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Kashmir: ‘Electoral Politicians and Polo Ponies.’

 

Punchline

Kashmir: Electoral Politics and ‘Polo Ponies’

Z.G. Muhammad

 

Sometimes meeting an embittered politician, enables one to peep into a domain of politics that otherwise remains obscure. Moreover, on occasions sharing experiences about such meetings helps in analysing the games behind popping up of new characters like mushrooms during rains with alternative narratives for fortifying the ‘hegemonic discourses’ at the time of elections in the State.  More it also helps to understand how multiple forces, ostensibly working against each other are in reality working for strengthening the hegemonic discourses.

Since student activism days, I might have met many distraught leaders and bitter politicians. Nonetheless, two of the meetings, one, with Mirza Mohammad Afzal Beg, in October 1978, after his expulsion from  the National Conference and second, with Syed Mir Qasim in 1982, when Mrs Gandhi had humbled him provide an insight into the New Delhi’s bible on Jammu and Kashmir.  Mrs Gandhi after her return to power in 1980 with thumping majority had humbled  Mir Qasim; first, convey him that he was not needed and then denied him even a room in the Kashmir House, 5-Prithvi Raj Road.  Those days it was in the grapevine that Mrs Gandhi had not liked some of Mir Qasim’s private conversations about Sanjay Gandhi- perhaps with M.L. Fotedar.  In this election, Sanjay Gandhi, despite his dirty role during the emergency had been elected member of the parliament.

In his endeavour to boost personality cult of his leader Sheikh Abdullah among students’ couple of times, I had heard  Afzal Beg using a cliché, ‘I don’t have an identity of my own, but I have been basking in the reflected glory of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah.’ During this meeting, which was an interview for the Onlooker, Bombay, he had no good word for him, and in every syllable he spoke, he exposed most veiled aspects of his political life. Stating that for safeguarding his material and other interests Abdullah could sacrifice anyone, he tried hard to dissociate himself from the political blunders committed by him and pushing Kashmiris out of frying into the fire. The meeting prompted me to look into life and politics Sheikh Abdullah beyond the ‘pedestrian discourses’ and hagiographic accounts breastfed to our whole generation born in the fifties and the sixties.

Nonetheless, revealing the harsher historical realities and demolishing the ‘pedestrian discourses’ and ‘conjured narratives’ are essential for exposing forces inimical to the aspiration of the people. And those with vested interests engaged in trying to entice young generation by playing upon the ‘syrupy alternative narratives’, need to be exposed. To that extent meeting with Mirza Beg become relevant in as much as in understanding how the ‘hegemonic discourses’ can blindfold people and take them from one dark tunnel into another and another with no light at the end. That is not subject of today’s column. But for finding an answer to the much-asked question on this day on the social media, why chasing the dream of democracy has so far been a mirage the meeting with Syed Mir Qasim and revelations made by him are more relevant. The meeting is also is significant for the younger generation to understand the Machiavellian politics that has been in play the state.

Syed Mir Qasim was sharing accommodation with a Member Parliament in Lodhi Estate. My two friends, Sheikh Manzoor, then with the United News of India (UNI), and Abdul Hamid Bhat, later on, a senior police officer knew him, I had never met him before and never met him after. On a Sunday, on our way back from Lodhi Garden, we called on him, he was excited to see three young Kashmiris visiting him and instantaneously opened up his heart to us. Like a chronicler, he filliped one Plebiscite Frontafter another page about his life.  ‘His role in the struggle for the ending feudal autocracy in the state,  steadfast loyalty to India and the Indian National Congress, in all its avatar. His deep commitment to Nehru, Indira Gandhi, and his role in bringing Sheikh Abdullah back into the “Indian mainstream’. With discontent writ large on his face he narrated story after story how he and many in his tribe of politicians became useless cogs in New Delhi’s scheme of things in Jammu and Kashmir and how they were put into the trashcan of Kashmir politics. He summed it up beautifully in a parable in chaste Kashmiri. To Quote him, “For New Delhi, we are like Polo Ponies, some picked up early as colts groomed and trained in tricks of the game, some selected after judging their stamina for outsmarting others. The breed does not matter, but it is agility to respond to the command that counts. Even for a single match, they keep several ponies. Once, they feel that the horse  on the ground is fatigued and is not racing  on the programmed track, he is removed from the ground  and put in the stable and fed for some time then forgotten and  finally fired.”

Perhaps doubting our knowledge of the contemporary politics, he culled one after another instance from the post-1947 electoral politics of the state and explained to us how New Delhi has been living up to adage diamond cuts diamond in the State and using one politician against another. ‘Right at the time of installation of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah none but first Prime Minister of Jawaharlal Nehru groomed Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad to replace his leader as and when required.’ And when Bakshi was running the show, they encouraged Sadiq as his contender and denounced him as ‘anti-national’.  Narrating his personal experience he recounted the day when Mrs Gandhi had invited him to New Delhi to tell him that  Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq the incumbent Chief Minister had lost the support of the House and they wanted him to head the government. Mir Qasim had expressed his ignorance about the support she was talking about, at this Mrs Gandhi had informed him that ‘you don’t know about it, but I know it.’ She had directed him to visit Srinagar and told him the MLA’s would approach you….’. Mir Qasim could not complete story as someone else intruded in the room.

Mrs Gandhi in the meantime had to rethink about replacing Sadiq. Some years later, I   learned from an MLA who launched new party  (who had resigned as minister from Sadiq’s cabinet)’, that when Qasim supporting MLAs (he was one of them) called on Mrs Gandhi, they received a sour dressing–down from Mrs Gandhi. When they insisted on replacing Sadiq,  she harshly told them, it is me who has made you MLA and the  not people of Kashmir- go to Srinagar  and work with Sadiq Sahib.’

The stories that my meetings with the two electoral politicians, one a former Deputy Chief Minister and another, Chief Minister and Union Minister revealed did not end there, in reality, these stories have been and continue to be an intrinsic part of electoral politics in Kashmir. That is the harsh reality about the Kashmir democracy, and the dream that our forefathers had seen about transfer of power to people back in 1924, is yet to be realised.

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