In the Battle of Narratives: A Tale of Two Lolab lads

In the current decade two images emerged from the mesmeric valley of Lolab, Kashmir left indelible marks on the political landscape of Kashmir. Shah Faesal, who had topped the Indian Administrative Services (IAS) exams in 2009, decided to enter electoral politics with an approach that, he felt would alleviate the miseries of his people and grant them their long-denied political, religious and social rights.

Barely some kilometers away from Faesal’s home and nestling in the same picturesque valley, a young man by the name of Mannan Wani who shook the whole nation when he left his Ph.D program midway to join the armed ranks and became a rebel commander of Hizbul Mujahideen – the largest armed group fighting Indian rule in Kashmir. These two Lolab lads, closely linked and having trudged the same paths and feasted on the same scenes of Lolab, were thus poles apart in their ideological leanings. However, with time it became easier to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Come August 5, 2019 and every facade fell like a proverbial pack of cards. The living bureaucrat-turned-politician received a quick answer to his enterprise and the martyred scholar-turned-rebel-commander became more relevant than ever.

It was in his December 2016 write-up in Indian Express that Faesal with intense support for “an emerging superpower” argued that “India is the only country in the world with which a culturally diverse and politically disparate entity like Jammu and Kashmir can find anchor”. This came after five long months of mass upsurge after the killing of top Hizb commander Burhan Wani whose killing sparked a massive agitation in the valley with government troops killing at least 90 civilians, blinding hundreds and injuring thousands.

While Faesal’s views were widely appreciated in India, it had a few takers in Kashmir. Faesal, known for propagating the integrationist agenda in Kashmir, batted for what most Kashmiris termed as a total surrender and a compromise on political belief for which they have been fighting since decades. The article in its details stressed upon abandoning “the false hope and macabre heroism and work towards a dignified exit from the conflict”. It suggested Kashmiris “to go back to the drawing board and see what went wrong”. Faesal argued that the people of Kashmir have a problem in “using violence as an instrument of grievance redressal”. By this Faesal wanted his fellow Kashmiris to stop resorting to what he believed was ‘violence’ in order to make themselves reach out and be heard.

It is pertinent to mention here that the 2008 mass agitation that was triggered by a land row was deemed as “agitational terrorism” by General Commanding in Chief of Indian Army’s Northern Command, Lieutenant General B S Jaswal. Jaswal declared that the shift from armed struggle to an unarmed civilian protests against the state harnessed to what he thought was an unarmed terrorist violence on the ground.

Faesal, while downplaying the people’s will to resist the naked oppression and advocating for historical impossibility, forgot to mention the Indian state’s machinations of silencing the non-violent protests for right to self determination. Many wondered that the naked dance of death that Kashmir witnessed on its streets in 2008 and 2010 didn’t go across his mind while blaming Kashmiris for their “indiscipline” during the 2016 mass agitation that shook India off its phantom dreams. Also, the mass blindings that made international headlines, failed to qualify for even a slightest of condemnation in his opinion piece.

Earlier, in his May 2016 article in the Indian Express, Faesal highlighted the need of Kashmiri students to go for Indian Civil Services; something that most Kashmiris feel is the collaboration with the Indian state to strengthen the roots of occupier in the region. He, with great emotions, stated that “wherever there is a requirement or scope for constructive engagement with the state, be it civil, police or military institutions, the ever-online armchair jihadi is ready with his decrees and such engagement is censured”.

However, most people that those who qualify IAS have to surrender their individuality to the dictations of the giant machine. But Faesal after qualifying the exam said that he would not be fettered by his position while serving the interests of his people. He contended that, “qualifying the civil services is an act of resistance” and that deserves to be “celebrated by all”. However, in a complete contradiction to his earlier optimism for civil services, Faesal in the beginning of this year resigned from IAS to ‘protest’ against the killings in Kashmir and ‘marginalisation of Indian Muslims’. He then went on to lay foundation of his new political party to officially plunge into the electoral politics – a process that Kashmiris view as the highest level of fraud and deception. From the outset – from topping IAS to propagating the integrationist agenda to resigning from the services and creating a new political party – Faesal remained highly controversial in his ideas. Interestingly, he was recently detained from airport and sent back to Kashmir where he has been put under house arrest.

After august 5, he tweeted that the abrogation of Article 370 “has finished the mainstream” and that “you can either be a stooge or a separatist”. Before this, Faesal in a joint write-up with Mehboob Makhdoomi, contradicted his earlier claims and acknowledged that Kashmiris cannot surrender even after a hundred thousand deaths and the Indian state should engage with the Hurriyat leadership in Kashmir to find any lasting solution to the dispute.

While there was a complete shift from his earlier views, Faesal didn’t come out from the delusion of living a ‘dignified life’ under Indian control over the region. He, by creating his new political party, came ideologically closer to the time-tested Trojan horses of Delhi in Kashmir, however, ignoring the simple fact that no ‘mainstream’ political party in Kashmir can do anything without the due permission of New Delhi, let alone find any solution to the world’s most protracted dispute.

A few kilometers away from Faesal’s home, emerged a new voice challenging Indian presence in Jammu and Kashmir. The voice was that of Mannan Wani, a young scholar-turned-rebel commander, possessing conscious intellect and an impregnable resolve but who latter fell to the bullets of government troops on October 11, 2018. In his article titled Voice from the Hills (published after he joined the armed ranks), Wani rebutted Faesal without naming him. He argued that, “where history has to be saffron, allegiance has to be to Dogras, subjugation has to be the identity and compromise has to be the principle, only the bruised souls can try an anchor”.

Mannan’s first letter shook the foundations of Indian presence in Kashmir, with government agencies bringing down the article and blacking out the links. It was for the first time that any militant had decided to write back to empire and deconstruct the statist narratives aimed at obfuscating the truth and criminalizing any debate regarding the right to self determination. The late commander’s pen posed a far stronger threat to the establishment than his gun. Responding to the overwhelming disruption in the security establishment caused by his first letter, Wani in his second letter wrote that, “our occupier lacks the spine to bear our word.” In his second letter, he further wrote:

A place where the interests of the occupier run supreme and undeclared war on the civilian people, black laws define the activism and politics is a prostitute, restoring the dignity of one’s own self by a non-violent culture is a false hope. When the occupier is uncivilized, its collective conscience is bloodthirsty, its morality is deceit, its mindset is hegemonic and it thinks through the barrel of the gun, the response cannot be a peace talk, it has to be to crush her arrogance.

Mannan wani’s letters were read with great interest in Kashmir and beyond with people finding a better reason to counter the flawed assertions ascribed to armed struggle in the region. The young guerrilla leader stated that, “those who feel that this is the glorification of pain must remember that we cannot sanctify the pain of being a slave.” This came in response to the narrative pushed by some elite statists that Kashmiris must stop from glorifying their pain in the name of resistance. A vast portion of Wani’s second letter overtly addressed the likes of Faesal. He artistically debunked the myth of democratic space available in the valley through which Kashmiris were supposed to fight for their rights. Wani expressed his disdain for the civil services and said that these, “civil servants are the enthusiastic PSA appliers” who are there to downplay the people’s will.

Showing more contempt towards the electoral politics in Jammu and Kashmir, Wani in his letter wrote that, “if you stay away from the ballots, you will save yourself from their bullets in the long run” and continued that, “those who beg you for votes are being sold as peoples support to the integrationist agenda.” He in a way completely rejected the ‘mainstream’ in Kashmir and argued that these politicians have over the years played with the emotions of common people by making lofty claims of resolving the dispute only to garner some support and remain closer to the greater power games.

Manan’s views about the ‘mainstream’ are purely what most of the Kashmiris feel on ground. Wani’s words were ultimately proven right when on August 5, the ‘mainstream’ camp was rendered completely irrelevant when the Indian government, through a presidential decree, decided to unilaterally revoke whatever little autonomy the state enjoyed.

The ‘mainstream’ politicians who left no stone unturned to maintain India’s grip over the region and crush the popular sentiment across Jammu and Kashmir were locked in their houses like rest of the Kashmiris before abrogating article 370 of Indian constitution. Though the not-so-mainstream was irrelevant from the very outset, it was somehow selling the farcical idea of equality and protection from the nefarious designs of New Delhi to the gullible masses of Kashmir.

Both the PDP and NC leadership – which paved the way for BJP to gain foothold in the state and helped the centre in restarting the sham electoral process in 1996 respectively– were both arrested by the government before abrogating the article 370. Before this, a narrative by some ‘enlightened’ lot was pushed and the mainstream camp was referred to as an important stakeholder in the valley.

Now, as the politics in Kashmir stands robbed and crippled, little does one doubt that the locus standi of 2009 IAS sensation from Kashmir also stands pitifully battered and disgraced. The history has already unveiled to us the plight of the collaborators, but we were yet to witness the fate of Faesalesque collaboration, one that demanded us to sew our wounds with the needles drawn from the iron-cold drawers of our ‘dearest' oppressor, not to speak of scrubbing our memories and learning to forget – our martyrs, our pain, our honor and our bruised land.

And history, we know, never teases, it locks us up in its chambers and feeds us with past lessons which, in order to understand the present, must be remembered. However, when we try to tease history, it takes us in its dusty arms and places us on its cobwebbed shelves – immortalized infamously as lessons for further generations. We already had Abdullah's and Mufti’s there, resting on history’s dingy shelves and now history is again creating space for the likes of Faesal – to seek lessons from and never to forget the fate of sly collaboration.

As Kashmiris we do remember, as did our rebel-commander Manan Wani, whose wisdom combined with great courage, dared to look fiercely into the eyes of his oppressor and send shivers down the spine of the state. History adequately rewards the brave and noble souls and today Manan Wani stands as relevant as light to the day and stars to the night. The whole nation remembers you commander!