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Fifth column

December 8, 2019

Dreams of Article 370


December 8, 2019

More than four months since Article 370 was abrogated, gruffly followed by wide-scale and harsh curbs, Kashmiri feelings of a distinct identity lie in tatters. Despite a potent current of ‘azadi’ that has remained salient for the last seven decades, ‘Trea huth satath’, as the clause is known locally, has remained an article of faith for the unionist parties, particularly the National Conference (NC), that had effectively fielded it to contain the irredentist narratives of Kashmiri nationalist groups.

From its very existence, the article had been gradually hollowed out by successive state governments including those of the NC to please or acquiesce to New Delhi. But it continued to feed the totem of imaginary sovereign status that Sheikh Abdullah had long ago bartered for his personal political power that exclusively depended upon not his popularity among his people but New Delhi’s charity.

It was laid bare when Pandit Nehru unceremoniously removed him from the position of the prime minister and replaced him with a thuggish Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad. Incarcerated and humiliated, Abdullah’s entry to power corridors was barred for the next two decades. He compensated it by raising the bogey of the UN resolutions and cries for a long-promised ‘rai shumari’ or plebiscite. This galvanised the public around him, provoking the state to respond brutally. Hundreds were murdered or injured and thousands more tortured in police stations that continue to remain the bastions of the dreaded state licence.

Time and age substantively mellowed down Abdullah so that he happily accepted a demoted position of chief minister. In his new avatar, his wings were clipped and flight skilfully restrained. In the process, the so-called Lion of Kashmir was transformed into a tamed circus beast managed by New Delhi through various new mechanisms of bondage such as legislative and administrative defanging and overt methods that stretched in the form of new military garrisons and stealth vigilance mechanisms beyond anyone’s grasp.

Pandit Nehru had so managed his mind that Abdullah would often exhibit remorse for the two decades of struggle that he rechristened as ‘politics of wilderness’. Shamefully, he never acknowledged any sorrow or guilt for all those whom he provoked to lay their lives in his name.

Regardless, ‘trea huth satath’ fed the NC’s assertion to own Kashmiri identity; the only apparent accomplishment for the nation in over five centuries of foreign domination – from Mughals to Sikhs, and Afghans and beyond. ‘Choun ezzath, myon ezzath, trea hath satath, trea satah’ (your dignity, my dignity: three seventy, three seventy) remained the slogan of choice for the NC for many decades besides a sporadic war cry of ‘yeh mulk hamara hey iss ka faisla hum karein gay ‘(This is our country and we shall decide its fate) in times of any challenge that could morph into an existential threat to its architecture of administrative power.

I heard the ‘trea huth satath’ slogan for the first time as a teenager during a roadside election rally at Gooriwan, our main market at the time. At home, my father, a history professor, spent quite some time and energy in unravelling its nuances. However, his erudition failed to impress me not because of my innate pessimism but perhaps due to some appreciation of the asymmetry that dictated the power relations. Allama Iqbal, vividly explains the restraints of the dynamic: “mumkin nahin mehkoom hove azaad kaa humdoush/ yeh banda-e-aflaak hai wouh khawja-e-aflaak” (A serf cannot be on a par with a free person/ One is the servant and the other is the master of the heavens.)

In the early 1980s, I attended my first political rally at Padshahi Bagh, Bijbehara, walking distance from my home. Mufti Sayeed, the former chief minister, who at the time was associated with the Congress, had invited then prime minister Indira Gandhi to shore up his fledgling support. All that I remember is that Mrs Gandhi spoke about Article 370 and claimed: “Dafah teen su sathar Sheikh Sahib nahin hum layay thay”.(We brought Article 370 and not Sheikh Abdullah.) This earned her resounding applause as it struck an instant chord with the audience.

Days before the abrogation of Article 370, former chief minister and the head of the NC, Farooq Abdullah, boasted that the removal of the article would automatically free Kashmir from the yoke of India. His dreams of uncoupling from the union have passed out without a whimper as he is negotiating with his uneventful solitude while in custody at his Gupkar residence in Srinagar, a place that would, on a normal day, usually buzz with cronies and the needy alike.

Nearly two decades ago when Farooq Abdullah was riding high on the promises to restore Kashmir’s autonomy, his government organised a two-day conference inviting people from various hues and persuasions. As one of the speakers, I supported the demand and regretted that the then Vajpayee government had summarily rejected the autonomy resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly demonstrating that in the imagination of the government of India the weight of Kashmiri aspirations equalled to nought.

I concluded my speech with these Kashmiri verses by Qazi Ghulam Muhammad, a terrific poet of a unique idiom who taught mathematics at the University of Kashmir:

“Douh loous roshi roshi achean manz saman chu khawab/ Phoul gaash rougi rougi khabar kout gachan chu khawab/ Wanaakh ra’ch hund yi kruhun kaal zoona gash/ Khouchan chi chaengi zani khuda kiyah wuchan chu khawab”

[The day waned stealthily as the dream collected in the eyes/ The dawn broke calmly but where did the dream depart?/ [In] the jet black moonshine of a dreaded night/ The candles are terror-struck for what the dream would predict].

At lunchtime, during my interaction with Abdullah, I suggested he prepare for a long-drawn struggle. He gave me a stern look and blurted: “Don’t push me. I am not interested in going to prison, while everyone else including you will enjoy”!

Twitter: @murtaza_shibli