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The Writing on the Kashmiri Wall

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Message Prakash Kona

Politics without ethics is one thing; politics without conscience is altogether something else. The Congress-led UPA government is the first and the BJP-led NDA government, the second. Apart from the innumerable corruption scams, the extent of the UPA's lack of ethics showed in the Indo-US Nuclear deal which was made when George W. Bush was the President of the United States. It convinced me that we had lost forever the battle for being some kind of an autonomous player in global politics (which, I anyways believe, was lost with the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984).

Toeing the American line was unforgivable and it was hard to imagine anything worse for a third world nation given the fact that the American state has nothing but contempt for people of the Global South. Turkey and Pakistan are good examples: anyone who has befriended the American state in the non-western world, they end up with illegitimate governments in which the masses have little or no faith and a perpetual threat of civil war hanging like a sword on their heads.

The Congress-led UPA government kept the illusion of a conscience alive by being pro-poor in theory though they were responsible for the near chaos and panic that lead to the rise of Narendra Modi as a stable alternative to an otherwise disintegrating social and political order. The BJP ensured that whatever vestiges of conscience were left would be faithfully cremated and the ashes dispersed in the Indian Ocean, never to be found again. The way the government has dealt with the Kashmir crisis is an instance of that kind of conscienceless politics.

How can a government legitimize itself through the mere use of force against a civilian population leaving them no opportunity but to fight it out to the finish? When I look at those Kashmiri streets and stone-throwers, I get the strange feeling that they are operating in a barren landscape where power is pitted against resistance in a one-to-one manner. There are no social and political institutions to channelize the energies and feelings of young boys and girls who experience an existential vacuum in their goalless lives waiting for time to pass like the characters in Beckett's absurd plays.

The last years of the Algerian war of freedom and the Indian struggle for independence were characterized by leaderless protests. The fact that there is no leader is a sign that the masses have decided to take matters into their own hands. It is a tacit agreement made by a population that has no choice but to fight through whatever means available at its disposal. The fact is that an elected government at the center and at the state has placed the Kashmiri-on-the-street in a state of helplessness along with a gnawing feeling of impotence that kills in a way that is hundred times worse than being terminated by a bullet. Anti-colonial wars were fought by leaderless masses and however long Israel might prolong its occupation in the end it has no choice but to leave because the Palestinian masses do not want an alien power ruling them.

If the idea is that we have a democratically elected political party it follows suit that such a system takes the masses into confidence and responds to their day-to-day needs. Once the army and the police were used as the only available option to the government to repress the common people in Kashmir, with or without Pakistan's support, something like the Uri attack in which soldiers were killed seemed like an expected response. You can't be killing more than a hundred people and expect the others to do nothing about it. This is not to forget that the attack was on an army base and not against civilians which means that it is more of an act of war rather than an act of terror.

As much as I think that Pakistan is a nation without a moral or a political stand of any kind given its dismal treatment of minorities and that there are too many non-state players who are nearly as powerful as the state itself, I really don't think they are the problem at this point in time. Since it took power as the elected government, the BJP has literally made no serious policy decisions that would positively benefit the masses. Whatever done by the previous government is simply being continued with no effort to make changes by the current government. Whipping up hysteria is not just a strategy but a political weapon, and the only one at the BJP's disposal. We are not merely talking about mediocrity but something more dangerous than that: it is called cynicism.

From cow vigilantism to nationalism, all we get to hear is hysterical outbursts of passion, full of sound and fury signifying nothing. The highlight of the absurd drama is the completely conscienceless suggestion to stop the flow of the Indus river water to Pakistan. It speaks volumes for the cynicism of the party in power. If the cow vigilantes had not taken their role so seriously and gone out of the way in attacking people wherever it suited them, the BJP would not be having this kind of a trouble with either its Dalit voters or the poor who realize that this party not only wants to hit them on their backs but also on their bellies. Therefore, all attempts by the government with generous support from the corporate media to make the masses ready for a war with Pakistan are actually failing miserably. The Indian masses are neither impressed nor interested in that kind of war mongering.

Force is only a stopgap arrangement with the Kashmiri elites playing their own devious role in how willing they are in endorsing the presence of the army to protect their own lives, lifestyles and properties. A government must invest on the people and build institutions rather than create a situation where the only work available for the young is to join the police or the army. A poor country like India cannot afford to be pumping millions for the upkeep of a state that is completely opposed to the idea of India as a nation. The common people have to be included and made to feel that they belong to this nation-state. Nothing is more dangerous than a situation where repression is successful in keeping the masses quiet. It is an ominous sign of bigger changes to come and certainly not for the best. The Edwardian era was a peaceful one and we experience something of that tranquility and humor in the novels of P.G. Wodehouse. The First World War was round the corner and all those illusions of a secure world were shattered in no time.

How can for example the Indian government as a policy support Baloch nationalists fighting for a separate state and say that this does not apply to Kashmiri nationalists? The contradiction is only too obvious and I keep wondering without trying to be ironic, who gives the Narendra Modi government these uncannily pointless ideas. The false sense of security through the use of absolute power is bound to have dangerous consequences in the not-so-long future. The writing on the Kashmiri wall is obvious to those who have eyes to see: either we create an inclusive order that is willing to accommodate the aspirations of the common people of Kashmir or we end up buying the loyalty of the elites with the Indian tax-payer's money and becoming brutally repressive with the masses in the way Israel operates while dealing with the Palestinian Territories.

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Prakash Kona is a writer, teacher and researcher who lives in Hyderabad, India. He is currently Professor at the Department of English Literature, The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad.

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