Kashmir Conflict and Academic Discourses

Recently I was reading a journal article “Federalism and the Indian Experience with Nation Building: An Appraisal” written by a Kashmiri academician Prof. Noor Ahmad Baba in South Asian Survey (2011). His central idea is that unity in a federal system can be achieved only through affective and political integration not through misconceived legal integration. Thus, he sees Kashmir Conflict as an outcome of problematic post-colonial over-centralizing Indian political system that infringed upon the autonomous ethno-regional status of Kashmiris. Well, does this analysis seem familiar to you? Yes, indeed it is. Because what Prof. Baba is driving at in his article is now a well-worn theme on Kashmir conflict and he is merely trying to sell old wine in a new bottle.
In fact, most of the academic works on Kashmir conflict somewhat carry the similar theme: denial of democracy to Kashmiris created the Kashmir conflict. For example, Sumit Ganguly (1996) would say Kashmir represents “both the mobilization success and, simultaneously, the institutional failure of Indian democracy” (pp. 76-107). His basic argument is like this: the armed militancy in Kashmir occurred because institutional structure of post-colonial India did not accommodate Kashmir’s political demands as they, with gradual modernization and increasing literacy, became politically more assertive. He is drawing from Samuel Huntington’s thesis that the absence of strong political institutions together with rapid economic growth far from contributing to democracy can lead to political instability. In other words modernization created new avenues of social and economic mobility and bolstered demands for political participation. When educated and politically conscious mass of people (thanks to growth of mass media also) emerged, gradually they began to seek their political rights. But as their political demands were not accommodated within an institutional framework it culminated in political violence in 1989.
Then we have Sumantra Bose (1997) arguing more or less in similar vein. His argument is that Kashmir’s strong urge for secession is a result of “…Indian states’ consistent policy of denying democracy” to the people of Kashmir (p. 19). The similar arguments come from other authors who lay blame at Indian states’ interventionist role in Kashmiri politics (dismissal of an elected Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah in 1985, his party National Conference’s Accord with Congress and rigged elections, especially in 1987) as responsible for giving birth to armed militancy in Kashmir in 1989 (Bhattacharjea, 1994; Hewitt, 1995).
Reeta Chowdhari Tremblay (1997), looks at economic dimension of the conflict, arguing that “shrinking career opportunities for the urban middle class combined with closed avenues for the expression of their political dissent” was the main motivating factors for secessionist movement. (p. 495).
All these are very fine points. But they hardly explain why would people get ready to die because they were not allowed to express their political aspirations through institutionalized medium? Why call to arms so suddenly resonated strongly across the people of Kashmir? And importantly, why would people demand “azadi” (independence) or merger with Pakistan when all the fight was about genuine elections?
Then, to address these questions, do we need to look beyond paradigms that dominate the academic discourse on Kashmir conflict? The answer is yes.
What we have been reading and hearing all along (mainly through the nexus of academia-media-political rhetoric) is state versions of India and Pakistan, referring to conspiracies and circumstances of partition, reducing the Kashmir conflict to a property dispute or blame games of who is responsible for militancy in Kashmir. Behind these dominant state-patronized themes Kashmir’s autonomous political agency gets blurred. It is this independent political agency of Kashmiri nation that is at stake and it is the responsibility of Kashmiri academics and scholars to present the Kashmir case from Kashmiri perspective, as and when it evolved from twentieth century through present dynamic times. What we need is radical break from the dominant discourses on Kashmir Conflict.
The denial-of-democracy and other arguments of above mentioned authors have come under serious academic scrutiny to the point of engendering a discursive break.
Let us take the Pakhtoon raid theory first. Australian scholar Christopher Snedden in his book Kashmir: The Unwritten History (2013) busted the long discussed theory around the circumstances of Maharaja Hari Singh’s accession to India. Snedden through primary sources establishes that there were three main reasons for Jammu and Kashmir’s dispute. First, a Muslim Uprising in Poonch region started by ex-British India servicemen from that area against the Maharaja. Second, the large scale massacre of Jammu Muslims, especially targeting people of eastern Jammu. And finally, the formation of Azad Kashmir provisional government on 24 October 1947. This significant research on the beginnings of the Kashmir Conflict shedS light on important historical events that had remained obscured under dominant discourses. It busted the biggest myth that Pakhtoon raid on October 22, 1947 was the sole reason that forced Maharaja to accede to India.
Now let us come to the recent events in Kashmiri political history. The 1989 armed uprising has drawn attention of academics and media alike. But here too we see a dominant discourse being perpetuated to undermine the Kashmiri version of the most significant and determining political event. The 1989 armed uprising is attributed to failure of democracy in Kashmir. But this discourse is also countered by the major protagonists of the 1987.
For example, the Chief of Hizbul Mujhadeen, Syed Salahuddin in an interview with Greater Kashmir (published on April 14, 2008) somehow cleared the notion about 1987 elections (whose rigging is seen as a main reason for the start of armed militancy in Kashmir). I would quote his reply in full here:
“It is absolutely wrong that I picked up arms because the elections were rigged. Muftis are giving the election results a wrong twist. I was a freedom fighter long before I fought elections. I have inherited this from my forebears. My brother, Sayed Ghulam Muhammad, was the district president of Plebiscite Front in Budgam. My grandfather, Haji Ghulam Mohiuddin, was tortured by a very infamous police officer; his mouth stuffed with hot potatoes, kicked and beaten, because he used to observe Indian Independence Day as a ‘black day.’ We fought elections so that we could pass resolution in the assembly for freedom of Kashmir. India knew that. That is why they rigged the elections. People remember that when I was campaigning for the elections, I used to begin my speech with ay mard-e-mujahid jaag zara. Fighting elections were a means to educate masses about the freedom struggle. We wanted endorsement of public sentiment in the assembly. Otherwise who would have voted for my person, I was nobody. But people voted for the sentiment. Even the relatives of my opponent Ghulam Mohiuddin Shah voted for me. And those who were campaigning for elections became top resistance leaders. We were ideologically driven by the struggle for freedom.
There was a case against me in which the then SSP had said that I was not campaigning for elections but for freedom.”
If the Muslim United Front (MUF) had won the elections, we would have tabled a resolution for right of self-determination. India would have dissolved the assembly and that would have triggered the freedom struggle. Majority of the MUF members were in favour of such a resolution. The MUF was anti-India by its very nature and essence. We were going to use elections to get to the goal, but that didn’t mature.”
Similarly another protagonist of 1987 Abdul Aziz, popularly known as Genaral Mosa (presently the President of Tehreek-i-Kashmir) shared similar thoughts in an interview with Rising Kashmir in December 2013: “it was not just in 1989 that guns came here. They have come here since 1947. Youth did not go to Pakistan in 1989. Prior to that, outfits were working underground. There were Al-Fata and Student Federation operating. In 1965 and 1975, guns and grenades were recovered here. So those routes have never stopped and shall never close. Kashmir’s struggle for freedom was a process laden with phases and 1989 was one of the chapters.”
These two protagonists of 1989 emphasize on that fact that prior to 1987 elections there existed an active political movement (Plebiscite Front, Al Fatah etc) against Indian rule. The dominant discourse about 1989 armed uprising is either the denial-of-democracy or the Pakistan-sponsored “terrorism” or “proxy war” in Kashmir.
What is lost in these discourses is the subject of Kashmiri nationalism. In fact, there is hardly any systemic study done on the subject of Kashmiri nationalism so far, despite its political significance.
Although Sumantra Bose (1997) and Rekha Chowdhary Tremblay (1997) do talk about Kashmiri nationalism in their works but their treatment of this subject is informed by what John Cockell calls as “precast statist parameters of inquiry” (Cockell, 2000, p. 325) that reduces Kashmiri self-determination movement as a political mobilization responding to existing unaccommodating institutional channels. The problem with such line of inquiry is that it “effectively denies the Kashmiri community any autonomous political agency outside of that defined by these institutions” (ibid).
In his analysis of Kashmiri nationalist movement, John G. Cockell (2000) defines it as “subaltern insurgent consciousness…informed by the collective ethnic awareness of subjective community and autonomous political agency” (p. 340). His argument is that in post-colonial condition Kashmiris carved out a separate political space (Plebiscite Front, J&K Youth League, Muslim United Front, All Parties Hurriyat Conference) to replace the state-controlled institutions that denied their autonomous political agency (p. 332-33).
Cockell’s analysis of Kashmiri nationalism is a significant departure from Tremblay’s assessment. While Cockell recognizes “the autonomous origins and ideology” of the Kashmiri identity (p. 326), Trembley perceives it as a “construct” shaped in post-colonial “nation-building” process involving legal and constitutional apparatuses, like Article 370 and State Subject law that created a sense of separate identity among Kashmiris (p. 486-87). Trembley is reluctant to see Kashmiri self-determination movement as a genuine political expression of Kashmiri national identity outside of post-colonial institutional framework.
That is why Cockell’s analysis is significant as it is unconventional. But there lies a problem in his analysis too and that is he does not problematize the element of “Kashmiriyat” which forms an important part of his thesis. Chitralekha Zutshi (2003) in her historical study of the concept calls Kashmiriyat a “homogenizing discourse…a neat way to propagate the idea of a peaceful coexistence of religious communities while obscuring the question of economic, material and social differences between them.” (p. 329). However, despite this problem Cockell provides a fresh outlook and enhances our understanding of the Kashmir conflict as his insights mark a change in the dominant discourse that undermines Kashmir’s independent political agency.
Significantly, 2008 and 2010 civil uprisings changed the way Kashmir conflict was perceived. These two uprisings spawned numerous writings (Until My Freedom Has Come; Kashmir: A Case for Freedom; Of Occupation and Resistance etc.) but what is different about them is their treatment of the subject. These new writings employ subjective elements to present Kashmir as a conflict involving real humans living under hard circumstances and not merely a territorial dispute between the two nation-states armed with all kinds of weapons. These new writings are bold, informed, and assertive.
In summary, what we have so far as academic scholarship on Kashmir Conflict is ridden with bias and politics of selectivity. Of late, the new entries into the field have opened up ways to explore the conflict anew and counter the dominant discourses whipped up by a strong nexus of academia-media-political rhetoric. What we need is academic focus, informal coordination, personal commitments and collective imagination.

Published in Greater Kashmir (January 16, 2014)



Author: pasdarekashmir

A PhD candidate of Politics and International Relations in School of Law and Government, Dublin City University. Research interests: national movements, nationalism, media, framing, and discourses. Regular column: Yours Satirically (Kindle Magazine)

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