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Gandhi On Fast In Kashmir

By Javaid Iqbal Bhat

01 August, 2010

It is not easy to know how Jinnah and Jawaharlal Nehru would have reacted to the present situation in Kashmir. Both of them were raised away from the dirt and noise of the coarse masses. For the most part their hands and feet remained unspoiled by the dust of ground. Their lives had more than a touch of what is known as the high profile. The choices and decisions made were impressed by their upbringing and the high profile bearing of their personas. Their minds and the mass psychology had a number of differences; rather an unbridgeable distance separated them. That is why even if Jinnah and Nehru are reborn and requested to help out the situation they would end up worsening and not easing out the distress of the people. For this is an extraordinary crisis in valley where an understanding of the pulse of people is more important than reworking the pace of governance. On an occasion when the University, an apex educational institution, has opened for four or five days in the past more than a month, when hope is trembling in the shadow of Fear, when the sight of the blood of teens becomes an everyday companion, morning arrives with the news of curfew reimposed and evening sends around the whispers of death in far off village, it is naïve to expect anything from the Jinnahs or Nehrus of the world. When brought back to meet the situation they would do what their mirror images are doing now; convene meetings, sift through files, order mechanical inquiries or call for a policy revision. All the humbug set of entities which we are used to hearing. Their names and designations are different but their postures and frames of mind are not at variance from their ‘high profile’ predecessors. Their problem is common; a marked distinction from the manner in which popular consciousness vents out its anxieties. The actions and gestures which they will offer have the trappings of cold professionalism produced out of the internalization of British style upbringing and education. But what is needed in this hour of crisis is the warmth of heart; someone whose words can come straight out of the heart unhindered by the manipulations of politicking.

That is why I was wondering how would the tallest of them all M K Gandhi have handled the situation. Unlike the others he took politics as a means of self realization; a medium through which the ordinary suffering masses can be made to benefit materially and spiritually. From the pages of history his name is the most appropriate to be taken out for making us understand the existing mind wearying dilemmas. He is also the most eligible due to his close association with the sentiment of the masses. So what would have been his magic mantra at this moment of crisis when abnormal life is threatening to become normal and death is inverting the meaning of life? Gandhi had two filters which he used to see and resolve the situation. Those were truth and non violence. On seeing the unbroken chain of teenage deaths in Kashmir over the past one and a half months, he would have decided to descend on the main scene instead of letting himself be surrounded in office by briefs, news reports and interest driven advisors. His was a politics of the field not of the office, mingling with the people in second class trains, sharing their water and food not to mention their worries.

For once it should be accepted that the so called elected representatives (puppets in the vernacular) also wish to come forward and defuse the crisis. However they can do so only at the cost of their lives. It is very much possible that if they do dare to come out to calm the nerves they would be publicly lynched to extinction. There is a tangible reason for such a possibility. No doubt they have carved a space for themselves; they have got the constitutional legitimacy to govern and seek the redressal of mass grievances. At the same time there is a serious lack in them. In order to win the hearts and minds of the people it is never enough to rely on the power of the vote or the seal of the constitution, there is something more which overrides these mundane laments’ is called, needless to reiterate, moral legitimacy. It is precisely this moral legitimacy, which carves a space in the hearts and minds of the people that is missing from the members of the governing class. There is a fragile political legitimacy when it comes to moral legitimacy there is near nothing; or it simply does not exist. Gandhi never entered the realm of constitutional politics in that he never sought votes but he had, and has passed on to the future generations an imperishable legacy of moral legitimacy. He wished moral legitimacy to be the base for all kinds of legitimacies. How the moral legitimacy is created and nourished one just needs to flip through the first fifty pages of My Experiments with Truth. It is an inch by inch exercise, a brick by brick by construction; it arises by breaking the barriers of color and country without losing the essential ethical axis grounded in each human being. Find out what he did in England, Natal, Durban, Pretoria, Transvaal and then carried over to the shores of India, and you get the process of building moral legitimacy. This self effacing legitimacy came in handy when Noakhali was burning and he volunteered to pour balm bruised psyches.

Today as each district of Kashmir is under curfew and people are peering into the abyss of darkness Gandhi would have placed himself in the home of one of the shot dead teenagers, and sat on a fast unto death. Given an understanding of what he did in his lifetime his set of demands would be clear and unambiguous; release all the hundreds of boys picked up for unknown locations, sanitize the cities and villages of Kashmir of hundreds and thousands of armed men ostensibly guarding the territorial integrity of India but actually put on surveillance on an entire population determined to challenge the writ of government. Just in case you do not know, his last demand would be what he has said long before the current generation of stone pelters was born. “The people of Kashmir should be asked,” said Gandhi on 29 July 1947 “whether they want to join Pakistan or India. Let them do as they want. The ruler is nothing. The people are everything.” His demands may end in his dismay. As the perverted media has fed the public opinion to a jingoistic patriotism they may actually dangerously recoil on him. Fast is a weak instrument against the lunacy of nationalism. However, his method would show the mirror to the people concerned, holding out to them their real selves and at the same time assuage the bruised hearts of an entire populace continually living under the dense shadow of fear and held by the chains of force. It would awaken a contaminated conscience to immeasurable miseries being heaped on an unarmed population. That is what each being wishes in case of suffering being consciously ignored; giving it a human face, imagining ones own home in the trauma the Others has been put under. To be fair to him Gandhi is dead, wishing him return to revive the human face of contemporary India is a pipe dream. Though there are those known as Gandhians, can they do what their master taught them? Well, the answer is; better change the topic. Gandhi was a flesh and blood reality, Gandhianism is a fashion, a sellable commodity. His rearrival is a fantasy, our fate is the fact; an earnest prayer can change the lines of destiny. And prayer too for the health for the monster ‘enemy’.

Javaid Iqbal Bhat
Assistant Professor
Post Graduate Department
of English,
South Campus,University of Kashmir
E-Mail:- javaid@kashmiruniversity.ac.in