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Need to think about Kashmir in a new way

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The BJP’s decision to pull the plug on its alliance with Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party in Jammu and Kashmir can be explained sociologically as a fatal dualism that had to come apart. Some say it was for electoral reasons, and elections do make people behave differently — calculations and numbers become more important at election time.
In fact, the power of Madhar Ashish as the chartered accountant of electoral numbers is clear. As numbers drop, the nation is less important and the rules of the party take over. The PDP is then dispensable. An air of inevitability cloaks the normative issues disguised in the decision. In such a scenario, two things are clear. First, the BJP prefers the nation state to the nation and talks of law and order as a substitute for unity. Second, it prefers the party to the nation state. When the chips are down, political survival becomes critical. It is all arithmetic and there is no sense of care or concern for Kashmir or the country. People don’t matter except as voters. It is after all election time.
One can’t help but compare such regressive behaviour with what is happening in the Korean peninsula. US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are seedy characters, yet even they seem desperate for peace. Maybe the Madhav Ashishes behind the two are more courageous, more ready to take risks. Even if this political round ends in a farce, they have shown that guts and imagination can alter politics. It also shows even a Trump knows the limits of his blustering, bully boy politics.
Western politics has shown that imagination, vision and courage can create breakthroughs: the reconciliation of the two Germanys and Desmond Tutu’s attempt to create a different South Africa are two such examples. Such a politics only looks like a miracle because of Tutu’s faith in the everydayness of ordinary people transcending themselves.
The BJP, working within its politics of blinders, is content with electoralism. Its short-run mentality has no sense of the future. It can’t dream beyond the logic of history like other politicians. In that sense, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not a Tutu, a Vaclav Havel or a Willy Brandt. He can only be a Putin stuck in the quagmire of power politics. At least Vladimir Putin has football to give him a patina of popularity, Mr Modi’s game run of policy as far as Kashmir goes is losing steam.
In fact, one often wonders whether India will make a leap of faith into the future on Kashmir. Mr Modi, unlike Keynes, believes we are all dead in the short run, and that there is no opportunity to experiment. Unlike Tutu or Brandt, he does not realise a miracle is only the hard work behind a new paradigm of thinking.
One is appalled when one discovers the boundedness of our thinking. Our so-called votebanks in Kashmir behave like Pavlovian creations. They only drool when the electoral bell rings. Few seem to look at the fact that we haven’t gone beyond the Kathua affair. When rape and murder gets electoral endorsement and professional support, one wonders whether loyalties will ever reach up to decency. One sees opportunism. Breaking up after Kathua would have sent a different message. To declare the alliance as terminally and congenitally ill adds a gravitas to it, a touch of inevitability. The onus is now on governor N.N. Vohra. Can Mr Vohra produce a different cameo?
Just think about the situation in Korea. It is clear neither Mr Kim nor Mr Trump knows much about peace. Their bureaucrats must be working hard to make their intent look like content. But such rituals can create the beginning of a miracle. One wonders if Mr Vohra can go beyond the predictability of Governor’s Rule. The question is whether we can set the stage for a different kind of conversation, not of power and stability but of the rituals required for a peaceful and decent society.
The stage is already set to work against such an idea. Governor’s Rule is evaluated purely in terms of the logic of control, of decline in causalities or of future electoral advantage. Our media editorials seem to celebrate every impasse as a major achievement. Can one think differently?
The shoots of such thinking are present in the courageous groups of small voluntary groups — to think about peace, to literally secede from the language of security that seems to dominate the thoughtless thinking around Kashmir. It is almost as if machismo and management are wedded together, that Kashmir can be thought of only as a pathology and a problem.
Civil society groups think more in terms of hearing and listening rather than in accord with the logic of power as visual control. Security and electoral maps colour areas of control as if no other possibility can be thought through.
Can we use the interlude to think through differently?
Three groups have to become more significant in this new process. First, people have to be empowered in terms of voice. Some of my students who are now teaching in Kashmir observed that they have lost their existence as articulate citizens. Citizens are becoming black boxes or black holes of politics.
Violence does not merely silence people. It virtually erases the presence of a people. Second, civil society should now be ready to challenge the Orwellian language of security. Civil society in India has always been cautious, in fact, proper, when challenging the idea of security or even foreign policy. It sadly seems to accept the logic of a nation state and the boundaries of thought it dictates to a people. Civil society as rights groups, peace groups and environmental groups has to break in so that we as a nation can break out of the current paradigm which we call thought. It has to play the intellectual broker, translator and magnifier of possibilities seriously. Civil society is our major tout for peace and it has to accept this role gracefully and inventively. It should try to create a virtual parliament of representations where divisiveness can be reworked as diversity. This civil society has to create little “panchayats” of debate and problem-solving. The law and order issue makes more sense when peace is a prospect on the horizon. Kashmir desperately needs to experiment with peace from the nukkad and the bunker to the state level. Politicians, who have lost the habit of peace or even forgotten its language, should have the modesty to work with these groups and explore new possibilities. They shouldn’t forget that the seeds and ideas of Vaclav Havel’s Velvet Revolution came out of jazz concerts. Kashmir desperately needs such inventions and possibilities rather than the dreariness of Governor’s Rule, under which bureaucrats become larger-than-life creatures. Third, the university that has been subject to such corrosive undermining by the current establishment, should reassert its courage and its intellectual responsibility rethinking history and philosophy into the new idea of peace. Otherwise all we will face in the future is the dullness of terror and the hypocrisy of electoralism.
(Courtesy: Asian Age)


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Opinion

Being fair and transparent

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By  Navin B. Chawla

Two phases of the 2019 general election have been completed. Polling has finished in 186 out of 543 parliamentary constituencies. Polling in Vellore, Tamil Nadu, has been cancelled for corrupt practices. Five phases still remain till counting is comprehensively undertaken for all the seven phases of the election, on May 23. The reason to complete all the phases is that the result of any one phase should not influence the choices that electors may make.

Having served the Election Commission of India (EC) for five-and-a-half years during which I conducted the 2009 general election, I have an insider’s view, but of course am not privy to the inputs that the EC has and on which its decisions are made.

 

As I have argued in my recent book, Every Vote Counts, several negative features of our electoral scene have worsened. Since the Model Code of Conduct came into effect, in just the first two phases this time, money power has so reared its ugly head that seizures made of unaccounted cash, liquor, bullion and drugs amounting to ₹2,600 crore have already surpassed the entire seizures made in the nine phases of the general election in 2014. Most depressingly, this includes huge hauls of drugs, the vast majority smuggled into Gujarat. Uttar Pradesh is awash with liquor. Tamil Nadu has seen the largest seizures of illicit cash —over ₹514 crore.

These vast sums intended to bribe or influence voters prove several things. The first is that these sums almost certainly represent only a fraction of current illegal spending, a tip of the iceberg as it were. They have been detected by the EC’s machinery acting on the basis of tip-offs, or else by the vigilance of electoral officials in the States. Unfortunately, the bulk of illegal tranches of money, liquor or freebies would have reached their destination. Second, political players have refined their methods in being many steps ahead of the EC’s observers and their vigilance teams by moving their funds to their destinations even before the elections are announced.

Does this not make a mockery of the statutory limit of ₹70 lakh that each Lok Sabha candidate has as his poll expenditure limit?

As a country we need to ask ourselves some hard questions. When every rule in the book is being broken, when there is no transparency on how political parties collect or spend their funds, when limits of candidate spending are exceeded in every single case, then the time has come to debate whether we need to re-examine our rule book. In order to supervise the matches in play, the EC has had to deploy over 2,000 Central observers for the entire duration, drawing them out from their ministries and departments at the cost of their normal work at the Centre and in the States. Thousands of vigilance squads are set up and must act on the information they receive, which is why the current level of seizures have already made this India’s most expensive general election yet. An intelligent guess may lead us to a final tally of spending in excess of ₹50,000 crore, the bulk of which is made up of illicit funding and spending.

It is by now clear as daylight that electoral bonds, far from enabling a legitimate and transparent means of political funding, have proved to be the reverse. The EC, in its own affidavit before the Supreme Court, has admitted as much. The Supreme Court’s order has made sure that full disclosure, albeit to the EC, has already effectively killed further funding along this route. Nothing is a better disinfectant for camouflaged funding than sunlight itself.

With my experience this compels me to say that any serious reform with regard to funding must come from the EC itself, for it is very unlikely that any government will take an initiative in this direction. The EC must take stock after this election is over. It should convene a conference of all stakeholders, including of course all recognised political parties, both Central and State. But this should not be exclusively confined to them, for they will tend to support the status quo or they will be unable to reach consensus. The list of stakeholders must also include the best constitutional and legal minds in our country.

In my book I have also raised the twin problem of candidates fielded with criminal antecedents. The 16th Lok Sabha that has now passed into history, saw almost 30% of its members declaring, in their compulsory self-sworn affidavits, the list of criminal cases registered against them. They are also legally obliged to declare their wealth and their educational qualifications. This is the result of two vital orders passed by the Supreme Court in 2002-2003, the result of a battle that the Association for Democratic Reforms fought tenaciously. Unfortunately, in the first phase of this election, 12% of the candidates perforce declared that they had heinous cases pending, while in the second phase the figure was 11%. It may be noted that these cases include murder, attempt to murder, dacoity, kidnapping and rape. Have we forgotten Nirbhaya and 2012 already?

The matter of the Model Code of Conduct and its administration by the EC has been the most frequently reported single issue in this election. For those of a certain generation, the 10th Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), T.N. Seshan — he once famously declared that “he ate politicians for breakfast” — was the man who made the country sit up and take note when he decided to level the playing field as never before. There is little doubt that he reminded the EC that it had powers inherently enshrined in Article 324 of the Constitution — powers so great that there is arguably no other electoral management body with similar powers.

I learned this during my years as Election Commissioner, and these are the powers I exercised during the course of the 15th general election in 2009; I was successfully able to confront three Congress-ruled State governments and one Congress ally too. One of them even convened a special press conference to declare that his government would move the Supreme Court against the EC’s “arbitrariness”, but I personally had no doubt about its outcome. As it happened, he chose not to in the end.

The point I seek to make, by virtue of my own experience, is that the powers of the EC are so enormous and so all-encompassing that they exceed the powers of the executive in all election-related issues during the course of the election period. Of course, these must be exercised judiciously, fairly and equitably, not least because every decision is analysed in every “adda”, every home, every street corner and every “dhaba” across the country, where the EC’s decisions must be seen to be fair and transparent. During the years precedent to becoming CEC, I was fortunate that Mr. Seshan advised me whenever I called on him. As a result I never felt any need to make reference to government or court, once the process was under way.

If there is anything for me to applaud thus far in this election, it is the decision made by two political parties which have selected over 33% women candidates — Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (41% for 42 Lok Sabha seats) and Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (33% for 21 Lok Sabha seats). After years of patriarchy or at best lip service, these parties have taken a vital step towards empowering women politically.

(The Hindu)

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Opinion

Why Imran bats for Modi

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By  Ayesha Siddiqa |

It seems that people from very odd quarters — such as Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan — want Narendra Modi to win the upcoming elections. Khan’s recent comments, in which he desired victory for his counterpart as good for the future of a peace initiative, may be driven by pragmatic reasons, but it indicates the separation that exists between the two countries. Following comments by the Opposition and in segments of the social media, the federal information minister intervened and pretended that Khan, who can often open his mouth before engaging his brain, was misunderstood.

Intriguingly, despite India being the most significant country in the neighbourhood, its election outcomes have marginal impact on the region. Khan’s statement, in fact, indicates that disconnectedness in which the head of the government of a neighbouring state refused to measure the implications beyond tactical effect. It seems a right-wing government in India does not matter to Pakistan. Or, perhaps, a Modi-led right-wing government is a wish come true for the ideological right-wing in Pakistan. For the first time since 1947, people do not have to convince each other of how right Muhammad Ali Jinnah was in creating Pakistan: Not that Pakistan was ever designed for all Muslims of the Indian subcontinent, but it now sees its formula for ideological nationalism justified in the face of rising religious-ideological nationalism next door in India. I have lived through the times when Pakistan’s intelligentsia was confused in the face of Indian secularism and democracy. Despite having their own country, there would be an internal conversation about the Indian experiment being better. The last four to five years has brought about a change in that thinking.

 

The BJP leadership of the last five years cannot be held entirely responsible for all the political and sociological change. If anything, the last four years have helped expose the true colours of the rising Indian middle-class that does not necessarily think very differently from the Hindutva supporter on certain issues. There is no sign that the Congress under Rahul Gandhi would have the gumption to change the course of society. Hearing the young Congress leader speak at a university in London, he did not seem to possess the temerity to deviate markedly from the ideological path that the BJP has chosen for India. However, there is an opinion in Pakistan that a Congress-led government, or any dispensation other than the present formulation, may be more cautious in how it approaches issues in the region.

Meanwhile, the general sense is that with Modi at the helm of affairs, war and conflict will mark the tone of relations between the two countries. However, this would be beneficial for Pakistan’s nationalist project that gets strengthened with every news of mob lynching of Muslims and other minorities, from India. This is not to argue that the state of minorities in Pakistan is any better: But New Delhi no longer represents a secular ideal. For Islamabad, a non-secular India is easier to contest.

The only limitation that Pakistan faces in fighting a BJP-led India is its own internal problems, like the dearth of financial resources, and not the intent. This also means that conflict cannot remain the only shrill refrain: A resolution would have to be negotiated for which the establishment in Rawalpindi prefers a BJP-governed India. Khan’s statement basically means that he, and others who share his thinking, believe that a strong right-wing government is the only credible element with which Pakistan could settle its matters. The question then is, what happened after the Lahore declaration? Wasn’t it a BJP-government that was willing to talk peace? Or, what happened to the peace initiative between the A B Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf governments?

Seen purely from the Pakistani establishment’s perspective, Kargil happened because the military wanted an equaliser at a time when the political government had not taken it into confidence. As far as the breakdown of talks at Agra are concerned, the right-wing in India was divided at the time and the segment represented by L K Advani did not want peace. For Rawalpindi, Modi represents a neat synthesis of India’s right-wing. Hence, the negotiations would be more comprehensive than ever before. The only problem, however, remains that how does one predict Pakistan’s deep state — whose contours, today, are even more difficult to define.

This understanding goes hand in hand with the thinking that the pragmatism of the Hindu right-wing would not stop Delhi from talking to Pakistan despite the latter’s habitual U-turn from peace initiatives. While the emphasis following most track-II dialogues, particularly after a bilateral crisis, is on the Indian members of the group to apprise their counterparts of the anger in India, the Pakistani side has always maintained that it is possible to pick up the conversation thread from where it was dropped. A decade into this behaviour, there is barely anyone on Pakistan’s side with the capacity to remind their own the highly problematic nature of this approach.

Not unlike today’s India, the cost of dissent in Pakistan is very high. There is little traction in the corridors of power towards an alternative approach to resolving the conflict. The deep state in Pakistan — which is not necessarily the entire military, but is symbolised by it — has gained excessive control of all discussions and dialogue. There is also the confidence that international and regional geopolitics allows Rawalpindi the opportunity to continue with its old approach. Money matters are critical, but it will not force a course correction unless Pakistan reaches a breaking point.

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Opinion

The Violent Misuse of a Sacred Symbol

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By  Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee

A friend had pointed it out to me, in an Arya Samaj Mandir. It was more than a decade ago, when a roommate in JNU, who hailed from Haryana, was entering into an inter-caste marriage with his long-time, Bengali girlfriend. The wedding was taking place against the wishes of their respective parents. There were only friends from the university, who were present to take part in the couple’s happiness. Such is the price of love, in a society where the celebration of “family values” and “religious values” have for generations, meant the celebration of patriarchy, caste interest, and economic interests. It inevitably meant the refusal to accept, the free laws of love. We were in the middle of the short ceremony when my friend drew my attention to a poetic line written on the wall: “Om means a thousand things. One of them is, welcome to the abode of the gods.”

Growing up in a Hindu household, I was of course aware of the symbol. It used to be drawn in red, on small urns made of copper, and placed before a deity. On the urn, Dūrvā (or Darbha, or Kusha) grass would be dipped in water. The Dūrvā grass comprises of three blades, which symbolises the sacred trinity for Hindus. Om, I slowly learnt, was considered the primordial sound, the sacred syllable, that would precede all chanting. The word has been associated with cosmic significance in the Aitareya Brahmana of the Rig Veda, as something that connects the liberated human spirit with the universe, as “essence of breath, life, everything that exists”.

 

It shook me from inside, to see the photograph of the Om symbol, being violently engraved on the back of a man I learnt is Nabbir, an undertrial Muslim prisoner in Tihar jail. Nabbir was forcibly marked and denied food for two days on April 12, allegedly by the jail superintendent. This is not just a terrible incident, but marks of a sickness that can quickly, if unchecked and not punished by law, spread into a fascist method of torture and humiliation. This is a bizarre act of classifying a non-Hindu victim.

It is necessary to pay attention to what is taking place in this incident. A language of horror is being established through this act of power. By engraving the symbol, the Muslim prisoner’s body was robbed of its sovereignty. Sovereignty here is political in the religious sense. The invisible presence of the sacred exists in the prisoner’s body.  The marking of the Hindu symbol on his back, is a violation of the prisoner’s sacred world, where the meaning of sacred becomes territorial. The body is no longer the body of a man who can exist within his ‘human rights’, despite his lack of political rights as a prisoner.

What is ‘human’ within the man’s belief system is intrinsically his ability to exist as a man who belongs to a god. It is a spiritual relationship that belongs to the realm of another law, where governmental power is marked off, and ideally has no control over. What has occurred in this case is precisely this ‘human’ breach between governmental power and sacred power. The superintendent did not limit himself to the task of holding juridical authority over his prisoner. That limit was overcome by a violent superimposition of another authority (or power) that the superintendent had no right to use over the prisoner.

The act of marking a Muslim prisoner’s back with a Hindu symbol is not a sacred but a territorial act, where the mis/use of power involves marking someone with sacred symbols as proof of dominance. The act of marking the prisoner’s shoulder with the sacred symbol that does not belong to the world he inhabits within, is to humiliate his inner sense of sacredness by deliberating implanting an alien symbol on his body. That symbol is also torn from its own sacred universe, and made to symbolise something territorial.

In the Tihar jail incident, everything is reduced to the trembling of a body, where the sacred is turned into a mark of horror. It is a space where everything corresponds to nothing, where symbols are reduced to bones, where the holy is reduced to what in the Book of Revelation (13: 16-17) is called “the mark… of the beast”. The “essence of breath, life and everything that exists”, what is symbolic of Om, is violently taken away from the prisoner. He is left to breathe, and live, only his humiliation.

Whether you believe or not in the human soul, we can name the soul as an invisible entity that remains in correspondence with something unnamable. It is this soul that all forms of barbaric power want to control and humiliate, in order to reduce the human to a nonhuman status. Even in the Germany of 1938, Jewish prisoners were marked by a yellow star, which was a perverted form of the Jewish Star of David. When history repeats itself, it is not just as tragic or farce, but sometimes pure horror.

(Courtesy: thewire.in)

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