No change—political, economic or social—that has taken place in the country seems to impact the framework and perspective within which Kashmir is understood. It is my premise that the big failure in understanding Kashmir has been to see it in isolation of the larger trends and changes that have taken place in India’s democracy, federalism, political structure, dominant ideological paradigm, economic policy and social value system.
Even global paradigm shifts in notions of sovereignty and territoriality have never informed the debate on Kashmir, which even in this day and age invokes “the jugular vein and crowning glory" status of Kashmir!
It is very evident that India is in a transition phase where nationalism is being redefined. A major challenge has been posed to the structure of nationhood inherited from the nationalist struggle and consolidated over the early decades of independent India. New forces have appeared on the political horizon, leading to a redrawing of the cultural boundaries of the nation. And a result has been a change in the concept of nationalism.
The same is true of regionalism. The rise of regionalism in India has meant an improved articulation of political, social and economic aspirations of the sub-nations, like Jammu and Kashmir. The illegitimate symbiotic relationship with the state and its repressive measures and civil bureaucracy, which had imparted an authoritarian strand to governance of the centre, has been substantially broken in many parts of the country.
The situation has changed with regional parties gaining prominence and the centre being ruled by a coalition of parties. Even though it is the same Constitution, the spirit is far more federal today and the autonomy issue may not suffer from the same ills as it did earlier. This is being supplemented by a new evolving form of federalism, currently under the brand of cooperative federalism. The way regions are asserting themselves, it is headed towards a deeper and more wider empowerment. This is laying the foundations of an empowered federalism emerging from below, rather than being dispensed from the top.
As such, what may have been unacceptable for the larger system—to create an enclave of federalism within a unitary system and combine the advantages of a loose federation with those of a centralized system, without impairing its functioning—seems to be possible within that paradigm. If seen in the context of these evolving changes, Kashmir will cease to be the exception that has to be mainstream, or a trend-distorting outlier. It may well turn out to be a model that needs to be considered. Ironically, on the other extreme, the separatist thought in Jammu and Kashmir suffers from a similar time warp syndrome. It has been and continues to be a mass mobilization movement for undoing of historical wrongs.
Their end point is what was the beginning of the process of resolution of the Kashmir issue in the 1950s. They have not been able to take it forward in terms of making it a broad-based Kashmiri nationalist movement. Instead they degenerated it into the politics of grudge and rejectionist methods. Consequently, their language is ancient; idiom is isolationist; methods medieval; and strategies archaic. The biggest failure is that nothing has been done to heighten the consciousness about ethnicity and ethno-nationalism.
From a civil society point of view, the biggest concern today is that the manner in which this politics is being played out, every single day, some bit of the uniqueness of Kashmir—be it social, cultural, ethnic, linguistic and historical—on which the argument of political nationhood was built, is being lost. This of course, is in addition to the loss of livelihood.
The loss of our own Islamic heritage that has been assiduously blended with tradition is a big blow to this nationalism.
Between these two extremes lies the opportunity in reclaiming the middle, which will only grow by day from here on.
In reclaiming this minority, the role of the Indian state or the government of India is far less than that of the civil society of India, which has contributed to the alienation.
More than the political alienation, what has gone unnoticed is Kashmir’s social disengagement from the Indian civil society; this is a natural corollary of the national intellectuals’ apathy.
While a slogan of secession in the streets of Srinagar sets the TV screens alight, no one is bothered about the mental secession of the Indian intellectual from affairs in and of Jammu and Kashmir for the past 70 years.
You will find that the most comprehensive work on Kashmiri music has been done by a Polish scholar. The finest work on Kashmiri carpets has done by an American while the classic on shawls has been authored by a Swiss national. An Irishman has documented the Kashmiri language. Not to speak of the Britisher who has done masterly work on Kashmiri folk tales. Indian scholarship is conspicuous by its absence.
The point is that Indian thinkers, academics and scholars in various disciplines have not engaged with the society of Jammu and Kashmir at an intellectual level.
It is obvious that Jammu and Kashmir has never occupied the mental space of the Indian intellectual. Surely, the Indian state has nothing to do with this phenomenon. It is the civil society, more than the Indian state, that needs to introspect and then act if integration of the “integral part" has to happen.
The author is the finance minister of Jammu and Kashmir. The views are personal.