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Time to refresh our understanding of politics !

12:00 AM Jun 07, 2024 IST | FAZL ILAHI
time to refresh our understanding of politics

My friend calls me on the polling day in Srinagar parliamentary constituency. He expresses his desire to vote. He’d never voted in his lifetime. I was taken aback. Yet, I was reminded, as I put together many such hints and chitchats that I came across, and hadn’t taken seriously as the parliamentary elections drew near. I merely dismissed it as just a loose talk, nothing serious. People in Srinagar wouldn’t vote, I slam shut my thoughts.


Later when I saw people flocking to vote I was staggered. This is because elections in Srinagar--I mean Srinagar as a district (not Srinagar as a constituency)--had never been any serious matter for the people, at least for the past 34 years.


The city people, as they say, wouldn’t give a damn to elections. We ate, watched movies, went sightseeing, and slept during election time. It was no more than a holiday time. If at all, we would hear about elections in the news and often dismiss that news item as fabricated. Oftentimes, the situation too was tense. A candidate in the fray, or even an elected candidate, wouldn’t ever dare visit our area or colony.


And neither did we nurse any interest to know or see the person. Who’s in the fray, or who has been declared as won was treated by us, in a typical Kashmiri style: “Kus, kass, te kamis” (who gives a damn). Frankly speaking, I, together with my friends, and most of the people in Srinagar, didn't even know the assembly constituency we belonged to. This question was out of the syllabus for us. It is turning GK now.


This routine was cast in stone for the city people. Each time the election came, Srinagar went comatose. And the same script would run each time during elections. No buntings, no hustings and, of course, no voting. We would hear about some election buzz in other districts & far-off areas on TV, but Srinagar, all along this three-decade spell, maintained the so-called boycott religiously.


And now, something had happened. The tide had changed. And so had minds in Srinagar. I could hear the hushed talk well before elections in the heart of the City, yet I dismissed it. I felt it had no stamina to translate into a vote. It did. The next day, as I walked into the market in Srinagar after polling had finished, shopped for groceries, and went to a medical store, my eyes kept searching for just one thing. Index fingers. My eyeballs would widen searching for stains.


Officially, around 35% people voted in Srinagar, definitely much less than other districts, yet much more than what Srinagar had been known for. And if the parliamentary election is any measure to go by, the forthcoming assembly election would surely register a steeper and greater spike in voter turnout.


What had happened and what made Srinagar come out to vote in large numbers? When I asked this question to a Srinagarite, pat came his reply: ‘The game has changed. So have the rules of the game’. I nodded unthinkingly. Maybe it was a gut nod, similar to gut feeling. As I felt like agreeing with what he said, a face emerged on the screen of my mind: Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah!

What brought Sheikh Abdullah’s image to my mind? The answer was this: If some cause can have an effect (change the optics of a circumstance and therefore the mind of the masses), why can’t a similar cause change the mind of a leader? If the masses change their mind after three decades of unfailingly sticking to an election boycott, eventually going to vote, and feeling fine with it, why wasn’t the leader granted this concession?

Why was Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah reviled (or made to be loathed at such a voltage that it became necessary to protect his mausoleum from the same people who’d been his faithful followers) when he altered his stance on Kashmir in the context of changed circumstances? We know that a cause that precipitates this shift in your mind has to be critical & epoch-making. You can’t change your mind on flimsy grounds. Now let’s see this in the prism of cause and effect.

These stained index fingers have various reasons behind them. I mean each voter has his or her reason as they opened up. Some wished not to disenfranchise themselves further, and some wanted to keep some force at bay, some looked at the condition across the border, and others attempted to test the ballot.

There is a cluster of reasons dished out to us, yet we require converging to the core cause. And that overarching cause, as we all know, is Article 370 abrogation. It has become an epoch-making event. A watershed. We now dissect the political landscape based on pre and post-abrogation. All the justifications for turning out to vote could be directly or indirectly traced to this decisive cause that precipitated on September 05, 2019.

Therefore, we arrive at Article 370 abrogation, and the happenings thereof, which altered the political condition, together with the mindsets of people, and thus the course of elections. Far bigger turnout for voting is a matter of time now.

This was about people’s decision to vote in the present context. Now we need to get to Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. Let’s not go to 1947. That is digging too deep. We will leave it for a later moment. We will go to the recent past and see whether he had been confronted with a similar state of affairs. Before we go straight to the decisive cause, we will do better catch up with the effect, that is, his decision (or change in mind) that precipitated seven years before he died in 1982. No prizes for the right guesses.

Yes, it was in 1975 in what is usually called Indira-Sheikh Accord. Try drawing parallels. The way people of Srinagar decided to vote in 2024 (and it was a good decision from my perspective as well) in the same vein Sheikh Abdullah decided to ink a pact with Mrs Gandhi in 1975. Now don’t shift the blame by saying leaders are taller than people. It is the people amongst whom a leader is born. The advocate of Raishumari (referendum) decided to bury the hatchet with India. This was but the effect, not the cause.

You berate him for this decision he took in 1975, but you undertook an action of a similar kind en masse in 2024. You have crucified him for almost a similar case. If abrogation of Article 370 in September 2019 and the consequences thereof lead to your decision to vote, the Indo-Pak war in December 1971 and the consequences thereof led him to sign the 1975 Accord.

Don’t the circumstances then resonate with the circumstances now? The consequence, thereof, was the Simla Agreement signed between Indira Gandhi & Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.  If you find yourself living in the times, and 1971 war and 1972 Simla Agreement is behind you, how will you respond? This brings Sheikh Abdullah’s decision into perspective. He seems to have done exactly what was required in the changed optics of the circumstances.

Now, briefly, let’s go to 1947. Here causes and effects are not so clear. He decided on India over Pakistan, Jawaharlal over Jinnah. This surely was an effect of a cause. What was the cause that led to this effect seems too tangled. We know that social matrix is the constellation of causes and effects, oftentimes, defying any neat demarcations and analyses. Therefore, in this case, let us leave the cause as the beginning point, and reverse the order.

Allow me to start with the effects first, and trace the causes from the very effects. Looking at the present context (from the perspective of the effects), he prospectively chose the socialism, democracy and secularism of India over the elitism, dictatorships & theocracy of Pakistan. Was he wrong or right could be gauged from the effects that we encounter here and now.

Look here and there, and across. Perhaps, Sheikh Abdullah's mind will sink in. If not, at least you will not see him in a bad light. Yes, he was jailed in Nehru’s India. But would he be better in Jinnah’s Pakistan? The way Pakistan turned out immediately after independence, it is quite probable Sheikh Abdullah would have been hanged in Jinnah’s Pakistan. Another personal, yet plausible effect. Dictatorship punishes more ruthlessly than a democracy. Remember, once upon a time there was PM Imran Khan.

Before India and Pakistan became a reality, it seems that the lion of Kashmir had seen (read foreseen) India (the effect) from the eyes of Nehru and Pakistan from the eyes of Jinnah. The decisive cause of his choosing India, more than anything, seems to lie in his reading of Jinnah and Nehru in flesh and blood, not merely as people, but as nations in the making. Jinnah, for him, was Pakistan, and Nehru India. He saw a better future in his friend Nehru, for people and himself. And he went for the bet. And the rest is history.