Politics in Kashmir has for long been neatly segregated into two opposing halves by an almost un-infringeable line of an either-or ideological divide. Everything else has been lost in fine print and footnotes, between causality and consequence in a nauseatingly reductionist narrative. Rhetoric – on both sides of the divide – has for been a socially and politically acceptable alternative to accountability and deliverance. Mediocrity has thrived; merit has been assassinated and a palpable sense of entitlement has disempowered the young man on the street. Now, the youth of Kashmir have run out of the last vestiges of a melancholic patience that has been abused, exploited and taken for granted over and over again. Hizb-ul-Mujahideen Commander Burhan Wani's killing was just another spark – and there will be many many more in the near future.
Both New Delhi and Islamabad are united by a common interest to ensure that Kashmiri leadership (across the divide) is contained and managed within the traditional, acceptable limits defined in turn by their respective national interests and political constituencies. New Delhi continues to prefer pliant alternatives within the mainstream while Islamabad is ever-paranoid about the distant, remote possibility of an independent, vociferous separatist leader it won't be able to control. The "moral, diplomatic and political support" pledge comes with a caveat of unquestionable loyalty.
Within Kashmir, politics has become the means to safeguard the status-quo – not challenge it. Separatist politics has come to be defined by a sadistic, symbiotic sinecurism while the mainstream has been relegated to a grievance-redressal council – politically de-fanged, disempowered and fragmented for better manoeuvrability. With the creation of a new regional party in the form of PDP and the advent of seemingly never-ending coalition politics, electorally (and practically) there is only so much room for dissent and revolt within the system.
In 2013, an inquiry report by a secret Board of Officers of the Indian Army led by DGMO Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia revealed how the controversial 'Technical Services Division' (TSD) unit of the Military Intelligence (MI) was secretly used to destabilize the Omar Abdullah Government during and after the 2010 unrest in the Valley. This was after repeated statements from then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah seeking the initiation of a broad-based political process to resolve the outstanding Kashmir Issue.
Secret Service (SS) funds were siphoned off to a few mainstream politicians and NGOs to destabilize and potentially overthrow an elected Government. Large sums of money were also used to procure off-air and off-the-grid snooping equipment to snoop on mainstream political leaders, even the Chief Minister of the State. A local politician and Former Minister from North Kashmir – publicly known to be patronized by the Indian Army – was a key player. He continues to be one. To consider that the same General V. K. Singh is the Union Minister of State for External Affairs in the current NDA Government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a go-to Kashmir advisor should suffice for the sake of the terrifying argument I'm trying to make.
Coincidentally, General V. K. Singh has issued a statement on the current Kashmir situation (as I write this column) with an eerie, haunting line – "Cooperate with us so that we can help you". I will leave it to your imagination to guess whose cooperation is being sought and to what end and what sort of help is being promised.
While our separatist leaders – both owing to their extraordinary lack of vision and also due to their investment in the status-quo – have failed to come up with a strategy and political will to convert thousands of sacrifices into a result of some measure, the mainstream on its part only advocates its various political solutions on a need-basis exigency – as and when stuff hits the fan. And that's evidently problematic.
We cannot continue to seek a political solution to the Kashmir Issue only when not doing so is politically conspicuous. On the contrary, the resolution of the political issue has to be sought more vociferously during quieter and more peaceful times – unequivocally and unapologetically. I dare say it has to be the focal point of mainstream politics.
Will this ruffle feathers in New Delhi? Undoubtedly and more than ever before. Omar Abdullah's repeated statements seeking resolution of the political issue in the Legislative Assembly, in front of visiting Prime Ministers and as the Chief Minister of the State were not looked upon very kindly by the powers that be. However, one would rather annoy New Delhi and disobey the unspoken, unwritten rules that define the boundaries of Kashmir's mainstream politics than leave the youth with no other option but to espouse the sentiment on our streets with stones in their hands and pellets in their eyes. Leaving the youth with no option but to render the ultimate sacrifice is a failure of our politics.
Internally also our mainstream polity will have to change and evolve drastically in order to become more relatable to the anguished, understandably cynical youth. We have to open our doors to empower them, to give them a platform to articulate their sentiments and reward them with responsibility based on merit and merit alone. A traditional interface – even in the slightest of forms – with a beleaguered, tech-savvy and articulate young generation is a recipe for pure, imminent disaster and will sooner or later render us politically irrelevant. There is way more at stake here than assembly constituencies, elections or archaic concepts of seniority and protocol. The insignias and perks of power cannot be the be-all and end-all of politics in Kashmir – not anymore.
What is our goal in mainstream politics? To form Governments? To become Legislators, Parliamentarians or at best Ministers? How on earth would that and that in itself solve anything or make any difference as far as the conflict and its ramifications are concerned? Will it prevent the young men in our streets from embracing an almost certain death by presenting themselves before an inherently trigger happy 'security' apparatus?
No amount of development or good governance will matter in the long run unless and until the mainstream represents the political sentiment in the halls of Indian democracy with conviction and consistency. Constitutional legitimacy in the absence of social sanctity is an invective of condemnation that we need to acknowledge and take very seriously. We need to evolve and evolve fast. Very fast.
As far as the separatist leadership is concerned – they need to move beyond their agitation calendars and press statements. To try and commandeer a spontaneous people's agitation can neither be a mark, nor a measure of leadership.