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

Shahil bats for democracy, pluralism and inter-community dialogue

(Mr. Sahil Showkat, 24, was born in Badripora Naina Sangam, near Awantipora, in Pulwama district. He graduated from the Government Degree College in Anantnag, and his post graduation in Political Science from the University of Kashmir. He is currently a M. Phil. scholar in the Department of Political Science, University of Kashmir.)

The Problem of Identity and Regional Demand

The post modern thought recognizes two basic human urges; one for identity and other for unity. Both would be crushed in forcible uniformed communities. The process of modernization, democratization, information explosion and technological revolution has sharpened the urge for identity. Unity and identity are quite different things. Unity in international perspective is a political feeling whereas identity is local and regional issue, rooted in imagination and is the work of culture.

In fact, there is no singular construct of identity. Identity has multiple natures making people live many identities at a time. This is because of the cross cutting nature of social cleavages and oceanic evolution and formation of identity. Yet what is more pronounced is regional identity. Even the individual’s objective acquires regional specificity. It is the performative variation in identity that distinguishes one region from other. We may presume that the regional identity and entity as significant bearing an approach taking towards the demand, or the regional configuration. These regional identities – its formation, expression, assertion, has been a complicated phenomenon. Most surprisingly regionalism or autonomy movements are based mainly on the concept of identity in Jammu and Kashmir.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir is constituted by three main regions: Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. The internal politics of the state is marked by internal tensions and has influenced the attitude of the people on their external affiliations. In each of the three regions of the state, there is a different perception and attitude on the issue of accession. A sort of local nationalism has developed in all the three regions of the state. People’s alienation from the national identity has been constant problem in Kashmir from long time. They tend to give more importance to ethno – religious and regional identities than to considerations of unified state and the nation. In Jammu and Ladakh regions, regionalism developed as a reaction to the politics of the Kashmir valley where the special status propped the accession of the state to India.

While as the people in Kashmir like to put more emphasis on the issue of autonomy of the state, in Jammu, people in the existing set up, prefer a strong state-centre relation. The Kashmir people mount pressure for the state as against the centre where as people of Jammu demand autonomy against the Kashmir domination. Like the people of Jammu, the Buddhist in Ladakh has also been mobilized against Kashmiri domination. The leaders from Jammu region would usually club Ladakh with Jammu region. Thus, whenever there is a movement against Kashmir domination, they would often allege that people of both Jammu and Ladakh regions do not receive fair and equitable treatment. They insist that the government should ensure a sense of equality among the people of three regions and the existing regional identities should be maintained and kept intact. Therefore, the entire fabric of politics in the state has been mainly based on two issues; the relationship between the Kashmir valley and the centre on the one hand and the relationship between the Kashmir valley, Jammu and Ladakh regions on the other.
The political divergence mentioned above has often become the basis of politicization by the political groups and organizations situated in the three regions of the state. Right from the time of state’s accession in 1947 politics has been generated around the issue of Jammu’s regional interest vis-à-vis Kashmir. The political discourse of regional discrimination and political deprivations claiming themselves has popularized the movements either for trifurcation of the state or for the demand for regional autonomy between these three regions. In this context of political divergence, the inter-regional relationship makes the process of peace most challenging. The local sensitivities in this context assume importance because the issue of political divergence between the Jammu and Kashmir is highly computable to peace process initiated by the govt. of India. The Government of India should also take cognizance of the fact to involve the political leadership that claims to represent the people of the three regions. However, the complexity to the issue of peace and dialogue is provided not as much by the multiplicity of political voices as by their divergence. It is in this context of political divergence that the idea of an intra-state dialogue has acquired prominence. This demand for an intra-state dialogue has not been raised only by the Jammu based political leaders who fear marginalization of their voices in the peace process but also by the Kashmiri separatists who concede the possibility of failure of the process in the absence of an internal synchronization of political views. Abdul Gani Lone, the leader of the People’s Conference, was among the first separatist leaders who recognized the need to engage the voices outside the separatist politics to evolve a broad – based consensus towards the resolution of Kashmir problem. He had organized the first such meetings in Jammu where leaders across the political spectrum were invited to voice their opinion on the issue.

However it should be noted that the intra-state dialogue assumes importance in the context of the multiple identity politics within the state that has been sharpen since accession. Most of the identity politics, operating in terms of ”we” and ”they” has created polarity between different regions and sub – regions. Thus, it is not only the politics of ”Jammu versus Kashmir” or ”Kashmir versus Ladakh” that has been sharpened in the last few years, but also the politics of ”Leh versus Kargil”, ”Jammu versus Doda” and Jammu versus Poonch – Rajouri etc. The internal polarization that has taken place, consequently, has dangerous potential as it can give substance to divisive agendas. To nip such divisive tendencies in the bud, it becomes important to build bridges between the regions and sub – regions through the process of dialogue, otherwise it may generate tensions within the state. To mitigate these diverse agendas of identity, the number of such formulas have been floated from time to time like the Chenab Formula, the series of formulas offered by the U.S Based Kashmir Study Group, or the more recent Musharaf’s Multi – Regional Formula (as well as the internal demands of organizations like Jammu State Morcha and Ladakh Buddhist Association to reorganize the state by separating Jammu and Ladakh from Kashmir). These formulas, do not matched with the ground realties and clearly negate the traditional tenor of the region. That is why these formulas are not being taken very seriously at the local level.

To conclude, we can say that the regional analysis of the popular political aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir is based on a ”cause and effect” relationship. There is no consensus among the people living in different regions of the state with respect to their political future. They stand divided along the regional, religious and ethno lines. Considering the physical and social diversity of the state, its spatial and cultural ties with its neighboring countries, any effort to make Jammu and Kashmir either an independent country or a part of Pakistan or a part of India will not be acceptable to the people of the state entirely.
In order to find a permanent solution to the Kashmir crisis, the people of all regions need to be consulted, to ascertain their regional aspirations. More importantly the people of the state need to be allowed to have an inter-ethnic, inter – religious and inter-regional dialogue to develop consensus to fulfill the mutual political aspirations of the people living in different regions of the state.

Hence, there is a need to develop a democratic, federal, plural and non – centralized type of model that alone can ensure harmony among diverse identities of the state and make them a source of real strength and model for other states of India.