When PM Modi spoke of his vision of a ‘Naya Jammu-Kashmir’ last August, soon after the abrogation of Article 370, he was in a sense re-articulating and reiterating the vision of the region as a sacred space.
In an amazingly short tract proposing a certain line of research on Kashmir, one of the greatest civilisational scholars that India has produced in modern times, Dr Raghuvira, describing Kashmir wrote, thus, “Kashmir is not only a sporting ground — the Switzerland of India, as the Europeans view it. It is not only the paradise of physical delights as Shah Jahan viewed it. It is much more. It is our punya-bhoomi, where every dale and brook carries within its bosom a hundred mysteries of Rsis, sages, divines and Nagas. Kashmir is the biggest and the most wonderful sanctum in the world, that is possessed by any religion… Kashmir has once been the brain of India, her achievements in the domains of art and sciences have added immensely to India’s culture. Kashmir has been the home of philosophers, of rhetoricians, of story-tellers and historians… It is the valley of Tirthas, and every Tirtha (e.g. Ganga, Kaveri, Prayaga, Puskara) is represented here… Kashmir has been the centre for radiating Indian culture to Central Asia, Mongolia, China and Tibet…”
Being a scholar of civilisations, who was at the same time steeped in the scriptures, lore and cultural ethos of Bharat, Raghuvira had lyrically articulated the spiritual dimension and the essential symbolism of Kashmir in the imagination of India. That Kashmir was among the most advanced regions of India and also a lighthouse for radiating the essences of Indian culture, was a dimension that had been lost and deliberately downplayed by the Nehruvian establishment. Raghuvira, besides being a pre-eminent scholar, was also a prominent member of the Congress, a member of the Constituent Assembly, finally left the party over his differences with Jawaharlal Nehru, especially over his kowtowing to an increasingly belligerent China. Raghuvira’s natural party was the Jana Sangh, which he also rose to head for a short period before his sudden death in an accident. He had the essential vision of Kashmir, which Nehru lacked. Nehru’s Congress then and the family-driven Congress of today, was not a party in which the likes of Raghuvira could breath. As a new era has begun for the region, it is relevant to recall Raghuvira’s words and to remind ourselves of the essence and of the symbolism of Kashmir and why it is thus civilisationally, culturally and spiritually, besides strategic reasons, for us to defend it and to retrieve every inch of it that was once usurped through ruse and coercion.
However, over the years, this deeper symbolism of Kashmir was lost to the public mind and to our academic and political discourse. It was deliberately overshadowed and marginalised by a political narrative that dominated the region from the Valley and which essentially derived its sustenance from nepotism and thrived on the “growth of separatism, subversion and terrorism” and was driven by demagogy and disruption leading to the festering of, as Jagmohan, one of the most well-known chronicler of Kashmir’s political trajectory and an astute and unrelenting champion of integration, notes, “chronic infections in the roots of the body-politic that had remained, and erupted into high fever from time to time.” Over the decades these high fevers kept recurring at regular intervals,
Neither Nehru, Indira and Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress, nor Rahul and Sonia’s Congress had the gumption, the temerity and vision to look for solutions to the tangles in Jammu and Kashmir. These various versions of the Congress were incapable of treating the chronic infection, it was in their interest to keep these festering. The Congress’ political interest, its lack of political will saw it repeatedly compromise with separatism, go soft on terrorism and allow the ordinary people of the region lead delicately balanced lives, on the one hand, and on the other fan the flames of victimhood and a false sense of deprivation. Successive Congress governments adopted for decades a tentative attitude towards the politics of threat, of blackmail and of separatism and violence under the cover of Article 370 led to a brazen attitude that displayed scant regard for India, her democratic institutions and the Constitution itself. Omar Abdullah’s fulminations as Chief Minister, that “after Modi government is a distant memory, either Jammu and Kashmir won’t be part of India or Article 370 will still exist”, is just one example, of how over the years, that mindset which thrived on blackmail by trying to threaten the very democratic essence of India. 5 August 2019, was thus a redemption for the people of the region. A democratic redemption, which exposed how in the name of autonomy, in the name of being the bridge between the rulers in Delhi and the people of J&K, political cartels and families have imposed a certain political narrative and direction which has scarcely benefited the region and the people as a whole. In the last one year, the political landscape, rather than being denuded, has had time to breathe and to be watered with the real grassroots empowerment and devolution of power both fiscal and political. It has filled in a huge vacuum that had existed for decades and began to disappear only in the winter of 2018, when the panchayat elections were finally held in J&K. Political discrimination, fear, revenge is what had defined the politics of Jammu-Kashmir in the last so many years. The special status of the J&K was meant to only perpetuate the rule of a few, a few for whom the line between separation from India and adherence to the democratic process within a democratic India was thin, often blurred and breached and which was only meant to be spoken of when bargaining with Delhi or duping the people of the Valley.
All these decades parties like the National Conference and the PDP, and the Congress in the Valley, ruled by proxy, the cessation of their political activism has not created a vacuum, on the contrary, it has allowed people of the entire region to start making informed choices, have given them the scope of questioning the past records of leaders belonging to these parties, especially the families which ruled them for the last seven decades, it has made them explore democratic possibilities, to see the other dimensions of Indian democracy at work. This augurs well for the future political climate and health of the region. It is forcing these parties to do a hard rethink — evolve and recalibrate or risk becoming politically irrelevant and relegated.
Though he had written these words in 2014, just after Narendra Modi assumed charge as the “promising helmsman”, Jagmohan’s words are more relevant to today, “The changed season provides us a rare opportunity to prepare new soils and new seeds of commonality and show to the common man in Kashmir and the rest of India that his true and lasting welfare lies in speedy development and not in the spurious stitch of Article 370, which has caused multiple infections and let to recurring maladies of dangerous proportion.”
When Prime Minister Modi spoke of his vision of a “Naya Jammu-Kashmir” last August, in the immediate aftermath of the abrogation of Article 370, he was in a sense re-articulating and reiterating the vision of the region as a sacred space which needed to be re-elevated to its exalted position of the past. It was a vision of a many-sided development and integration, a vision which has imparted possibilities, hope and assurance of a new beginning.