I would like to ask just one question to Kashmir’s two main pro-India political parties. The question is rhetorical but also instructive. It is rhetorical because the answer to the question is already known to everyone, and, I concede, it is simply meant to put these parties in a spot. I don’t have a problem at this stage in asking rhetorical questions, for these parties never worry about landing themselves in ‘spots’, and because I have come to believe that much of their fumbling politics and thoughtlessness is deliberately cultivated to evade serious engagement with the people they claim to represent. Their unscrupulous opportunism and the impunity with which they grossly misinform their constituents has in a perverse way made these parties resilient and innovative, enough to turn each embarrassment they face into an opportunity to curry favor in Delhi. They act victims in Delhi, and helpless in Kashmir. Nevertheless, I believe my question is instructive as it might teach us a few things about how certain political minds function when faced with basic questions of reasoning.
Before I ask the question, which by the way is in every Kashmiri mind, I must give a small illustration of this last point. In Spring 2009, when I was teaching for a year in a university in Kashmir, N. N. Vohra, the India governor of Kashmir, was visiting the university. Amidst the dust storm that his chopper raised on the tiny hillside campus, a selected few of us were seated around a long table with the governor at its head. The vice-chancellor gave his brief introduction to what the university was doing and planning to do, which was followed by the governor’s fifteen-minute speech.
Some of the people around the table, mostly the faculty and the administrators, ‘listened’ attentively. But these are people who are attentive all the time. They are not listening. They are just attentive, like soldiers. Attention! They hear commands and act spontaneously. They don’t process things. Words pass through their ears to the motor neurons, turn into brain signals, which are projected then straight to the muscles in their arms. If you pay attention, you might notice sudden twitches. Twitches, which indicate their readiness to clap at each drop of a syllable. They can process, but they are too smitten with powerful people, so they choose not to.
Then there were the rest of us, fiddling with our pens, doodling on our notepads, eating our fingernails, thinking impure thoughts (one could tell because of the total give-away expressions on our faces, but thankfully no one was paying attention to us), scratching the backs of our heads, or just struggling to make ourselves comfortable in rexine-upholstered chairs.
After the speech (which I can’t so recall what he was saying) was finally over, the vice-chancellor asked if there were any questions, hoping, perhaps, that there were none. Four hands raised. Three students’, one mine. I didn’t intend to raise my hand, but because the students took a little while to raise theirs, I thought it might be a good idea to ask a question, so as not to give an impression that we were incapable of asking questions. I thought I was saving the vice-chancellor’s face.
The students, the only students there, all looking their best for the day (unfortunately their gelled hair full of dust from the dust storm), had practically just one question, but which was asked in several different ways. Each question ended with the always-awkward question about money. ‘If more funds were available, the university would shine’. The questions appeared tutored. I sympathized with the students. The attentive numbskulls nodded in appreciation, and almost started clapping, but found no response from us inattentive ones.
Strangely, I asked my question indirectly. I was struggling to figure what the proper etiquette was for such occasions. Here is what my question sounded like:
“I want to ask His Excellency a question. What does he think the role of the university is in a time of crisis?”
(His Excellency? My foot!). But why was I speaking in the third person, when the man was right there? Did I think the vice-chancellor would have to approve my question first, or that I had to follow appropriate stages to reach the ears of that bored-looking bureaucrat, who should have long been retired, but had been kept alive under Indian gerontocracy?
The question was automatic. Kashmir was in a political crisis, and the question for all of us, teachers, students and the administrators was what should we do at such a time? It was a question Noam Chomsky had asked universities in a time of his own country’s crisis in Vietnam. My question was indirect because, perhaps, it was not directed at Governor Vohra so much as for the rest of the people sitting in that room.
Vohra developed a grave expression on his face, as if his father had just breathed his last (this is how we say it in Kashmir, there is no gentle way to state it). He stiffened his long neck and the deathly-old fingers of his two hands clasped each other tight. His knuckles cracked under pressure.
“The role of the university in such a time is to tell people how to improve agriculture, horticulture, use irrigation, and better seeds…”. I must admit this is not an exact quote but it captures the gist of what he said. I know for sure he mentioned all the words in his one line answer, if not in the same order.
I apologize for the long digression, but somehow the question I mean to ask NC and PDP reminded me of that question I had asked Governor Vohra. In a sense this question is also meant for the rest of the people (for all of us) and not NC or PDP, and I also know how the latter would answer. It will have to do with tourism, with Tulip gardens, with Yatra. Most Kashmiris know the answer and have moved beyond it since long, but perhaps one could ask it of those, for the heck of it, who still want to make us believe that reason and experience can be defied or ignored.
Here is that most obvious and long question:
Given the fact that for forty years, before 1989, Kashmiris didn’t rise up en masse against India, and during those years India rigged elections, put political dissidents in jail for long terms, reneged not only on promises made in the UN, but also on the guarantees of autonomy made to spineless Kashmiri politicians in 1952, rendered Kashmir’s constitution useless and ineffective, introduced laws made by people not elected by Kashmiris, while after 1990, as Kashmiris whole-heartedly supported the independence movement, Indian military occupation produced close to a hundred thousand dead Kashmiris, (your importance in the eyes of Indian government may have risen as a consequence), amidst changes in Indian political scene, the most troubling of them: the rise of a new breed of political-economically and communally rightwing younger politicians, who have grown under the logic of Global War of Terror–now, what is it that makes you believe that you can still ask Kashmiris to put even an iota of trust in India, or trust them for another 65 years?