Acting snobbish after having watched a lot of western art movies, I once superciliously dismissed Bollywood as trash. A very wise friend, a maven of many disciplines, cinema among them, corrected me saying that Bollywood movies were an altogether different genre that should not be judged by the analyses one would apply while appreciating the cinema in other parts of the world. While there is commonality, universality threading them all, each has its own grammar, idiom.
Over the past few days, I got sick of commentators, army generals, journalists and associations of college teachers and tour operators calling Mufti Mohammad Sayeed a ‘visionary’ leader. Artistically designed, full-page ads screamed the “immense inspiration and strong commitment” Mufti was supposedly endowed with. But before I would summarily dismiss this artificial noise as one more attempt to clothe a dyed-in-wool collaborator with a respectable vocabulary posthumously, I was reminded of my friend’s counsel. I tried to look at Mufti from a different perspective, one that might enable me to spot the ‘visionary’ in him. I tried to look whether the politicians like him in Kashmir belong to a different genre and operate in a distinct realm of their own, a realm where it is possible for them to be ‘visionaries’ and ‘collaborators’ at the same time. The ‘visionary’ many people were convinced of, but only I and a large number of people like me were somehow failing to see. Use whatever method you may, there is nothing empirical to give credence to the rhetoric elevating Mufti to the status of a statesman.
I first tried to dig into the source of these encomiums showered on Mufti. It soon dawned upon me that from the late nineties till his death, about two-dozen odd articles and a dozen odd interviews in the Indian media have canonised Mufti as a ‘visionary leader’. (By visionary they invariably meant the one who was New Delhi’s best bet in Kashmir). It is not an organic public acknowledgment of the ‘visionary’ label but a vibe floating in the media. One may ask what about the fact that he became the CM twice in the past 13 years? Well, despite the appalling cruelties committed during the NC’s rule, Farooq-Omar duo ruled for full 12 years in the past 19 years compared to Mufti’s four.
If you go through these pieces and interviews, they were written and conducted either during election campaigns or when New Delhi felt that Kashmir was slipping out of its hands. This also makes it clear what their idea of a ‘visionary’ is: a manager. An Omar Abdullah would be pulled up if it appeared he was losing the ground to the resistance. At the same time, a Mufti would be projected as the better alternative. It would not be an exaggeration to say that a clutch of journalists, academics, politicians, and ex-generals–Prem Shankar Jha, Madhu Kishwar, Barkha Dutt, Lt Gen VG Patankar (retired), Amitabh Mattu, David Devdas, Naeem Akhtar, Waheed-ur-Rahman Parra and a few others have steered this onerous task of image building, of reinventing a man who was one of the most disagreeable politicians around. Omar Abdullah, before the rebellions of 2008 and 2010 proved him unreliable for New Delhi, too had been hailed as a visionary, a promising politician, in a few Indian media outlets. Isn’t Mufti-as-visionary, therefore, a highly motivated construct of a tainted journalist (who acted as a liaison for India’s rich and mighty), an army general (the real power centre in Kashmir) and others? The ‘vision’ with which Mufti is associated has thus been articulated by a few individuals who are no more than extensions of the hydra-headed Indian state. In fact, he had been a vassal of this surrogate ‘vision’ from the days the Indian state started the process of bulldozing into the political fabric of J&K.
The problem with analyzing Mufti’s ‘vision’ starts with the fact that we have nothing to rely on except for a diffuse mass of journalistic and oral testimonies. And the idea of the ‘vision’ that emerges from such sources can be broadly spread over two phases—before and after he formed PDP.
As a Congressman his political vision came to be defined by the fact that he never toyed with anti-India resistance and remained a loyal Indian all his life. In fact, he was the lone crusader against the idea of resistance or semi-sovereignty as espoused by National Conference at one time and others at various stages of Kashmir history. As his trusted lieutenant Naeem Akhtar once wrote, he always wanted the ‘flowering of Indian democracy’ in Kashmir and firmly believed that Kashmir can be like any other Indian state given a chance. But is he unique in this belief? Didn’t his mentors Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, GM Sadiq and Mir Qasim actually put this belief into action even if it meant committing constitutional frauds to quickly subsume Kashmir into India? In the service of this surrogate vision, they even went to the extent of actually committing political suicides. In fact, Mufti, the politician who grew up in their shadow, later tried to dissociate himself from their dealings by criticizing those constitutional frauds in the PDP’s hazy idea of ‘Self-Rule’.
Before 1999, he was for all practical purposes an Indian politician in Kashmir, a Congressman to be precise. Even when he divorced Congress, he remained a disgruntled Congressman rather than a votary of Janata Dal ideology, which made him India’s first Muslim Home Minister. Now, in the Indian scheme of things, it is out of question that a politician representing a state for the highly-centralised Congress Party can have an independent vision of his own. Especially, when the region he has been representing happens to be J&K. As the loyal son of Congress he naturally inherited the ‘vision’ its leaders had of Kashmir.
Only a few months into power, when Narendra Modi-led government in New Delhi was not releasing paisa to the flood-hit Valley, Mufti made a caricature of himself by making grandiose statements like ‘Kashmir to become a hub of education in South Asia’, ‘Why can’t Gulmarg be Davos of Asia’, ‘Kashmir to become hub of health tourism’
Perry Anderson has given a glimpse of this vision in his The Indian Ideology by digging into Jawaharlal Nehru’s fetish for Kashmir:
Though himself born and raised in Uttar Pradesh, his ancestors had come from the Hindu elite of Kashmir, offering sentimental investment in a region with which he otherwise had little contact. First arriving there for a bear hunt in his late twenties, he did not set eyes on the region again till 1940. But when he did so, he commemorated the experience in a dithyramb of sexualised gush to embarrass a tourist brochure.
In a letter to his daughter Indira, Nehru wrote:
I wandered about like one possessed and drunk with beauty, and the intoxication of it filled my mind. Like some supremely beautiful woman, whose beauty is almost impersonal and above human desire, such was Kashmir in all its feminine beauty of river and valley and lake and graceful trees … sometimes the sheer loveliness of it was overpowering and I felt almost faint. As I gazed at it, it seemed to me dream-like and unreal, like the hopes and desires that fill us and so seldom find fulfilment. It was like the face of the beloved that one sees in a dream and fades away on awakening.
His strophes concluded: Kashmir calls back, its pull is stronger than ever, it whispers its fairy magic to the ears, and its memory disturbs the mind. How can they who have fallen under its spell release themselves from this enchantment?
How indeed? Alongside such fantasies were more material considerations. For Congress, as for British military planners after the war, Kashmir was a strategic redoubt commanding the approaches to Central Asia. Still more crucial was its importance as an ideological prize. If it went to India, it would demonstrate that Congress had built, as it had always said it would, a secular state in which a Muslim province could take its place among Hindu provinces, unlike the confessional state of Pakistan that had so gratuitously destroyed the natural unity of the subcontinent. Nehru, for whom its future was a matter of ‘intimate personal significance’, made no secret of the intensity of his feelings to Mountbatten, breaking down in front of Patel and weeping that Kashmir meant more to him than anything else, adding to Mountbatten’s wife that ‘Kashmir affects me in a peculiar way… like music sometimes or the company of a beloved person.’ Later he would simply cry out: ‘I want Kashmir.’ In June 1947 he was already explaining in a memorandum to Mountbatten that its accession to India would be the ‘normal and obvious course’ after partition, and that it would be ‘absurd to think that Pakistan would create trouble if this happens’.
Mufti became a zone where Nehru’s colonial fantasy of crowning a ‘secular’ Hindu India with a Muslim region will be played out. Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, GM Sadiq, Mir Qasim, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, Farooq Abdullah and GM Shah will become other vassals and sub vassals in the service of this project. These men had and did everything at their disposal to execute this shared vision, which many spin doctors are trying hard to patent under Mufti’s name.
Bakshi flooded the state with money and probably built more institutions than many of his successors put together. Of late, Mufti had been praising Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah a lot. Sheikh carried out revolutionary land reforms and was so popular that he would be given a hero’s welcome even when he signed off the last vestiges of state’s sovereignty
Bakshi flooded the state with money and probably built more institutions than many of his successors put together. Of late, Mufti had been praising Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah a lot. Sheikh carried out revolutionary land reforms and was so popular that he would be given a hero’s welcome even when he signed off the last vestiges of state’s sovereignty.
Today, Bakshi, Sadiq and Qasim have been consigned to the dustbin of political refuse. They are largely remembered for their treacheries. But history tells us that they had a ball in their heydays. Like Mufti and Omar Abdullah, Bakshi made speeches, inaugurated colleges, dreamed big. Sheikh even travelled to foreign nations (Pakistan also), possibly because New Delhi wanted to give him a feeling of ersatz sovereignty and the message that he may bury the desire for the real thing for good.
Judging Mufti’s pre-PDP ‘vision’ purely on the basis of hard historical facts—a saga of fake elections, dethronement of Sheikh, Congress’ shady dealings, a coup, repression, crushed dissent—it can be safely concluded that attributing to him a grand, coherent political vision is part of the Indian project, a continuation of Nehru’s ‘I want Kashmir’ cry. Before 1990, the Congress slogan that resonated during election times the most was “vote traviv athas, aes ha waalov batas” (vote for the hand, we will provide you rice at cheaper prices), underscoring the basis of the relationship between pro-India politicians and New Delhi.
A close study of the lives of all Congress supporters will reveal how material benefits have been at the core of their relationship with the party, a legacy championed by Mufti and his predecessors. You only need to look at Facebook profiles of the beneficiaries of PDP to understand how symbiotic relationships have been instrumental in thrusting greatness on Mufti.
It was only after the formation of PDP that Mufti’s remodelling gained pace. The moment was opportune. The political force he had unsuccessfully battled all his life, the NC had been buried by its own sins. The anti-India resistance had been reduced to a shell. The NC rule had come to embody all the brutalities of the Indian military and its local barbaric offshoot, Ikhwan. Pakistan wanted to mend ties with India. And above all, the dour, cold, calculating face of Mufti was not the sole weapon in PDP’s armour. The PDP was also the face of the scarved Mehbooba Mufti who cried in the lap of militants’ mothers and called “terrorists” her brothers. In power, Mufti delivered a ‘healing touch’ by opening a few closed roads, persuading the military complex to relax its vice-like grip a bit and took several other measures that made his predecessor look like the plague that had been gotten rid of. Suddenly, it looked like as though Mufti, under whose watch Jagmohan had green flagged about half-a-dozen massacres, had undergone a transformation, that he was possessed of a ‘vision’.
Events that unfolded in the wake of Amarnath land transfer uprising, however, demonstrated that the ‘vision’ had been only a new set of tricks up the sleeve of the ‘manager’, which had failed to impress people in the long run. In a surprise outcome that establishes how the success in elections is an unreliable indicator of a party’s or politician’s popularity in Kashmir, the NC regained power.
Only a few months into power, when Narendra Modi-led government in New Delhi was not releasing paisa to the flood-hit Valley, Mufti made a caricature of himself by making grandiose statements. Statements like ‘Kashmir to become a hub of education in South Asia’, ‘Why can’t Gulmarg be Davos of Asia’, ‘Kashmir to become hub of health tourism’ were dished out regularly by him, forgetting that Islamic University of Science and Technology established during his previous stint had become a hub of nepotism.
The gap between the seemingly noble desire to see Kashmir become these realities and the situation on ground only reflected the frustrations of a politician who had been reduced to a mere mascot by a powerful Indian leader who was also his ally in the state. His vision was reduced to a futile wait for the Bollywood to resume shooting in beautiful setting of the Valley. Why?
Because, Mufti’s vision, like that of politicians before him, was premised on the belief that the political aspirations of the people do not matter only because they are pitted against a powerful force. This is not a vision, but petty political expediency. In a small measure, even Kukka Parray had such vision. After all, like Mufti and Sheikh Abdullah, he was also a legislator and Delhi’s chosen henchman to push through the project that began in 1947.