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

Ashraf has some good advice for Kashmir’s political leadership. But by ignoring the role of the civil society in shaping Kashmir’s prosperity, he is missing the big picture

(Mr. Mohammad Ashraf, 65, was born and raised in Srinagar. He attended the S.P. High School and the S.P College before joining the Regional Engineering College at Naseem Bagh in Civil Engineering. However, he changed his career to adventure sports like mountaineering and skiing, completing his training at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling and Gulmarg. He also completed a diploma in French language from the Alliance Française in New Delhi. He joined the J&K Tourism Department in 1973, rose to become its Director-General in 1996, and retired in 2003 after 30 years of service. He has been associated with the Adventure Sports at the national level and was recently re-elected as the Vice-President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, the apex body of adventure sports in India, for two years. To commend his efforts in introducing rescue measures in Kashmir Mountains, he was awarded “Merite-Alpin” by Swiss in a special function in Les Diablerets in 1993. He continues to be a member of the Governing Council of IMF and is also the President of Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering & Hiking Club.)

After Elections, What?

The recent elections held in the State threw up many surprises. Firstly, against all calculations and assessments, there was appreciable voluntary participation by the people. The call for boycott had very few takers. No doubt the Hurriyat and other leaders who had given the call for boycott were detained, placed under house arrest, and physically prevented from canvassing for the boycott through countless declared and undeclared curfews, yet the turn out of voters demonstrated that the people had made their own decisions in regard to participation in these elections. They had a very strange argument. The elections were for good governance and “Azadi” was a separate issue. They wanted both, good governance and “Azadi”.

Several theories are being advanced for this npredictable behaviour of Kashmiris. The behaviour has been classified as two extremes, a revolution seeking salvation on one hand to a mass suicide on the other! Some say Kashmiris have always been unreliable, cheats, liars, selfish, timid, cowardly, and so on. Many foreign authors, explorers, and travellers are quoted for these unhealthy attributes of a Kashmiri. Moorcroft, Sir Walter Lawrence, Tyndale Biscoe, and others are supposed to have pointed out this behaviour in the writings about Kashmir. However, these writings have been quoted out of context. No one has pointed out that these authors have also stated that this behaviour of Kashmiris is because of their urge for survival drilled into their psyche after centuries of external subjugation. People have been pinning for “Azadi” for centuries, and “Azadi” for a common Kashmiri means complete and total emancipation. Even the present struggle is more than half a century old! The failure of the boycott leaders can be attributed to their inability to convince people about the blueprint for “Azadi” projected by them. In fact, they have neither a clear definition of “Azadi” nor a blue print to achieve it.

Everything is abstract and vague. Kashmir’s greatest misfortune has been the vague and wavering leadership. One cannot preach “Azadi” sitting in posh bungalows, riding luxury four wheel drive vehicles, and enjoying all the goodies of life to a people facing all the hardships of day to day living. It is true everywhere. The Mumbai attacks can be taken as a parallel. As long as the common people in India faced various terrorist attacks, the intellectuals, the elite, the media controlled by the elite did not bother too much. It was only when the elite itself received a direct hit that all hell broke out for the top intellectuals, policy makers, and the media stalwarts (controlled by the elite). But the common man continued to remain more or less unaffected. In fact, they may be drawing sadistic pleasure from the discomfiture of the upper classes. Right from 1931, Kashmir’s leadership has ditched the common masses at the most crucial periods in their struggle for total emancipation. No one has really bothered to give a practical and a realistic goal of “Azadi”.

Mainstream, downstream, upstream, and the separatist or any other type of leadership has always kept its own short term goals in view. They have never tried to ascertain the true aspirations and needs of the people. They have mostly advanced their own aspirations. Recently greater Kashmir carried a story about the day to day living of some of the leaders of the popular movement for “Azadi” who have been confined to their homes for last few months. Any common Kashmiri would envy their life style in the present difficult conditions. No doubt there are dozens of other freedom lovers incarcerated in various prisons throughout India but as the proverb goes, out of sight is out of mind! The visible leaders do not seem to impress the common masses with their route maps to “Azadi”. Moreover, the ego clashes coming into open must also be a discouraging factor. If the leadership cannot forge unity among themselves on such an important issue how can they lead others? Kashmir must be the only place in history where more than 30 different parties and organisations are trying to lead people to one and the same goal.

Normally all such freedom movements in history have had a single leader and a single party to guide and lead it to the final goal. It is only after the goal is attained that political parties mushroom to take over the governance. Here, we have a political struggle for leadership going on even before reaching the goal! This must have made “Azadi” look like a very distant goal for the common people. So much for the “Freedom” camp. As regards the “loyalists” and the “developers”, they have been in the business of “development” for over half a century. Instead of projecting peoples’ aspirations, they have been looking after their own aspirations. They have always had a one point programme. How to make hay while the sun shines? In the process of developing people, they have fully developed themselves. There has been no limit to the funds for development made available by the Central Government. So far over a couple of hundred thousand crores must have been pumped into Kashmir.

This does not include the funds pumped in by various agencies on both sides of the divide. If all this money had truly gone into development and for the upliftment of the poor, Kashmir should have by now been the best welfare state in the whole sub-continent. It would have truly become the Switzerland of Asia or the Eden of the East! A Kashmiri has been continuously facing a dilemma. He has been trying to get the both, the good governance and the illusive “Azadi” and in the process he has got neither! His recent behaviour regarding both the massive upsurge for “Azadi” and the unprecedented turn out for voting is simply a revolt against the entire leadership whether for ultimate freedom or for development. This has confused all.

The political pundits and the forecasters, the pro-freedom sympathisers and the mainstream advocates. Let us forget all confusing situations and insoluble puzzles. There has been an election and a government would soon be in the saddle but the question is what will happen then? Will the government which takes over the reins of power be able to deliver the good governance the people have voted for? Will they be able to fulfil the promises they have made to the people? They have been promising more than the moon! The infrastructure, the employment, and above all the cessation of harassment and humiliation. Keeping in view the past experience it is not difficult to hazard a guess. The broth will not be any different when the cooks are unchanged! We may give them new names, new clothes, and even new implements but they will do the same cooking they have been doing for decades unless they get a new innovative Chef who means business. If this does not happen, the people who had been coming forward in hordes upon hordes to cast their votes will again get disillusioned and the leaders propagating “Azadi” will try to be back in business.

However, this time they may have stiff competitors. The youth brought up by the conflict of last two decades will challenge them. They are capable of even leading the traditional leaders as was demonstrated during the last upsurge. They are tough, hardened, dedicated, and unrelenting. If they go into the mode of “Azadi”, it will be a difficult situation for all. For peace to prevail something dramatic must visibly happen and that too very soon. Otherwise we may be in for a “hot” summer next year.