Last month, Arundhati Roy wrote an essay in The Outlook. It was on Kasmir and Azadi. I found it extremely provocative and so felt a strong urge to respond. My response is in form of a letter I wrote to the editor (reproduced here). The truncated form of this letter was carried by The Outlook (Sept 15, 2008), too. I'm sharing this with you in the hope of starting a much bigger debate on the issue.
In her characteristic maverick style, Arundhati Roy (Outlook, September 1, 2008) has made out a strong, impassioned case for the Azadi of Kashmir from India and India’s Azadi from Kashmir. Her logic is that the historic moment for this “mutual” liberation has finally come as this time round, the battle cry for Azadi has been raised not by the ‘separatists’ but by the ‘people’ of Kashmir and whatever has happened in the streets of Shrinagar in the last few weeks is nothing but a “spontaneous response of the Kashmiri people” to decades of hurt, betrayal, torture and persecution by the “Deep Indian State.”
It’s not at all surprising that Ms Roy has chosen to advocate this line of argument. Vir Sanghvi (HT), Pradeep Magazine (again HT) and several other so-called enlightened intellectuals in the Indian media have been harping on similar quick-fix solutions to the Kashmir imbroglio, with almost unfailing regularity. It is as though Indian media is slowly but systematically mounting moral pressure upon the Indian State to grant “freedom” to the people of Kashmir.
I do not know whether such a position is reflective of ‘intellectual liberalism’ of the Indian media or is an expression of its absolute ‘intellectual bankruptcy.’ One does get the impression though that the so-called Indian intellectuals have jumped on to the popular bandwagon of the Kashmiri people (read ‘separatists’) and are openly siding with them. It’s people like these who have in the past sixty years of so, done incalculable damage to the Indian polity, the Indian State and the Indian Nation.
How can someone like Arundhati Roy be trusted to stand up for the Indian Nation/State, especially when she believes herself to be nothing more than ‘a one-woman republic?’ Though Ms. Roy personally admires and even to an extent casts herself in the mould of the great dissenter Noam Chomsky, she doesn’t seem to understand one of his basic ideas where he talks of an insidious process of “manufacturing consent” in a modern democracy.
What Ms. Roy describes as “the spontaneous response of the people of Kashmir” was nothing but a systematic attempt by the separatists to “manufacture consent” in favour of Azadi. Anyone who knows the history of democracy as an institution does know that its success or failure has always depended upon the ability (or the lack of it) of its leaders to manage what is popularly known as the “crowd management” or “mass mobilization.”
That mass hysteria is not necessarily an expression of popular will is something that Ms. Roy needs to understand very clearly. Besides, she is forgetting that Kashmir is not just a question of ‘national prestige’ or ‘stature’ (false or real!) for the Indian State. If it is holding on to Kashmir at such a heavy cost (which is more than Rs. 10, 000 crores annually), it is only because the very notion of India as a nation is at stake. Following Ms. Roy’s skewed logic, if we were to grant “freedom” to Kashmir today, the whole fabric of India as a nation is likely to fall apart. There are states within the Indian State that are just waiting to secede. In other words, what Ms. Roy is suggesting is that “the tryst we made with destiny” on August 15, 1947 needs to be abandoned now as a national goal, mission or commitment. Sorry, Ms Roy, we are not with you!
I sincerely wish Ms. Roy you had instead made out a case for federalism in India, something in support of which all right thinking Indians need to mobilize the public opinion, today. It is not that the Indian State has failed to deliver in Kashmir alone (where perhaps it’s a case of over-delivery of everything, money and cops included), but it has failed to deliver virtually in every other Indian state as well. The point is simple. Indian State is too vast and too diverse to be governed from New Delhi. If the development of the people at the grass roots has suffered immensely in practically every State (and it’s nobody’s case, it hasn’t!), it is mainly owing to the ills resulting from over-centralized form of governance.
If it is a historic moment of some kind, then it is time to reflect on our top-heavy and top-down model of democracy and make efforts to show political sagacity and vision by going in for the federal structure, whereby greater autonomy is conceded not only to Kashmir but to other Indian states as well. Concurrently, the special status already accorded to Kashmir should henceforth be withdrawn. That is where the real answer lies; not in patch-work, knee-jerk solutions of the kind that Ms. Roy and her tribe keep bandying, from time to time.
Let’s keep our feet firmly planted on earth (as Gandhi once said) and let us not allow ourselves to be swept off our feet by Ms. Roy’s extremely seductive, almost Ciceronian ‘rhetoric.’