Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Reading Shamim Ahmed Shamim on Azadi - I

Ideal and Reality of Kashmir’s Azadi

Love is more otherworldly than this worldly phenomenon. It is a currency recognized by poets, thinkers, saints and  lovers, especially youth. Worldly wise people, politicians, traders etc. hardly count it. To live under its sacred ambience calls for nothing short of metanoai of which only few individuals are capable and not larger communities. Man lives for it and by it but more as a vision, as a noble dream, as a distant horizon of his imagination and an object of contemplation  that pulls one higher and higher. It owes its terrible beauty to the freedom it evokes. It postulates a Republic that is not necessarily this worldly state. With Eric Voegelin who has been described as modern Plato, we need to note that Plato’s Republic was written as “a dramatic dialogue about human existence in society and  history and not a policy paper for reform or an ideological tract calling for apocalyptic revolution.” Its heart is the vision of the Good. Plato refuses to claim that his ideal Republic of Freedom is certain of realization or that there is any possible plan for concerted human action to achieve it.
      However, for Plato “the paradigm . . . is a standard by which things can be measured; and the reliability of the measure is not diminished if things fall short of it, or if we have no means to bring them closer to it.”  When Kashmir loves Azadi it has its celestial archetype in view. Kashmiris have imagined a Republic or Divine City and its architects are poets and saints and thinkers.  Its earthly images are valuable and sought but they are not the essence of it. Azadi is a symbol, a myth in Platonic sense which is akin to faith which can move mountains. Unfortunately both its lovers and critics often confound its essence with concrete historical project linked to certain history and politics. The latter is not all that is to it or even its essential meaning. It is only a form that may well change while the supraformal essence will continue to inspire even after achieving self determination.  Politics can be fought but not the power of the myth. It is the myth Kashmiris live by.
      Granting that love affair with Azadi, as a species of classic love affair or quest for perfection, has a tragic dimension because it mayn’t probably  be consummated in the way imagined or sought as was argued  in previous column, the idea and symbolism of it has remained pivotal – and seductive – in Kashmiri consciousness. Although it continues to inspire mass consciousness and resistance leadership and in its paler versions is the life blood of such ideas as autonomy and self rule, arguments against concrete historical possibility  or even desirability of it have been echoed by all the mainstream leaders, some well  known political scientists and public intellectuals. In fact most Kashmiris who say we want freedom also have doubts regarding getting it. Some Hurriyat leaders who especially talk of dialogue really talk of something less than the moon as they think, with Sajad Lone, that only a semblance of it is achievable. Today we attempt to engage with one of the more influential formulations of this argument in the writings of Shamim Ahmed Shamim.
      Shamim proceeds towards a step wise deconstruction of what he sees as rhetoric rather than argument for Azadi given by pro-azadi camp:
  • First how can India and Pakistan be forced to leave Kashmiris on both sides of the border alone? I am reminded of Prof. Mujeeb’s remark: armies don’t leave any territory unless they are defeated in war. How can Kashmiris evict these two countries? It implies Kashmiris have to take arms against both the countries to work for Azadi. He asked  a pro-Azadi Mirpori person how come 22 lac Kashmiris overpower 60 crore Indians and Pakistanis? And came the reply: “Nigahi mardi mumin sae badel jati hae taqdeereae/Jo ho zouqi yaqeen paida, to ket jati hae jinjeeraeen” Shamim says he isn’t brave enough to recite Iqbal’s poetry and fight joint might of India and Pakistan and deems it Quixotic project or “Shaikh Chilli’s  palaw.”
  • Another possibility that both Indian and Pakistani leadership renounce their claim on Kashmir and leave us in peace he ridicules as impossible conversion given moral record of leaders.
  • Even granting that Azadi visits Kashmir, how come this heterogeneous State remain as a unit. Ladakh and Jammu people don’t want Azadi but further cementing of ties and in fact total merger with India. So after Azadi, they will seek separation. Thus Azadi will be meaningful for Kashmir valley only.
  • Granting Kashmir valley is granted freedom, how come such a small valley survive on economic and political fronts? The suggestion from some quarters that there are many countries of smaller size that are happy alone as sovereign states and thus Kashmir valley can sustain is dismissed by pointing out that geographic and historical realities have to be considered. Kashmir’s borders touch not only India and Pakistan but Russia and China as well.  And given its beauty – and strategic importance – all the four will have an eye on it. Is it possible that all the four countries defend our borders out of the sense of duty and goodwill?  
  • Granting even this state of affairs of joint defence from all the neighbours, would it not oblige Kashmir to come upto their divergent or conflicting expectations or interests in international treaties and other issues?
  • Some cherish the illusion that China will come to Kashmir’s help. Shamim points out that China will not shed a drop of blood for others as their non-intervention policy in Vietnam war and in Pakistan in 1971 shows. Chinese are the most merciless realists. He concludes that the dream of Azadi is beautiful  but its realization is ghastly. Kashmir could become an international flash point or battle ground. Azadi can’t come and if it comes, it will be a nightmare.
      This devastating logic can’t be ignored by Azadi camp which must reinvent or creatively rethink the notion of Azadi (making distinction between letter and spirit) to keep it relevant. Shamim was a passionate defender of constitutional autonomy of J &K. He thought that this is what is worth fighting and defending now of what remains of the grand ideal of Azadi. The current discourse on autonomy and self rule and achievable nationhood is, in many respects, an echo of his position. Although many Kashmiris today are sceptical of realization of their dream of Azadi, at least in their lifetime, they aren’t ready to relinquish either the dream or the ideal or at least the symbolism of Azadi discourse. Perhaps Shamim had little time (he died 43) to develop a more open ended view of the problem that has been, irrevocably, linked to the spirit and soul of Kashmiris. The sentiment for Azadi can’t be wished away. The question is: How do we integrate this sentiment with hard reality without succumbing to compromises that betray our commitment to the depths of our own selves, individual and collective? During Shamim’s time the question of Azadi didn’t pose itself in such terms as it would a decade later. We can only imagine how he would have responded today to the mess he would have encountered today. Next time we try to attend more carefully to what Shamim invites us and seek clarification of some of his theses for  taking home lessons for Kashmir today and ask some questions to him.
Contesting the thesis that the notion of Azadi is mere abstraction or fantasy or merely private opinion of some political leader/dreamer, one may note, that it is better understood as Platonic Idea about which Voegelin remarks that “when it leaves the polis, does not leave man. It goes on to live, in individuals and small groups, in the mania of the erotic soul.” So the Idea will have its seekers or embodiment and will live as long as Kashmiris live, even after political Azadi if it ever visits us. It will be loved, contemplated in the depths of Kashmiri being or consciousness and partly realized in history as greater autonomy, as self rule or something that transcends both and ceaselessly dialectically negates all ideological formulations of it and moves closer an closer to the earthly reflection of divine Idea.

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