The situation in Jammu and Kashmir, the communal nature of the protests/riots, and the views/counterviews of the intelligentsia and the common people, have all raised a deep existential crisis. Given the secessionist rant of the religious fundamentalists in the valley, the snowballing of a land dispute into a major secessionist movement, and the demand for the “independence” of Kashmir, I cannot but feel concerned about the nature of the secular state and the idea of India. Does the secular, plural and multicultural India we conceive of, really exist? Or is it just a construct of our consciousness that wants to believe in the existence of such an India? Is the puzzle, both geographical and conceptual, that history put together as India really complete? Or are there any missing pieces? Or is it that we are trying to hold together pieces that are mutually incompatible – that don’t fit in well enough with each other and would do best to remain separate?
The problem with Kashmir is the identity crisis that stems from the ambiguity as to the nature of Kashmiriyat – whether Kashmiriyat is more Indian or more Pakistani or is it neither? The special status accorded by the Government of India to the state further accentuates the ambiguity. The present crisis in Jammu and Kashmir, though, is more of a communal nature – the sense of a shared identity is missing: it’s not Jammu and Kashmir; it’s Jammu vs. Kashmir. So while the Hindus will claim Jammu, the Muslims will lay their claim on Kashmir, based on their respective majority in the two regions. Time and again, religion crops up as a dividing force more potent than any other (social, political or economic) in secular India. The pro-Pakistan and anti-India sentiment being engendered in the valley by secessionists has gained momentum because the Muslims in the valley are made to believe that only Pakistan – an Islamic state – can protect them and their identity and that in India they will only be a marginalized community. That India has done much more (though somewhat inefficiently) than Pakistan can or has done in the PoK to ensure the well-being of the people of Kashmir is a fact that is comfortably ignored in the heat of communal sentiments. The failure of the Indian state to integrate Kashmir fully into the Indian Union, both politically and emotionally, is no less a factor in causing the unrest in the Valley.
The question is not just about Kashmir. Much is being said and written by experts (who are infinitely more experienced than I am) on the Kashmir issue. If every region in India experiences a crisis of this nature and if the government allows political forces nurtured by narrow religious or regional sentiments (in the name of freedom of expression and to the detriment of the common man’s well-being) to take over, nothing can or will hold India together. The regional sentiment in Maharashtra (the MNS’s political antics), the North-east and elsewhere in the country is a case in point. The politicians who claim to be representatives of the “suppressed” seek political freedom. The only idea behind it is power, more power. It’s never about the people. The people are mere instruments that the politicians seek to mobilize in order to achieve their political aims. If I am a common man living comfortably in Kashmir with a proper education and job and an access to civic amenities and fundamental human rights, I have simply no reason to feel agitated. That is where the Indian state has failed. There’s a deep divide between the haves and the have-nots. If we could provide the common man with the opportunity to procure the basic necessities of life and grow beyond them, who would want to waste time, energy and countless lives over the senseless issues of religion and secession. The politics and economics of any nation must eventually translate into the well-being of the individual. If it does not then there’s no point to all the intricacies of politics, economics and nationalism. There’s no point to our civilization.
To paraphrase what someone said, the test of courage is when you’re in a minority and the test of tolerance is when you are in a majority. None of our national parties made an effort to counter the religious sentiment in the valley. Not one party takes the message of peace and national integration to the valley. The Indian state might disintegrate unless a conscious and concerted effort is made towards national integration, unless the common Indian knows what India stands for, and unless people feel emotionally connected – the common emotion being India. It is important, therefore, to emphasize what holds India – a socialist, secular, democratic republic – together. For a theocratic state, it’s easy to emphasize that religion holds the state together. For a secular state (without the option of resorting to a particular religion as holding it together), however, it is a difficult but worthwhile exercise. Is there anything common to Indians? Is there any bond that holds us together as a nation? Is there any reason why we should be one nation and not many nations? The only commonality is that we are different. Perhaps it’s impossible to express Indian nationalism in direct and conventional terms. Perhaps Shashi Tharoor puts it best:
“Now, why do I harp on these differences? Not to stress division, but only to make the point that Indian nationalism is a rare animal indeed. Seeing so many distinguished scholars here reminds me of a story of two professors of law, probably at the Law Faculty of this university, arguing about a problem. One professor says “you know how we can solve this? We can do this and this and this and we can solve it.” And the other professor says “yes, yes, yes, that will work in practice — but will it work in theory?”
And you know this is precisely the issue of Indian nationalism. It has worked very well in practice, but it doesn’t work too well in theory. It is not based on any of the classical political science theories of nationalism that apply elsewhere, for example to the nation-states of Europe.”
Nobody knows why India exists. It exists, nevertheless. There’s no singular definition to an Indian. Try reading this brilliant lecture by Shashi Tharoor to have some idea of the Indian nation: