told them, it is me who has elected you not people of Kashmir- go home work with Sadiq Sahib.
The stories that my meetings with the two electoral politicians, one a former Deputy Chief Minister and another, Chief Minister and Union Minister revealed did not end there, in reality, these have been and continue to be intrinsic part of electoral politics in Kashmir.