A peace of land
By M. J AKBAR
(India Today Column : THIRD EYE)
October 3-11, 2010
One challenge was old as Babar, the second as old as Nehru. Both are aspects of India’s most divisive dilemma, the Hindu-Muslim relationship and its impact on shared space. Why then, as the Allahabad High Court judgment showed and the sensible reaction of Indians proved, is Ayodhya moving from deathbed to health, and Kashmir slipping from wound to gangrenous coma?
The answer is simple even if its implications are nuanced. When politicians run the country you get fractious, ego-driven, fudge-coated misrule, as in Kashmir. When the country runs the politicians, there is healing. The message from the street on Ayodhya was unambiguous. Even if the dispute remains, the violence goes. Before the verdict the government was in greater panic than the people.
Indians did not suddenly become non-violent on September 30 in honour of Gandhi’s birthday two days later. But they have, almost imperceptibly, turned
anti-violence. The young are bewildered that their parents could have chosen chaos over construction, and acid over an economy. Their elders have abandoned nightmares from the past and joined a modern dream. The spirit of peace did not descend from leaders to the people, it rose from the street to the corridors of governance and justice. Politicians understood that if yesterday violence meant murder, today it means suicide.
The bjp realised that if 1992 catapulted it forward, conflict in 2010 could send it spinning into an abyss. L.K. Advani advised his party to remain calm in adversity and conciliatory in victory; rss chief Mohan Bhagwat described the verdict as neither a victory nor a defeat for anyone. The Congress, which has consistently exploited the politics of irresolution, so that it can be all things to all constituencies, discovered that this tactic had become a self-activating trap. Hallucination is not my preferred form of relaxation; I am not suggesting that we have entered some form of nirvana. But the message from the Indian voter is self-evident. The cost of provocation will be defeat.
The politics of irresolution has been the consuming tragedy of Kashmir. There is a substantive difference between life as usual and life as normal. Delhi’s politics in this summer of discontent has revolved around a belated effort to resume life as usual. The usual provides flexibility for games. Militants and separatists can play footsie with Delhi while they dine off Islamabad’s menu; Delhi can treat pacification as victory, after offering a sleeping pill and calling it medicine. The young picked up stones because they wanted change, not a couple of extra schools; women came out of their homes because they were angry at the usual and desperate for the normal.
The last time both Ayodhya and Kashmir were inflammatory was the period between 1990 and 1992: the fire across India was complemented by a rage for ‘azadi’ in the valley. We know what has changed in the Ayodhya confrontation. The poor have realised that poverty is not communal. They want the self-respect that comes with a full stomach; they have enough places to pray. This has dampened the politics of every form of communalism.
But something has changed in the Kashmir scenario as well. The promise of Pakistan as the elixir and purist paradise for Muslims has collapsed for a second time. In 1971 it exploded and Bangladesh was born. By 2010 Pakistan has visibly imploded. Many more Muslims are dying of manufactured violence in Pakistan than in India. There have been only two major riots in India since 1992; after Babri and Godhra. Pakistan is a daily litany of death, and a collage of seamless civil wars. Indian Muslims do not need a sermon to educate them; they see facts in media.
Kashmiris do not want to be annexed to a fractured geography. Their ‘azadi’ is ethnic rather than Islamic; it does not include Muslims from Jammu, let alone Muslims from Faizabad or Hyderabad. It is a heady, undefined fantasy that cannot pass the test of daylight. The solution lies, as in Ayodhya, when Delhi gets a simple message: the people are more important than politics.
The columnist is editor of The Sunday Guardian, published from Delhi, India on Sunday, published from London and Editorial Director of India Today and Headlines Today.