India minus K-word
20 Aug 2008,
Is it time the K-word got out of India, and India out of the K-word? Even as Pakistanis in Pakistan celebrated the departure of their erstwhile dictator, Pervez Musharraf, 'Pakistanis' in Kashmir agitated for the long overdue exit of an equally, if not more, oppressive dictator: India.
The Amarnath dispute and the alleged 'economic blockade' have sparked an unprecedented pro-Pakistani sentiment in the Valley, shown by the open display of the crescent flag and the massive anti-India rallies in Srinagar and Pampore. Separatism is no longer driven by fear of militant guns; today separatism is spearheaded by a far more serious threat: that of the popular will.
It would be facile to dismiss this groundswell of protest, which cuts across generational lines, as yet another ISI-sponsored stratagem. Kashmir, or at least Kashmir valley, is no longer a ventriloquist’s dummy speaking for its Pakistani masters; Kashmir seems to be speaking for itself. And what it is saying is unequivocal: India must let go of it.
Is it really, finally, time for India to relinquish Kashmir, and vice versa? Or, as Arundhati Roy has put it, for Kashmir to gain azadi from India, and for India to gain azadi from Kashmir?
Any suggestion that Kashmir should, if it so wants, be allowed to secede from the Indian Union is immediately deemed to be treasonable, and its proponents to be agents of Pakistan’s ISI, who wish to hive off not just Kashmir but to fragment and balkanise India by fomenting insurrection across the country.
It is also argued that Kashmir's secession would diminish India not just geographically but, much worse, it would diminish and fatally wound the very idea of India as a pluralist polity and a multicultural society. More than the possession of any part of its territory, the idea of India is the life-essence of the republic. India can survive without Kashmir, if it has to; it can’t survive without the idea of India, central to which is the right of democratic dissent and the free association of people.
Is the idea of India big enough to accommodate the obverse right: the free disassociation of people, non-violent secession from the republic? Secessionist attempts — from Punjab to the north-east, and in some 180 Naxal 'liberated zones' (described by the prime minister as the 'biggest national threat') — have been and continue to be combatted by force of arms and, equally importantly, force of political persuasion. But all these anti-state manifestations were, or are, based on violence, which the state can legitimately oppose with necessary counter-violence. What Kashmir is reportedly witnessing today is fundamentally different: a cry for freedom backed not by guns but by the power of dissent — one of the foundation stones of the idea of India.
Syed Ali Shah Geelani, self-proclaimed leader of the separatist movement, is no M K Gandhi. But what if he and his followers were to adopt the strategies of non-cooperation and satyagraha which were used to gain independence, and were the prenatal influences which shaped the idea of India? Could the Indian state use physical force against such a peaceful mass movement — if in fact it did arise, as some say it now has — and still retain its moral idea of itself?
It could — and inevitably will — be argued that drawing a parallel between Gandhi's 'Quit India' movement and contemporary Kashmir's 'Quit, India' upsurge is untenable and unconscionable: the British were an alien occupying force; Kashmir is an integral, constitutionally legitimised part of India. But after more than 60 years of concerted
effort — military deployment, repeated elections, the giving of subsidies — India has been unable effectively to counter the demand for azadi.
Has the time then come to re-look and rethink the Kashmir issue? By letting Kashmir go peacefully would the idea of India be subverted? Or would it be enlarged and further endorsed? That is the real import of the so-called Kashmir question: it has become the question of the idea of India, and what that idea means to us.
Source: The Times of India, New Delhi