“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Prof. Chowdhary says what saner elements of the Civil Society in the Valley should have said days back. Having an uniformly single point of view is like being elected by 100% of electorate – it has no credibility

(Prof. Rekha Chowdhary, 55, was born in Jammu and has been a university teacher for the past 30 years. She is currently the Professor of Political Science, University of Jammu. During her distinguished teaching career, she was the visiting Fellow under a Ford Foundation grant at the Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford, in 1992-1993; winner of the Commonwealth Award availed at the University of Oxford, 1997-1998; and the Fulbright Fellow availed at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at the Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC, in 2005.)

The need to assert the middle ground

It has happened once again! The politics that generally lies at the fringes and the margins, has assumed the centre space. It is a frenzy that seems to have swayed everyone. As a consequence the sensitivities have increased, the emotions have been amplified and the identities have been sharpened. No more the people are seen the citizens of the state. Their identity has been reduced to being ‘Hindus’ of Jammu or ‘Muslims’ of Kashmir – ‘Hindus’ and ‘Muslims’ who are living with the fear of loss of identity at the hands of each other. The polarisation that has taken place in last few days over the issue of land transfer to the SASB has generated a divisive politics of ‘we’ and ‘they’. This politics not only draws a clear distinction between ‘us’ the and ‘them’ , but also carries the burden of holding ‘them’ responsible for all ‘our’ fears and phobias associated with the loss of identity.

The political discourse of last few days is clearly reflective of all this happening. While in Kashmir, it is the fear of the loss of the Muslim majority character of the state, the ‘cultural and religious aggression’ – in Jammu, it is the fear of endangering the religious sentiments of Hindus, the assault on their right to pilgrimage. The fear is being used by the political actors in both the places to raise emotions and in the process to raise mutually exclusive and contradictory demands.

This is a very perilous situation – not only because it raises sectarian emotions, but because it is a trap for most of the political actors. In a situation when politics gets to be controlled and defined by the sectarian elements lying at the extreme, the non-sectarian political actors find no option but to follow the suit. It is not a matter of conviction but of compulsion. When passions are raised, no one wants to take the risk of going against the stream and taking a contradictory position. Not only it might mean being ‘unpopular’ at the moment but also might result in being pushed to political wilderness for ever. So rather than taking a principled position emanating from one’s ideological stance, the political parties and groups tend to join the bandwagon and play to the gallery the emotive politics -stretching the issue to the very extreme, in the process.

It is very unfortunate that the regional and communal polarization is taking place at this time. During last two decades of conflict, we have gone through various kinds of situations but have emerged unscathed, without falling prey to communal and chauvinist politics. There have been all kinds of provocations with a deliberate attempt to communalise the conflict. But we have not only survived but also proved that despite ethno-cultural differences; divergent nature of political aspirations and; multiple identity politics, we value the integrity and plurality of this state. We have beaten all kinds of divisive tendencies and made irrelevant the idea of division of state on communal lines. The evidence lies in the failure of both the kinds of politics – of Chenab Formula on the one hand and the politics of Trifurcation of the State on the other.

So, there is a need to introspect, at this juncture, as to where are we going now. Why are we allowing the politics to take this kind of polarised direction – where we are facing each other in confrontationist manner; where one kind of sectarianism is being responded by another kind of sectarianism; where shrill is suppressing all voices of reason.

Certainly, we have failed at one point. We have learnt to live very well with the cultural and political differences but we have not invested our energies in building the middle ground, especially in the context of regionally divided politics of the state. We have come to reconcile the ‘other’ and even acknowledged the space for divergent political aspirations but we have not gone beyond that. A number of times, in the last few years, the political class at all levels of politics (whether in the genre of mainstream politics or the separatist politics) has been talking of the need to have intra-state and inter-regional dialogues. Some efforts have been made in this direction as well, but not enough to break the exclusive nature of regional politics.

Regional chauvinism, in this state, has every danger of becoming communally chauvinist. And we have seen very often, in such like situation as it has evolved now, it takes only a momentary provocation to flare up regional and communal emotions. The last time it was the issue of the State Subject of Women, and earlier the Resettlement Bill – which brought us to the brink of emotionally surcharged politics. Such politics, as we see, does not have a long life and passes and normalcy is restored. This will happen this time also. This storm will pass and normalcy will be restored. But it brings us to face the reality – behind the surface, there lies this possibility of sharply divided, mutually exclusive regional politics which can assert itself any moment, thereby upsetting all our claims of maintaining the plural and secular traditions.

While plurality and secular ethos are to be found in our lived realities – the realities of our mixed living and of exemplary inter-community relations – we have ignored the need to build the common political spaces. The politics of this state is still based upon regionally carved political constituencies with no common middle ground. Thus there is a dominant logic of ‘Kashmiri’ politics as well as of ‘Jammu’ politics which is not only defined by its exclusivity but also by its zero-sum relationship with the other. However, there is not much politics which finds commonalities between Kashmir and Jammu, which emphasises common bonds, and which makes a deliberate attempt at building bridges between the two. While people speak as Kashmiris and Jammuites, there are not many who speak as citizens of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. At the political subconscious level, it is an almost established fact that the future of the state lies in its integrity, in its plurality and in its secular ethos. But at the conscious political level, the appreciation of this point has not been translated into deliberate efforts of overcoming the exclusive agendas of pursuing a Kashmiri versus Jammu and Jammu versus Kashmiri politics and building a politics that is inclusive of both Kashmiris and Jammuites.

This is the failure that we need to capture at this moment of crisis. We shall certainly overcome the quandary that we are in, sooner or later. But this is the lesson that we need to learn – that we need to make a very deliberate attempt at creating a more inclusive politics. Whether it is the political class, the media, the intellectuals or other opinion makers – they have to take the responsibility of evolving a political discourse that connects the people of one region with those of the other. They have to change the logic of exclusive identity politics which has always the danger of being appropriated by those holding extreme positions.