Set the poll rolling
Of Scapegoats and Separatists
by Farzana Versey
The News International, May 14, 2009
Mirwaiz Umer Farooq's cap is symbolic. The story goes that the minute he reaches Delhi, he wants to take it off. It isn't capitulation, but the heavy burden that was thrust on him after his father's death when he was just 17; Mirwaiz is an inherited religious position. The nerd-like chief of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference's moderate faction has to be moderate, religious, leader and separatist. It is a whole lot of eggs in one basket, a basket made of the thinnest straw.
All the separatist leaders are walking on eggshells. The roots of Kashmiri separatism are embedded in the Indian Constitution. At the time it was a case of no options, now it is a tool to chisel or hammer as the occasion demands. All this talk of resolution is just talk.
Until now it was only the politicians who took the high moral ground. Now, militant organisations too have joined in. It isn't anymore about democracy versus separatism, but 'show old women being carried to voting booths' democracy versus 'poll boycott' democracy.
Sajjad Lone decides to contest elections from Baramullah. Instead of giving a straightforward reason, he says, "morally it was impossible for me to continue without seeing if I enjoy people's support."
This would be seen as a moderate stand. Let us rewind to 2002. His father Abdul Gani Lone was killed. He who had made it clear he had nothing to do with the Indian government was being touted by the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee as the "lone moderate voice". The PM from a blatantly Hindutva party was handing a posthumous certificate to a blatantly separatist leader who had once commented that his life was in danger "wherein many guns work at the same time."
Sajjad says today: "At the end of the day, the man who takes up the gun is responsible for his own actions. We can't criticise them because we are not risking our lives, but, as a Kashmiri, I feel politics should have a much bigger role in the current world scenario."
It would be premature to see this as a cop-out. No militant has ever asked to be shielded and, whether they carry guns or not, people are put behind bars.
I do not know what Sajjad's idea of morality is and why it is so important when the ground realities require a bit more than kahwah for the soul. Will he be indebted to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, whose father Dr. Farooq had cut down the senior Lone's security by half when he was in cahoots with the NDA government? Seriously, what morals are we discussing? When did the National Conference last talk about bringing peace to Kashmir with the Hurriyat?
Omar Abdullah who is sitting in as CM - and, make no mistake, this is a papa-run enterprise for after he was sworn in, the father started humming the song, "Papa kehte hai bada naam karega, beta hamara aisa kaam karega..." - has clearly said there is nothing like soft separatism. "We believe autonomy is the way forward. And it is within the constitution."
So, why is he a legitimate leader and the others separatists? They all talk about better roads, education, and employment. How many pay heed to the figures of undertrials given by human rights organisations? Separatism in some areas is seen as the ideal, many 'innocent civilians' are in fact supporters of militancy. Local organisations in the Kashmir Valley were the result of disgruntled groups who waited for some solution. They were young people who had seen members of their families killed. I emphasise young because these polls are about youth icons and almost all the leaders in Kashmir fit the bill.
During the last assembly elections, the venerable Times of India got a market research agency to survey young people in various cities on the Kashmir issue. Rather tellingly, Kashmir was not on the list. Jammu was. Their questions were of the kneejerk variety: Should India let go of Kashmir? Has Kashmir been pampered by the Centre? Can it ever be integrated into the mainstream? Should India hold on to it whatever the cost? If Kashmir secedes, would it be under greater threat?
68% wanted Kashmir, even though it has been neglected by the Centre and yet they believed that it could be integrated into the mainstream. Why did the poll not spell out clearly what it conveys? Are we talking about scrapping Article 370 so that our yuppies can invest in property for their sloping-down-the-Gulmarg-snow moment?
Although 59 per cent said they wanted India to keep Kashmir even if the human and economic costs were high, they felt that Kashmir's secession would be a greater risk to the country. Great urban analysis. Let our soldiers and civilians die, let the country spend a fortune protecting a weak border. Why? Because the threat is less than if the Kashmiris were to leave to start on their own. What does this mean? If the threat is after they have left, then we are under less threat now? Does this imply that the Kashmir issue is not such a big problem and the Kashmiris are just fine? Therefore, someone has been making scapegoats of them all these years!
Urban stupidity was in full public view because the newspaper carried a picture of protestors in Srinagar that went against its own poll findings.
This is even more relevant in these general elections. Interestingly, commentators on national television are suggesting that there should be a separate box in booths in the whole country for the electorate to vote for 'no candidate'. What right do we then have to question a poll boycott in Kashmir, which says the same thing, only in a less sophisticated way? Cynicism and protest aren't the prerogative of pontificators.