Saturday, April 25, 2009

United Colors of Democracy

Your history gets in way of my memory
Agha Shahid Ali (1949–2001)
Kashmiri-American poet and intellectual

It is election time in India. Can Kashmir be far behind? Since Kashmir is an integral [that misused, concubine smelling term] part of India, whether or not some people like it, polls are being held in the hills too. It is a completely democratic exercise, mind you. Only 700,000 troopers, equipped to the boot, watch over three million eligible voters. One soldier for every four Kashmiris. The highest civilian military ratio anywhere in the world. There shall be no coercion though. Rigging the ballot-boxes isn’t fashionable anymore. It is going to be one big democratic exercise.

Consequently all dissenting voices have been locked up and others imprisoned in their homes. They can till their sward gardens or watch cable TV while people queue up to cast their votes without any anti-poll noise pollution. That is mandatory, feels the Kashmir chief minister’s pontific dad. When he is not playing golf or talking in a theatrical, almost comical way, the old man likes to give free advices and address himself in third person singular: Farooq, Farooq.
If he had all his marbles, he would know that dissent, like debate, is part of a democratic polity. If you gag your opponents, and then sit back to enjoy free and fair elections on TV over endless sun-color cups of Kehva – it amounts to nothing.

There are blokes who think Elections are a solution to Kashmir.
Yet others enlighten that elections do no mean a solution but pave a surefire thoroughfare to progress. A large chunk however feel these elections only go on to legitimize India’s title in Kashmir. There is a little driblet of truth, perhaps, in all these stated positions and each party to the dispute is acutely aware of that. But herein lies the rub: there is a lot of double-dealing. You can’t give Lone II a free run with his band of rural volunteers in tow, gonging village after village, while old boy Geelani isn’t even allowed a short stroll to his brick-colored mosque.

One cannot have the cake and eat it too. While the mainstream media never runs out of ink, writing plaudits for democratic forces at work in the little valley, it carefully chooses to photo-shop the autocratic whip the same forces use to bully anyone who dares differ with them. Hence they go after those who ask people to resist from pressing the button on the voting pads. Ideally in any democracy it should be left to the people – after getting a fair chance to hear both sides – to decide whether to go dab their index finger or not. In Kashmir, alas, that is often not the case.

Is a frail, ailing old man or his ideas such a threat to the biggest democracy on the planet? Why should the pro-feedom camp not be allowed to run a counter campaign against elections? Why should the state claim to hold free, fair, fearless election while it imprisons, summarily locks up and puts out all dissenting notes? Why should the area going to polls on a particular day be sealed off, insulated and declared inaccessible to anyone from outside the district? Why the in-your-face hypocrisy? Why tom-tom democracy when you actually make a light-hearted mockery of it?

Blockading the political views of a group under the guise of security is such an absurdly tyrannical arguement. A society can't be free really unless it attunes itself to listen to dissent. Voltaire, the greatest of French thinkers once beautifully remarked, 'I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.'

So are we headed for the big breaking news, ready to be broken to us on May 16: Sajad Lone wins Kupwara/Democracy triumphs.
Do we have the two-bit mike-brandishing journos gearing up to run barefoot after him like those kids in the old tale [was it Pied Piper!] for their two-bytes?

Quite possible. United Colors of Democracy.