Hagiography, false history and the counter-facts

MSQ cartton 3When Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, the late chief minister of Indian-held Kashmir, died on January 7, my Facebook newsfeed was flooded with the news. The response from netizens was varied: Mufti’s demise was seen by some as an end of another collaborator while for others the occasion demanded being courteous to the dead under the ethical framework of Islam. Obviously, the PDP (People’s Democratic Party) being a ruling party in Kashmir has a good cadre base and it also garners support among certain sections of people, so there was some participation of supporters in the mourning for Mufti Sayeed. However, unlike the death of former chief minister Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah in 1982, normal activity in cities and towns – and even in Mufti’s hometown, Bijbehara – remained largely unaffected on his demise.
What intrigued one, though, was the grotesque way in which some Kashmiri newspapers covered the event. There was a marked difference between the responses of people on social media and the way the press framed it. Many of the opinion pieces were picked up from Indian papers or news portals and, expectedly, most of these pieces were pro-Mufti and at times entirely hagiographical. In certain Kashmiri newspapers, editorials were brazenly unbalanced; one editorial even going to the extent of castigating those people who critiqued Mufti’s political legacy.
Surprised by this one-sided – and almost hagiographical – coverage about a politician whose career has not been as unblemished and positive as was being largely portrayed, I was immediately reminded of the author and journalist Glenn Greenwald’s timely pieces in Salon(17 December, 2011) and The Guardian (8 April, 2013) which he had written on Christopher Hitchens’ and Margaret Thatcher’s deaths, respectively. Greenwald’s argument is that private etiquette of not criticising a dead person’s actions does not apply to controversial public figures, particularly those “who wielded significant influence and political power”. According to him, we shouldn’t use misplaced moral precepts to undercut any valid criticism or balanced appraisal of a dead public figure.
In his Guardian article he argued, “Demanding that no criticisms be voiced to counter…hagiography is to enable false history and a propagandistic whitewashing of bad acts, distortions that become quickly ossified and then endure by virtue of no opposition and the powerful emotions created by death. When a political leader dies, it is irresponsible in the extreme to demand that only praise be permitted but not criticisms.” Furthermore, he says, “If anything, it becomes more compelling to commemorate those bad acts upon death as the only antidote against a society erecting a false and jingoistically self-serving history”.
Taking a cue from Greenwald’s insightful opinion pieces, it is important that we counter the almost hagiographical coverage through which Mufti Sayeed is being deified and projected as a cherished leader of the masses and celebrated as a “beacon of peace”. Because if we do not counter it with ‘counter-facts’, we acquiesce to the construction of false history and by extension to the legitimisation of a political class propped and supported by the Indian state to entrench its control over Kashmir.
Some of the counter-facts that we need to put forth against the false history being constructed have already been compiled by Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) in a press statement released on Jan 9, 2016. It lists the seven bloody massacres that were carried out during Mufti’s tenure as home minister of India in 1990. It also highlights facts about his much touted 2002-2005 rule that found absolutely no mention in any newspaper: that apart from 1,784 civilian deaths, this period also witnessed “176 cases of enforced disappearances and 127 custodial killings” at the hands of Indian forces. That he had a big role in bringing the draconian AFSPA to Kashmir is not as surprising as his remaining remorseless even after well-documented evidence of AFSPA’s terrible consequences. TheCaravan magazine (1 January, 2016) in its biographical account of Mufti Sayeed quoted his close friend and veteran journalist Ved Bhasin, saying, “He [Mufti Sayeed] was happy with AFSPA because he consolidated his power”.
A disproportionate number of opinion pieces – written mostly by his close friends and admirers – condolence ads and obituaries projected Mufti as a “democrat”, but how he actively participated in palace intrigues and political coups becomes clear when we read objective accounts of his early career.
Mufti was instrumental in entrenching Indian occupation in Kashmir by facilitating the entry of the Congress party into Kashmir, first by splitting National Conference and then merging it with the Congress itself; by diluting – with the collaboration and connivance of pro-India politicians like GM Sadiq – certain essential provisions of the autonomy pact which Sheikh Abdullah had negotiated with the Indian union in 1952; and lately, by bear-hugging and shaking hands and facilitating the foray of the anti-Muslim, Hindu supremacist RSS into Kashmir.
Now, omitting these highly far-reaching actions and policies of Mufti’s political career in any commentary would be brushing them off as inconsequential, if not commending them. And by allowing unqualified adulatory discourse to go on un-encountered you guarantee the enshrinement of his political legacy as one of greatness, positives, and something worth celebrating.
Those who do not want counter-facts in public are attempting a false portrayal, a false history or as Greenwald puts it, demanding “a license to propagandise”.
Mufti might have had all the attributes of an accomplished politician – he was described variously as an astute statesman, visionary, secular, nationalist, consensus-builder, and sometimes as a “soft separatist” also – but that does not in any way excuse his grave sins.

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First published in Kashmir Reader on January 22, 2016: http://kashmirreader.com/hagiography-false-history-and-the-counter-facts/

After Mufti Died!

Mir Suhail cartoon Mufti Lotus Seeds
With somewhat hesitant legs, Jaan Mohammad entered the house of the politician. His body was feeling warmer now after the two security guards at the entrance gave him a quick full-body massage with their brawny hands. He tried to make a peculiar Kashmiri joke, the kind which springs spontaneously like a burp, but it received a cold response from the guards, as if they had been served yellow lentils on a wedding day.
Bloody morons, he cursed them in his mind, while carrying a factitious smile to cover his real feelings.
Bhat soab is home? he asked them.
Probably. They shrugged, dismissively.
Bloody snobby morons, he cursed them again, this time maintaining a firm face.
When he finally got to meet an assistant of the politician, he told him in a courteous manner.
“Jinab, the outstanding payment”
“What payment?”, the assistant had no clue, he didn’t know who this guy was and tried to guess.
Contractors man? our party worker? Sajad’s man? BJP worker? his worker? her man? Who the hell is he?
When the assistant couldn’t recall anything, he finally asked, “Who sent you here?”
“Jinab, nobody sent me. I came on my own to collect the payment. It has been a long time now”, he said, maintaining an earnest smile.
“What payment? Who are you?”
“I am the butcher, jinab. Bhat soab knows me, he had phoned me and asked for two dozen sheep for sacrifice”
“Oh! i got you, right right, the sheep for Mufti sahib’s recovery, for propitiation purpose” the assistant finally said, to the comfort of the butcher’s weary heart.
“That is it, Jinab. What can we mortals do, birth and death is in God’s hand”, he said, raising his eyes momentarily towards heavens, as a mark of humble condolence.
The assistant asked him to wait. When he came back a little while later, he brought a check and handed it over to the butcher.
“But jinab, this is just ten thousand!”.
“So?”
“I gave you two dozen sheep, this covers the cost of only two”
“Look dude, this amount is okay, after all your sheep were not good enough to save Mufti sahib’s life”.
“Good grief! What ‘not good enough’!, beasts are beasts. They are neither Hifz Quran nor connoisseurs of Black Libel”.
The poor butcher was slapped with a PSA and sent to Kathua jail and the registration of his shop cancelled on the charge that he sold Horse meat to the public.
The butcher denies these charges, saying he is not as professional as Mufti to sell haram as halal.
***
In the smoky, sweaty, small tea shop at Polo View, Waseem is aghast. His tongue has been churning swear words from the last one hour.
“For f*%# sake! look at these papers, even King Abdullah didn’t receive such a grotesque coverage”.
“It is business dude, don’t behave naive”, Sameer dismissed him.
“What f*%@#% business, this is shameless arse-licking. Look at this, see” he thrusted paper towards Sameer, who held a cup of musky tea.
“I must say”, Waseem nodded his head in subdued anger, “lot of guys are exposing their tainted asses now. Look at these pieces” he hold out an Edit page, “what you call these? huh?…these are eulogies, praises only praises, as if the guy was the fifth archangel! Why didn’t they write he brought AFSPA here, bloody moronic Jagmohan here and other damn facts…but no, they just omitted these details as if they don’t exist. Where is the bloody journalism in this, where is balance, where is neutrality?”.
“I think you are a bit too harsh here”, Sameer intervened, “there were balanced pieces, you must acknowledge that”.
“Oh come one! it is like a needle in a haystack” Waseem gestured with his forefinger, “You know what, looking at this coverage, i suggest these papers should merge and call themselves Mufti Times inc. Seriously. At least Mehbooba wont mind such an idea. She needs more photos on front pages, more sympathy as if only she lost a father in this whole F%$*&k world”.
Sameer just chuckled.
[This is a piece of fiction]
Note: The cartoon is by Mir Suhail Qadri.

Hard Questions for the New Year

On New Year’s Eve, the globalised custom dictates that we make some good resolutions. Believe me, though, in most cases such resolutions turn out to be like toilet paper—the slightest touch of water dilutes them irreversibly. Instead, I think it would be an interesting idea to write a collective manifesto. But this manifesto should envision a democratic and inclusive world and delineate how we should go about realising this ideal. It should also tell us what are the real cultural and political maladies of our present times and why we should work on them now or else risk getting run roughshod over by the forces of chauvinism, hate, and bigotry.

Although I would like to see such a manifesto, I am equally aware about the famously busy schedule of the 21st-century individual, who is consistently grappling with overwhelming traffic on the digital superhighway and finding it hard to decide which article link to click on, which one to skip, and which one to save for later and, oops!, in which app. The 21st-century individual is obsessed with so many things that she feels trapped in a labyrinth which is creepy and excited at the same time. So I don’t expect a comprehensive manifesto anytime soon. It would require quite thinking time, which is lacking in the 21st-century life. The modern individual is super busy, so much so that she spends many hours in melancholic ruminations about the time she does not have to do things she would like to do when she has time. There are very few individuals who can actually embark on such an enterprise as to write a collective manifesto for a democratic and inclusive future.

But that is not to say people are not writing books. Some people indeed do the writing job every day of the year; they have been trained to write tours de force in fantastically extortionate writing programs in foreign universities and workshops. So, one can definitely find a book or two here and there, most likely written by an author who is most likely going to read from it in a gathering most likely composed of friends and acquaintances, who speak impeccable English and most likely purchase it either to fill that embarrassingly big space on their library shelves or move around clasping it like a branded clutch or gift it to their convent-going child or to their Ivy League baba. This is a class that fetishises everything that adds value to their cultural capital. Therefore, I would least expect any real action on their behalf and would rather leave them to have a whale of a time in their consumption club. They are like the golden spire of a cathedral which is made of a material not fit for laying the foundation of the strong egalitarian shrine.

Being a member of the consumption club, however, does not necessarily mean that people of such fashionable class would spend most of their time like a koala in the tree. They are quite active and energetic people. They have a regimen which they follow strictly: waking up for yoga, tweeting, going for jogging, going to gym, tweeting, eating proper healthy diet, tweeting, taking a good rest, tweeting, reading a good novel, tweeting, watching a new movie, tweeting. They work on their new Mac, on which they struggle with stories. They turn to creative non-fiction and then decide to write articles which they forward to their friends who in turn forward them to their editor friends in high profile publications. Yes, the consumption club does work hard, though most of it is for personal grooming and CV. But again I would least expect any real action on their part, because it is one thing to visit India Habitat Centre and quite another to visit the habitat of the “Others”.

Then the question is: who will bell the cat? Who will do the real action? The answer is those who have a commitment to democratic ideals, to praxis, to humanism, to inclusiveness, to equal life, but certainly not those who have commitment to their influential networks, to their mutually beneficial partnerships, to their self-admiration, to their vainglory, to their ilk.

And the question that follows is: are there such people? Yes, there must be, because there have always been and there will be.

***

Sometimes, we have to ask and express certain things straight without coating them in politically correct idioms. I would like to first ask questions to the Hindutva ideologues, because I have met a few of them recently and I had an honour to have a long conversation with them.  They told me that Indians (by which they essentially meant caste Hindus) are spiritually more advanced than the rest of the world, that people look towards India for the spiritual redemption (à la George Harrison!) and because of such advanced spirituality, the Hindu worldview is bound to establish its supremacy over all other worldviews, that people from all over the world will ultimately assemble in India—the land of spirituality.

I asked one of them: You believe in karma, so tell me why many countries have different religion and different culture? Would you consider their being religiously and culturally different than you as a negative or a positive consequence of their past actions?

It depends on what your world view is, he said. There is a difference between dharma and religion. If a person fulfils his dharma well, he will get good results. A priest’s dharma is teaching religion; a soldier’s dharma is soldiering; a woman’s dharma is taking care of the household. One has to do one’s assigned job with dedication. That is dharma.

So if a Christian priest is teaching his religion, I asked, isn’t he fulfilling his dharma? Would Hindutva accept his preaching of his religion?

He answered: It depends on what your worldview is.

I asked: If Hindutva spirituality of is so advanced, then why does it feel threatened by other worldviews? Why were spiritually advanced Hindus subjugated by foreign powers for such a long time? Why has the West invented and discovered more things? Why are their economies far better than others?

He answered: They [Christians and Muslims] are actually political cultures and they approach everything politically, and because we Hindus are spiritual, they took an advantage.

So what good is advanced spirituality, then, when you cannot defend yourself? Why should I subscribe to an idea which has proved weak?

He answered: Well, hmmm…

I have not yet had a good conversation with those Islamists who think that Islaami nizaam (Islamic system) will be the perfect one for Kashmir.

If I get a chance I will ask: which Islamic system would you adopt—the Iranian one or the Saudi Arabian one? And if you make such a system, whose theology would be accepted as authentic, the Deobandi one or the Barelvi one? And where would it leave the Shias and Ahmadis? More crucially, what about the minorities? Why impose a system on them which they do not relate to? And what about this Islamic injunction—“Do unto all men as you would wish to have done unto you; and reject for others what you would reject for yourselves”? If you do not wish Hindu Rashtra for minorities of India, then why would you wish a theocratic system for the religious minorities of Kashmir?

I have heard Islamists saying that the Islamic system is the antidote to the massive corruption in Kashmir.

I ask: Whose prerogative is the ultimate rule implementation? The policeman in the street, or the bureaucrat in the office, or the munsif in the court? Do you think in an Islamic system people will suddenly stop taking bribe or committing crimes?

Take any survey from the last 10 years from Transparency International and you will find most of the Muslim countries marked in orange and red colours, which indicate that Muslim brothers have been greasing each other’s palms more often than the secular infidels of Australia and the Nordic countries.

If an individual has weak or no faith she or he will take bribe anyways, even from his own relatives, under any system.

***

In 2016 Kashmiris are waiting for news with a bated breath whether Mufti Sayeed will survive or die in AIIMS. If he dies, will his daughter become the next chief minister and prove those people right who have been saying that PDP is a Papa Daughter’s Party? Or will the Mufti cheat malak ul-maut once again? So far the news leaked to media by PDP bhakts has become a source of humour on social media. All media outlets had reported that Mufti was “critical but stable” on the ventilator in ICU, yet PDP bhakts issued professed statements of Mufti Syed, sending out condolences on this tragedy and that tragedy, making people wonder who the hell on earth is having telepathic chats with the dying Mufti!

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First published in Kindle Magazine on January 6, 2016: http://kindlemag.in/hard-questions-for-the-new-year/