Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Azadi from Litter

The biggest cock and bull story doing rounds in New Delhi is that the recently held elections in Kashmir are a tacit endorsement of Indian dominion in the valley. There is no truth to it because it is an utterly mistaken belief and diametrically opposed to reality. Looks like the spin doctors are back to work, doing what they always do: Confuse. Given that public memory is short-term, it doesn’t help to fuddle things. I jotted about this phenomenon in one of my preceding posts. A transcription follows.

The election verdict is majorly about three things. One: Kashmiri people want a basic decent life -- good roads, good education, better jobs and they know an elected, political government is best equipped to do that. No governor speaks Kashmiri and Kashmiri's have trouble explaining themselves in Hindi. Two: People in the countryside were always less likely to take the separatist call for a complete boycott seriously. [2008 is not 1990’s. Dissent, we know, has its shelf life].
The boycott call was summarily ignored, at least in rural Kashmir. And lastly: The Azadi sentiment lives on, and is not expected to die anytime soon.

In reality Kashmir is too bruised to be soothed by a winter election, held under the heels of half a million troopers – the highest civilian-military ratio anywhere in the world. You lock up the entire separatist bandwagon, brook no dissent and stamp out any protesting voices. And then have the gall to call it a democratic exercise. That is unabridged nonsense.

While the mainstream camp has been mostly inept, the separatists continue to live in relative comfort. The top chaps belong to a class – the like of us included – whom Marx would have easily called bourgeoisie. The chief protagonists -- Mirwaiz Farooq is loaded and happily married to an American [He occasionally slips away to the US for holidays minus the Kara Kul]. Syed Ali Geelani’s son safely practices medicine far from the madding crowds and the Lone brothers drive around in luxury SUV’s. Sajjad went to a prestigious college in UK and is married to Asma, daughter of JKLF founder Amanuallah Khan]. The list is long and rich.

In hindsight the boycott call was perhaps pushing the envelope a little too far. I’m pro-choice. The separatists may not be. Buoyed by the million-strong marches in the August of 2008, they issued blacklists. At a much fundamental level the people who formed part of those long marches perhaps understood well enough that Freedom being freedom, no one is going to come to their rescue. There are bills to be paid, children to be sent to school, roads to be repaired, garbage to be cleaned. You also need Azadi from the stench emanating from litter outside your home.

There are real issues that an average Kashmiri has to deal with. With the first snow, the electricity lines snap. The roads continue to be antiquated, pre-1947. Traffic is plain crazy. Clean water is a priority. Healthcare is a sham. Employment stays stalled. Kashmiri politicians, owing their allegiance to India, positioned themselves on exactly these issues and managed to garner votes. Ergo this is a vote for development. Period.

The vote must not be mistaken for an embrace. Kashmir has multiple wounds dark and deep. They can rip open at the shortest notice. And let’s not fool ourselves. The UN position is clear on Kashmir. Elections in the state of J&K – previous as well as present – and all subsequent decisions of the elected government are going to have NO bearing on the final status of Kashmir.

Where is the ambiguity?

Let’s hope Omar and his team luck. He has got some shady guys on board but that is the nature of coalition politics in this part of the world. Barring his stint with the rightwing BJP – which he has since atoned for -- he has a clean slate to write a new chapter for Kashmir.