Burhan Qureshi argues that the events of the last decade have yet again crystallised the crisis of legitimacy and control in Kashmir. The 'New Mainstream’ seeks to restore this lost legitimacy and faith in the State by offering itself as an 'unstained' ally to it, as opposed the discredited and bloodstained mainstream of the old, all the while as it seeks to distract from the urgent need of resolution of the core issue itself.
The new mainstream is the most tired of old ruses in Kashmir. There's nothing new or hopeful about it. Whereas the exact nature of this current development might differ from its precedents, mostly when the state directly imposed its writ and agenda through its chosen handymen in Kashmir, from the likes of Bakhshi to Mufti Syed, the function these opportunists perform for the State remains the same. The production of faux 'new alternatives' is a structural necessity of the system, for the old necessarily soils it's hands in innocent blood, thereby making the obviousness of its conceit manifest. It's not incidental that the new mainstream claims as paramount virtue its innocence from having presided over mass murder, an obvious reference to their own kin in the 'mainstream’, who have. In his second innings as the founder of the 'soft-separatist' PDP, Mufti's narrative also didn't involve coming with a bayonet. Instead, he came offering a 'healing touch' and it's not even old history yet how that went down. It's for this long and treacherous lesson of history that our scepticism and rejection of the newest entrants into the field of electoral politics who masquerade by using a language of dissent and dignity is not premature.
Sure enough, in India the flag-bearers of this newest fabrication are seen as anti-establishment given their voluble protests against the current regime, and this has definitely added to the mystification of what they represent - but that even those Indians who are, or who think they are, sympathetic to the people's movement in Kashmir should also go tripping over this new formation and give it their approval reflects to their deliberate attempts at self-delusion, denial and obfuscation viz a viz Kashmir. For us they have nothing to offer, and that you should not be able to see it so already shows that you haven't been really listening at all. Today their hands are free of innocent blood, but given how they have aligned themselves to seek power under the current dispensation and should they be successful in wedging themselves into the established corridors of power, it won't be long before their prime claim to innocence shall have to be forsaken. It's not what they wish to do, what their intentions are: without resolving Kashmir, it's the necessity of the apparatus of power in Kashmir to have to torture, maim, incarcerate and to kill. The opportunists ought to be well aware of this obligation, as should be their well-wishers if they were to be honest. Being anti-fascist alone is not enough to truly appreciate the question of Kashmir and to properly respond to it. No matter how genuine their anti-fascism is, the fact of the matter is it is the current regime they are opposed to. But the current regime is only a moment in the life of the State. In the long duration of events there's no contradiction between this group and the basis of the state, which is precisely the bone of contention in Kashmir.
The time-beaten paradox of the 'mainstream' in Kashmir is this: Even after acknowledging the core problem of Kashmir, at least in their perfunctory statements and depending on the political climate of the time, they wilfully abdicate any responsibility for its resolution and participate thoroughly in the systematic denial of this basic question. Reflecting their lack of imagination and the oldness of this new mainstream, its leadership also seeks power while admitting to their choice/limitation of not proactively seeking Kashmir's resolution: 'the specifics (of resolution) should be left to the future generations’, 'I don't have the strength of character to suffer like the Hurriyat leadership'. Such confessions are neither about honesty nor naivety, this is manifest hypocrisy and blatant opportunism. It's their voracious and insatiable aspiration for personal power that drives their initiative and may indeed take in its wake many naive and gullible people in Kashmir too, who are looking for any way out of the impasse. Its fate, however, is predetermined like that of its predecessors. Depending on how successful they are, their accomplishment will of necessity be as morbid and predatory as their older kin, eventually losing their usefulness, along with their much-cherished innocence - finally, leading to the repetition of the cycle.
Kashmir needs many kinds of labour. It needs the labour to seek the lost, the disappeared, the incarcerated. It needs labour to seek accountability for people responsible for killings and everyday humiliations. It needs the labour to seek an end to arbitrary violence and impunity. It needs labour for healing. Above all, it needs the labour to till the soil for a genuine resolution, for the restoration of human dignity and for the flourishing of peace and stability in South Asia, for genuinely human civilisation to thrive here. The ‘new mainstreamers’ propose to leave the onerous and back-breaking labour of these tasks for the likes of the Hurriyat to suffer, or pass the buck over onto the shoulders of the faceless ‘future generations'. It must be convenient to demand sacrifices and labour and suffering from the old vanguard of the resistance movement, from the dead, from all else, even from those still to be born - whereas, one seeks for themselves the privilege of a face and a seat at the table? Labour of others, fruits ours; Marxism much? Behind the pronouncements of many Marxists, Althusser had noted, mercifully with such brevity that just wasn't his hallmark otherwise, lurks the stink of a bourgeois breath. The ‘go-getter, carpe-diem’ attitude that's so thoroughly inculcated in the consciousness of the professional middle classes as their fundamental and inherent right to submit the world to their personal accomplishments can't be so easy to rid oneself of, despite, one gathers, a year-long apprenticeship at the helm of a proletarian students union. It takes time to realise that the ego is not the centre of the world, that personal successes are only shallow failures, that the self is the site of an abject defeat. Here's a small thought experiment of the kind that is often asked of MBA aspirants: if you were given a time machine and asked to chose between saving the lives of ten persons today or a hundred yet-to-be-born persons from the future, what would you do?
Given their admitted incapacity to work towards a resolution, the alternative they offer that can be summed up in that rut of a cliched phrase that goes by 'good governance'. Jobs, education, roads, electricity, so forth. This is precisely the limit of opportunism (and at least supposed Marxists should be well aware of it). To isolate a set of problems and to seek solutions for them without connecting back to the centrality of the problem itself and without resolving the instances through the resolution of the whole is the problem of opportunism. In what universe can the problem of education, jobs, health and resources in Kashmir be yoked away from the problem of Kashmir itself? Our students don't get to go to school for anything about up to half of a year because of the 'situation', our youth don't have jobs because of the 'situation', our forests and electricity and orchards are not ours because of the 'situation'. Timber is smuggled, electricity is stolen, orchards and farms are occupied because of the 'situation'. There is no development of industry and resources because of the situation. Even the petty Rambagh flyover could not be completed for a decade...because of the situation. Our problem is not the denial of a panoply of rights and resources as much as that too is true. Our fundamental problem is the very denial of the right to life itself. Every week is a massacre, every week lives and limbs are lost, people are incarcerated and blinded. Without addressing the fundamental problem no single problem can be addressed. This living, monumental suffering in Kashmir deserves better than the self-serving representation of people who without any irony project their professed incapacity to truth-telling as some kind of virtue. That sections of progressive groups and people in India who would otherwise like to dissociate themselves from the conduct of the state in Kashmir should give their approval to such an incompetent exercise is pitifully appalling.
The new mainstream is not a 'revolution' as its authors claim. The events of the last decade in Kashmir, have led to precipitation of the crisis of legitimacy and control and have thus thrown a challenge to the State which has necessitated a variety of responses, including such an alternative. The response is a counter-revolution and a capitulation before power. Domestically, its role is limited to offering false hope of an exit from the situation without having addressed it, while it seeks to restore a fig-leaf of faith in the possibility of the justness of the state despite and against the states own culpability and continued barbarity. Only the charm of personal innocence of this avant-garde can lend some sense of rectitude to the master, and restore his dignity. It's this gap in the system, this rupture between the authority and the governed that has been thrown asunder even more so in the preceding decade in Kashmir that the new-mainstream endeavours to fill, and towards which it has offered its services in collaboration. There has been a landslide from underneath the grid of the establishment which the pretenders are offering to fill by shovelling over it. The Midas touch if you will. If only. That this pretence will be difficult to peddle on the ground on account of the sharp politicisation of the people through their education in the movement is obvious. Yet it must of necessity demand people's attention and their energy, to which end it has only now taken the first steps. This false movement will have served its purpose when the current crisis that has assumed the forms of mass revolt and also insurrection is again tamed and restored to a stable impasse. That's the place of the new mainstream in the scheme of things, whether it's participants and leaders acknowledge it or not. It's not that Kashmir can't be solved except for a revolt or an insurrection, but that's not the alternative the 'new mainstream' is about. Its search is for power, to feed off the crumbs that come it's way and to that extent, the new mainstream has made apparent its calculation about the eventual end-game: the status quo is bound to prevail. So far, this alleged 'revolution' is an ordinary and a safe bet on the success of power that any ‘objective’ profiteer throwing his hat in the ring would have banked on.
Outside of Kashmir, this new Avante-Garde shall add to the existing zoological chorus of deliberate mystifications so necessary at maintaining the fetishist disavowal of Kashmir's reality within India's civil society, media, and across opinion making platforms, possibly, globally. This fetishist disavowal, of course, met its crowning glory recently when the question of the right to self-determination was turned through a semantic sleight of hand and presented as an incredulous 'mein’ ya 'se’ debate. Since then, Kashmir has been dropped from the sky-shattering slogans raised in the name of Aazadi, not just by the young brood of old traditional Marxists but also by their feminist counterparts, even as ever new revolutionary prefixes keep adding to rhythmic beats of the slogan. In the immediate aftermath of the ‘mein ya se’ semantical convolutions, when Kashmiris were claiming that their slogan had been appropriated without taking their struggle on board, the most hardwired and radical among the student-activists lectured on the history and genealogy of the slogan, suggesting the chant was not exclusive to Kashmir. Artistic cartographic drawings were made suggesting the Arabic, Persian, Indic roots and traces of the word. God bless us for the lack of context, for life would be so much the harder with everything being placed in context. Yet, since then, Kashmir has been resolutely and exclusively excluded from any association with the slogan. The missing link in the lexico-carto-genealogical imagination of anarchists, in the utopias of Indian Marxists and feminists, in the lyrics of Bollywood hits has a name: say my name. The comedy of errors is rather galling. This is only a primer on such appropriation and false-representation, and what would follow now with the new mainstream and their backers in India, could be an even more arduous and longer path of denial.
It's also pertinent to mention that both Faesal and Rashid make it a point to highlight the opportunity and privilege of their education in elite institutions outside of Kashmir as a moment of self-realisation. It's indeed possible for such opportunities, not just with the universities they have attended, but also by coming in contact with a world hitherto outside of one's own imagination and experience, to be radically liberating and transformative. But in the case of both Faesal & Rashid, their admissions betray a severely colonised mind. No one in Kashmir needs to go to JNU or to Harvard in order to reflect on their own experiences of Kashmir and to see its clear dimensions. It's only the colonised mind that seeks the validation of its experiences from its own colonisers and exploiters. The ordinary farmer in Kashmir, like the ordinary school going kid, knows the truth of Kashmir without having to suffer the experience of such privilege. Our Johny-come-lately are now attempting a messianic transformation of this colonised subjectivity and are arming their privileges in the service of personal ambitions. This messianic attitude seeks to project a false deliverance from the crisis for a downtrodden flock of sheep that do not know their way. This, however, is patently not the case. Ordinary Kashmiris are themselves the authors of their struggle for justice as well as conscious bearers of its painful repercussions. To seek to deliver us from our suffering by avoiding the very cause of this suffering is dishonest and cunning.
Another twisted factor that has come to be part of this present moment regarding Kashmir should not be allowed to go remiss. The canard of blasphemy levelled against Rashid by some of her co-participants from the disparate gamut of students movements of the last few years, seems to have picked a new life now in Kashmir. Social media posts and videos are already circulating where ill-informed people are repeating this charade. While this ridiculous allegation does indeed endanger her own well being certainly, it also portends a dangerous threat to the interests of the movement in Kashmir. Reasonably informed people, and there's no doubt that the students would not be aware of this, would have known well of the incendiary nature of such an allegation. If anything has come close to laying the basis for a fascist turn in neighbouring Pakistan, it is the discourse surrounding blasphemy, as well as being the source of systemic legal victimisation of members of minority communities. Blasphemy is the potential equivalent of the Babri Masjid-Ram Janambhoomi moment that has already catapulted India to its theo-fascist turn. It will not be good news to know that in the case of Asia Bibi, who was recently acquitted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan of the charge of blasphemy, the group at the forefront of the protests against her release and which attempted to hold the state hostage in the case of her potential acquittal was led by the traditional Sunni base. It is this group which forms the majority of the population, both in Pakistan as well as in Kashmir. The more conservative Muslim groups can only be expected to extend their support to the chorus. To the credit of the people of Pakistan, however, the representatives of this movement who vigorously participated in the last general elections held there received little support and ended up losing on perhaps all the seats they contested. Nonetheless, it is a testament to the strength of the ‘anti-blasphemy’ movement in Pakistan and to the threat this potential moment of a fascist downturn poses, that Bibi has not been released despite her acquittal and continues to be held hostage at some undisclosed location. The irresponsible people who have contributed to this canard against Rashid, should the discourse grow and assume more centre stage, should realise that they may have paved the way for a fascist spiral in Kashmir as well while decentering the legitimate political movement for the right to self-determination. Kudos to you.♦
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Wande Magazine.