Rekha notes the vacuum created by the withdrawal of gun has been filled by aggressive posturing in the post militancy phase
(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 Separatist Politics: the New Phase
The situation as it has now evolved in Kashmir reflects a deep-rooted crisis emanating out of the acute trust-deficit vis-à-vis Centre on the one hand and breakdown of political communication with the ruling elite of the state, on the other. However, it also reflects the change within the Separatist political space. This change though visible for more than three years now has become very clearly discernable during the present unrest which has been going on for more than a month now.
The separatist politics has shifted itself from the stage of armed militancy to post-militancy. With militancy having declined substantially, the separatist politics is now defined by the popular protests. For quite some time one can see the rise of the politics of protest in Kashmir–with small and big protests taking place almost on weekly or monthly–mostly around the issues of human rights. Since 2007 there has been a recurrence of protests. Throughout the year 2007, there were numerous small and big demonstrations. The year had started with a massive response following the exhumation of body of Abdur Rahim Padroo and four other innocent villagers killed in fake encounters and it ended with the protest demonstrations in two separate incidents of killings– one in Magam in Budgam district and the other in Kukroosa in Kupwara district. The politics of protest took a massive shape in 2008 when the popular upsurge around the Amarnath land row took place in two phases. The whole summer of that year was consumed by this agitation. Likewise, the year 2009 was consumed by the agitation around the Shopian episode. The protest politics continued in 2010, this time around the issue of fake encounter of three civilians–and now the present stage of protest around the killing of teenagers.
The Amarnath agitation was the defining moment in this new politics of protest. It actually gave a new life to the separatist politics which was facing a sort of crisis at that time. Not only was it the decline of militancy but also the fragmentation of the separatist organisations which had affected the separatist politics. The separatists were further facing a crisis of relevance with the mainstream political parties, especially the PDP hijacking the separatist agenda and bringing it to the mainstream space. There was no issue of separatist politics which had remained exclusive to the separatists. All their issues were now being raised not only in the public rallies of the mainstream parties but also on the floor of the legislature.
The Amarnath agitation not only brought the separatists once more to the centre stage of Kashmir’s politics but also clearly defined its direction for the time to come. Separatist politics, since Amarnath agitation, is not directed from above but by the spontaneous popular response from below. It is not being sustained by the leadership and organisations occupying the separatist space, but by the issues which are rising at the ground level. It is the popular separatist sentiment, inflamed mostly by the violation of rights of people which is nourishing the separatist politics–rather than the long term agenda or vision of the separatist leaders.
This new phase of politics reflects a reversal of roles – between the leaders and the people. Rather than leading the politics, the leaders are following their ‘followers’. Once an issue is taken up by the people, the leaders and organisations become activated. The initiative however, does not lie as much with the leaders, as with people on the street. In the end, it is the ‘street’ which is defining the separatist politics.
Certainly, this reflects a crisis of separatist organisations and leaders. Since the multi-directional split of the Hurriyat Conference, there is fragmentation in the separatist politics. The problem of Kashmir’s separatist politics is not that it does not have leaders – the problem is that it has too many. The unity of purpose and single-minded direction of politics therefore remains a consistent problem. All efforts at the unity have failed. Added to this is the credibility crisis of the separatist leadership.
One can see that there is a vacuum. There is a strong separatist sentiment on the ground but this sentiment is not matched with a credible organisation and leadership. The vacuum is therefore filled in by the street politics. The street politics, in turn, is now controlled by the youth, many of whom are teenagers. In the absence of a vision and direction from above, it is the stone pelting by the teenagers which has become the most potent symbol of resistance.
The present stage in the separatist politics is being defined as one of the most aggressive stage with separatist sentiment being reinforced and intensified; new slogans being coined (like Go India, go back) and becoming popular and; a new kind of militancy being witnessed with ‘boys’ refusing to listen to any suggestion to mallow down their responses (and even daring Syed Salahudin not to intervene). However, one cannot say that this is a gratifying situation for politics of Kashmir in general and the separatist politics in particular. It raises a number of questions? To what extent this politics which is living from one issue to another can be sustained? and what direction will it take? However the most important question is about the role of the teenagers at present. Is it fair to put all the burden of separatist politics on the shoulders of the teenagers? And at what cost?