Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Oligarchy, Kashmiri Style

Javid describes how Kashmir's heavy hitters keep the pot boiling for obvious advantages

(Dr. Javid Iqbal, 63, was born in Srinagar. He attended the D.A.V. School, Srinagar, and graduated in Medicine from the Government Medical College (GMC). His professional service in medicine includes work in the Middle East for three decades. During his days at the GMC, he captained the cricket team. He enjoys writing and staying close to his children in far away lands.)

Kashmir’s Tryst with Dynasty

Kashmir’s tryst with dynasty other than autocratic started with Sheikh Abdullah, who rose to become a leader of his people in 1931 mostly due to his own efforts; however certain persons did help the launch. Mirwaiz Maulvi Yosuf Shah, the head of Kashmir’s premier religious family of preachers albeit with heavy political overtones was one such person. The two eventually fell out in a conflict of interests, partly ideological; religious conservatism v/s liberal political philosophy and partly personal.

The result was a political divide of which legends are made. Sher/Bakra conflict! The legend has it that it led to many a divorce, in the capital city of Srinagar, were the husband and the wife belong to either side of the divide. On the eve of partition, Maulvi Yosuf Shah opted for Pakistan; the Mirwaiz family went into a political oblivion, only to surface yet again in 1963 when the holy relic was stolen. A teenager, Maulvi Farooq emerged as the scion of the family.

To study democratic royalty, we don’t have to get mired in history. How we dare to deny that a million people attended the funeral ceremony of Sheikh Abdullah. A few years earlier Sheikh of Kashmir had anointed his son as his successor in an open Durbar. Farooq passed the baton to Omar in another open Durbar. Dr Farooq Abdullah’s coronation has another interesting analogy. Dr Bashar-al-Asad, the Syrian President was like him a practicing physician, an ophthalmologist in London, when he was called to stand in line to fill in the presidential office of his father, Hafiz-al-Asad. Father had opted for Rauf-al-Asad, the elder son, who died in a car crash. Rifat Asad, younger brother of Hafiz had served his brother faithfully as chief of security, however when it came to succession, it had to be the son. Rifat was eased out, much like Ghulam Mohammad Shah had served his father-in-law through thick and thin of political life. Farooq however was favoured being more popular. Shah was generally perceived to be too rigid for political comfort.

Kashmir’s two premier political families have had an acrimonious relationship over the years, although there have been times of the two tying up, double Farooq relationship, during a brief stint in eighties, being an example. The two had a confluence of interests during that time. The tragic assassination of Maulvi Farooq in 1990, led to the emergence of Maulvi Umar Farooq, like his father, he too was in his teens, when he took over the reins of his politico-religious office. He has had a baptism of fire in an era of intense conflict in Kashmir. To his credit, it must be said that in an era of changing loyalties, he has not only retained his flock of solid followers, but reached out to other constituencies too. Even in naming their off springs, the two families seem to be vying for political space, Farooq and Umar being the two attributes of Syedena Umar Farooq (RA), second of the sacred Caliphs, revered by Muslims. Omar Abdullah had a short but by all accounts a good innings as India’s Minister of state for External Affairs. The young man is in process of reviving the pivotal political role of his family, against heavy odds in his new avtar as chief minister of the State. It is indeed a matter of deep introspection, whether it could be a political necessity as well? Imagine India’s Congress party without the leadership of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and now Rahul or National Conference in Kashmir without Dr Farooq Abdullah and Omar. The parties might fall apart. Amazing indeed! It would have to be studied as a subject of mass psychology.

In Kashmir, the emergence of two more families, Mufti’s and Lone’s in the recent past, has confirmed the overall South Asian trend-the Bhutto’s and Mian’s of Pakistan, Sheikh’s of Bangladesh, Badal’s of Punjab, Thackeray’s of Maharastra, Lalu’s of Bihar, Yadav’s of U.P, Scandia’s of Gwalior, the list gets wider by the day. Apart from Mirwaiz’s other politico-religious families of Kashmir are those of Agha Sahib’s of Badgam and Ansari’s. Maulvi Abbas Ansasri and Maulvi Iftikhar Ansari are cousins on opposite ends of political spectrum. The former is a separatist leader and latter a PDP leader, though he has been associated with National Conference and Congress in past. Agha’s and Ansari’s are the leaders of Shia community with a never wavering band of followers like Mirwaiz’s which gives them considerable political clout. Mirwaiz’s have a minor rival, Mirwaiz Hamdani, mostly tied to National conference.

Amongst the erstwhile political families of Kashmir, Bakhshi’s and Qara’s/Sadiq’s have opted out of political scene. Tariq Qara though, an important functionary of PDP and Bakshi Nazir Ahmad, joined PDP a few years back. It is believed to be a step to safeguard tourist trade, of which he is an important representative rather than an attempt to revive family fortunes. Bakshi family is however is still socially highly visible.

In Kashmiri context, many feel emotionally attached to one or another of political dynasties. Even the educated elite feel impressed by the televised interviews of Omar’s, Abdullah or Mirwaiz, Sajad Lone or Mahbooba Mufti. Highly telegenic, they look impressive, with their public school background and King’s English, an improvement on what their fathers and forefathers were in their heyday. Remember the punch line, telecast, so often, on NDTV 24/7, a few years back, attributed to Sajad Lone. It is almost a quotable quote “There is a problem, which needs to be solved.” Indeed Sajad, you have echoed strongly, what is widely felt, a note of consensus across political spectrum, from die-hard separatists like Syed Ali Geelani to mainstream politicians, like Mufti Syed and Farooq Abdullah. Purists apart, masses do not grudge the dynastic leadership role, obtained, as a family heirloom. However how does it help!? Discord rather than accord, amongst political icons keeps adding to perpetual sickness of Kashmir’s body-politic!!

Tailpiece: My young niece, pursuing a doctorate in journalism in London University suddenly asked me while discussing democratic dynastic polity “Uncle! Don’t you think, we have wrong people in right places for wrong reasons”?! Taken a back, I looked intensely at her, wondering whether, with all her intelligence, she hasn’t seen reason enough to live in an unreasonable world!!

Yaar Zinda Sohbat Baqi
(Re-union is subordinate to survival)

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