Friday, December 31, 2010

What Future for the Indian National Congress?

A complacent Congress is unaware that it is rapidly losing all credibility.

The Indian National Congress is none the better after its 83rd plenary session in Burrari, Delhi, which also marked the 125th anniversary of its founding. For the first time since its unexpected return to power in 2004 as the head of a coalition government, the Congress Party is in deep trouble. In less than 18 months after the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) that it heads was re-elected, the party is beset with allegations of corruption, incompetence at the centre and in the states where it is in power, factionalism at all levels and it finds itself without a mass base of any kind. The only force driving the Congress Party is the “follow the leader” sentiment, which has kept the party afloat since 1998 when Sonia Gandhi took control. The excitement around the heir apparent, Rahul Gandhi, has begun to wear thin. While the younger Gandhi is credited (wrongly?) for the triumph in 2009 and he has made some attempts to rebuild the party at the grass-root level, the disaster in the recent Bihar assembly elections has removed a good part of the shine on the general secretary of the Youth Congress.

Read More here..

Monday, December 20, 2010

More Than Delayed Justice

The initiation of war trials has the potential to establish a secular, democratic state in Bangladesh.

Democracy in Bangladesh has been blighted by assassinations of political leaders and by military forces and extremists subverting democratic institutions. Such repeated acts – military coups, political assassinations and, worst of all, war crimes against civilians – have gone unpunished and at times have even been legimitised by those in power. Now, nearly four decades after the formation of Bangladesh in 1971, the polity led by the ruling Awami League Party has finally decided to initiate trials against war criminals involved in horrific acts against humanity during what the Bangladeshis call the Liberation War.

Read more of the EPW editorial here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Perfecting Patronage

Regional parties have entrenched themselves in the system of crony capitalism.

Much of the attention in the Radia tapes, featuring lobbyist Niira Radia, has been on the mischief played by journalists. What has received less attention is the close nexus between lobbyists and regional political actors. The tapes show how different factions within the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) were pitching in 2009 for key roles in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. And the lobbyist’s primary concern was to bend this struggle to suit the interests of her clients and place a minister of their choice in the telecommunications ministry.

The DMK, the party of former union telecommunications minister A Raja, has been with all governments in the centre since 1996 (barring brief inter­regnums in 1998-99 and early 2004), as part of the United Front governments of 1996-98, the National Democratic Alliance government of 1999-2004 andUPA-I andII. Political scientists have heralded the process of accommodation of regional parties in the central power structure as a progressive feature of Indian federalism and have seen it as a deepening of democracy. The explosion from the late 1980s onwards in the number of “effective parties” in the party system was a consequence of the decline of the Congress as a hegemonic force.

The greater regionalisation and the dawn of the coalition era were believed to help a more effective articulation of local interests and do away with patronage based on power at the centre. But in truth regional parties such as the DMK have used their power in the centre to strengthen the patronage politics in their respective states. The DMK, for instance, has moved smoothly into the crony capitalist structure at the centre and has used the resources it has collected to feed the party machine in Tamil Nadu. The DMK government in the state has seen a number of welfare schemes – some well-received ones such as the sale of rice at subsidised prices and the Kalaignar insurance scheme, but also some outlandish ones such as the distribution of colour television sets. What is characteristic of theDMK’s ways of consolidating power is the manner in which the party has conducted itself during elections. Tamil Nadu political watchers point to the “Thirumangalam model” as evidence of the DMK’s successful (though illegal) use of moneyed resources to confer patronage and garner political support. The assembly by-elections in Thirumangalam in January 2009 saw the disbursal of a large amount of cash to win votes. The elections in the Madurai Lok Sabha constituency later that year also featured similar practices. The DMK has in a certain sense perfected this model through the use of resources garnered by its top functionaries in the central government in the award of licences, contracts and project approvals. The leading party in opposition in Tamil Nadu has been no better. Corruption was a feature of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government as well when the party was in power (1991-96 and 1999-2004) in Tamil Nadu.

Both the Dravidian parties have in the past leveraged their presence in the central government to entrench their patronage networks and strengthen the hand of the leadership. The DMK is virtually controlled by a single family which is seamlessly enmeshed in big business and politics. The AIADMK is almost a mirror image, offering very little that is different in the content of its politics and in the structure of its organisation.

The “system” of patronage has served the two parties well during phases of rapid economic growth, but what will happen if an economic crisis were to hit the state is anybody’s guess. The short-term benefits of disbursal of patronage have helped the parties manage substantial banks of support, but they tend to be short-lived as the basic economic and livelihood issues remain unaddressed. That is why newer political parties have emerged in Tamil Nadu such as the actor Vijayakanth-led Desiya Murpokku Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

The telecom scam, the outlook of the regional parties of Tamil Nadu and the UPA’s response, all highlight the substantive infirmities of Indian liberal democracy after liberalisation. At least in the case of the regional parties from Tamil Nadu, the expected beneficial effects of regionalisation are no longer to be seen. The so-called “deepening of democracy” that has taken place is more a case of a circulation of elites. The regional elite has partaken of the larger process of rent-seeking, using resources thus gained to disburse patronage. No substantive alternative processes of representing local interests have been explored by the regional parties and political contestation at the state level is limited to who is more effective in the politics of patronage. No wonder then that both the AIADMK and DMK have vied with each other to be part of the government at the centre irrespective of which coalition is in power in New Delhi.

An EPW Editorial

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Curious Case of Barkha Dutt (and others)

Excerpts from Silver Blaze (The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes), by Arthur Conan Doyle

Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"

Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."

Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."

Holmes: "That was the curious incident."

Reality TV met News Opinionating met Court TV yesterday when well known TV journalist Barka Dutt, news editor of the NDTV channel came under cross questioning by four editors - Sanjaya Baru of the Business Standard, Dileep Padgaonkar, former editor of the Times of India, Manu Joseph of the Open Magazine which broke the “Radia tapes” story and Swapan Dasgupta, right wing columnist and contributor to The Pioneer and The Telegraph among others.

The key behind this charade held by the channel was to bring into focus the role played by Barkha Dutt as a news editor reporting during the UPA-II cabinet formation based on information she received from corporate lobbyist Niira Radia. The conversations with Radia establish a few things - a) Barkha Dutt explicitly agrees to act as a message courier between Radia (ostensibly speaking for entities within the DMK) and Congress leaders - senior ones like Ghulam Nabi Azad for e.g., b) Radia was particularly keen on passing the message as to who among the DMK was a preferred candidate for ministership in certain berths.

The anger against Barkha Dutt expressed online was on various counts. Many in the public were linking this up with the 2G scam and role of DMK minister A Raja in it. They saw it as a case of Radia playing a facilitator for the re-entry of A Raja into the UPA-II cabinet despite serious questions about the 2G scam during UPA-I and journalists helping her in the process. It was galling for the public to see journalists who they ideally see as detached players wanting to partake into such murky processes orchestrated by corporate players.

No wonder, Barkha Dutt, being the high profile journalist that she is, was prominently highlighted along with a few others. The other high profile journalist Vir Sanghvi was caught even more red handed, playing the rat to Radia’s Pied Piper in helping in message delivery and opinion making about two issues - again the A Raja re-installation in cabinet and also the Mukesh Ambani line in the gas dispute between the Ambani brothers. Sanghvi has recently taken a break from writing his column, Counterpoint. And he makes a bogus defense based on “stringing his source”, but the proof is in the pudding that is his writing and there, as is pointed out earlier, he is caught red handed doing Niira Radia’s bidding. Evidently Vir Sanghvi is more interested in pushing for the national interest as long as that interest expediently serves the corporate lobbyist's.

Barkha Dutt in her first response was outraged by the insinuations of lobbying in particular. She insisted that her assurances to Radia were basically “fibs” wanting to string her to get further information. And it is this outrage that pervaded her response besides the point on media ethics, where she questioned Open magazine (and Outlook magazine)’s decisions to publish transcripts of her conversations without contacting her for a response and so on. This was evident in her replies during last night’s inquisition-of-sorts as well.

But substantively, the key question remained and asked only by a relative few - Siddharth Varadarajan of The Hindu in his article, and by the Open magazine’s editor, Manu Joseph and his colleague. Joseph asked Dutt why wasn’t it that as a news editor she saw it necessary to bring to the public’s purview that a corporate public relations person having two of the richest clients in the world and indeed most powerful in India, was trying to pass on messages on which DMK leader was suitable for a particular cabinet post? Wasn’t it obvious that the role of corporate players wanting to have a say in getting ministers of their liking was a case of gross crony capitalism? Why was her coverage restricted to the minute-by-minute reporting of what the DMK’s demands were and what bargains were being struck by the Congress and the DMK rather than this substantial question of great public import? And why wasn’t this point highlighted even during the height of the revelations of the 2G scam, as representatives of various political parties pointed out irregularities in the 2G auction and the losses to the public exchequer (as early as early 2008). Or even during the recent release of the CAG report that put a number to the notional loss suffered by the exchequer - a mind boggling Rs 1,76,000 crore. Why didn’t Barkha Dutt want to bring out the undue and unusual interest shown by corporate players in wanting A Raja’s continuation in cabinet, during her reportage of the 2G Scam recently? Surely it was in public interest to bring out the nuances and minutiae of how crony capitalism worked and how ministers were at the bidding of big corporate players who controlled the strings of functioning of democracy from without, wasn’t it?

No, according to Barkha Dutt. It was a mere judgement call whether to report this or not. This was commonplace - the undue and shady corporate interest in public affairs and day-to-day and she didn’t consider it important enough.

Here is where Barkha Dutt is trying to string the public along with her and fib to us. Here is where the main contradiction is brought out clearly. Here is why the import of the Open magazine and Outlook magazine stories are brought out in the clear and in substance. It is similar to why the dog didn’t bark in the Silver Blaze story in the Sherlock Holmes series.

Our news media revels in trying to outdo each other in bringing out procedural, titillating details as if they are doing ball-by-ball commentary of a cricket game, when it comes to political reporting. But they do not want to displease their advertisers, mostly big corporate fund dispensers, by seeing and reporting things that are fundamentally wrong in the core issue of crony capitalism. It makes more sense for them to ridicule the political class and play up the middle class imagery of the crooked political class without distinction and difference and win eye balls in that process.

This is the problem with Indian news journalism. As Lydia Polgreen of the New York Times tweeted, “the larger problem of political journalism, esp[ecially] on TV: it privileges process minutiae over substance”. The question is why? This editorial in the EPW commenting on the Paid News issue can provide answers - “The Indian media is selling its soul to the market and forfeiting its claim to be an independent estate” or this editorial , which comments on the media coverage of the 26/11 incident says,
The manifest failures of the political establishment though, cannot obscure the fact that older notions of the media serving as a vigilant watchdog over public affairs have once again proven hopelessly romantic and outmoded. The media is a slave of the market. Its social role is little else than to serve as an echo chamber for the voices of the rich and the powerful, however shrill, irrational or lacking in coherence these may be.
Or more systematically as to how profit privileges public interest in the mass media, by the formidable intellectual, Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman in the excellent book, “Manufacturing Consent”. A film made on the subject can be viewed here -

So, there you go.It is a good thing that the larger public now gets to see the “lapdog of the market” face of the media for once, shown up through the “Radia tapes” story. Holmes would have approved.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Nitish Kumar’s Triumph

An improved administration with a selective use of identity helps the ruling coalition triumph in Bihar.

In what must be described as an expected result, the Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coalition has come up trumps in the Bihar state assembly elections. The coalition has not just won. By achieving a three-fourths majority in the assembly, it has nearly annihilated the opposition comprising the Lalu Prasad-led Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Ram Vilas Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) alliance and the Congress Party. The outcome repeats the Lok Sabha election results in 2009. The reasons for the strong victory in the assembly elections are the same as in the Lok Sabha polls – a very positive perception about the JD(U)-BJP government’s public works programme and the quality of state administration as also the ruling coalition’s very deft use of identity to shore up its base.

Fore more, read the rest of the editorial here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Beginning of the End

Manual scavenging persists, but community and political mobilisation of workers has initiated change.

Only those who are in denial are surprised by the continued existence in India of casteism and inhuman practices associated with stigmatisation, despite institutions of the state decreeing their abolition. But progress has been made in fits and starts, and agency – in the form of community and political mobilisation – has played a role in their slow removal. The horrific practice of manual scavenging – the worst form of untouchability and casteism under which certain communities are forced to carry human waste, and clean dry latrines and sewers – is one where the agency of community and political mobilisation has begun to have an impact.

To Read More, please click here.

An EPW editorial

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Little Hope in North Korea

A dynastic succession is set to ensure a continuity in repression.

In a display of grandeur exhibited to impress the world, the normally reclusive state of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – better known as North Korea – feted visiting journalists and its citizens with a massive “celebration” on 9 and 10 October in Pyongyang. The occasion ostensibly was to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the establishment of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK). But the gala event, featuring the North Korean staple of elaborate gymnastics and pyrotechnics, was held to provide the citizenry with a glimpse of the new “vice-chairman” of the military commission of the WPK, Kim Jong-Un, who also happens to be the youngest son of the ruling “dear leader” Kim Jong-Il, who himself had taken over from his father Kim Il-Sung (anointed as “eternal president” of the country after his death in 1994). The much publicised presence of the hitherto reclusive and unknown Kim Jong-Un is widely seen as a signal for his eventually succeeding the ailing Kim Jong-Il, who has ruled North Korea as the supreme leader of the central military commission for nearly two decades now.

To read more, click here.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Tough Victory

A polarised Venezuela delivers a close verdict in elections to the national assembly.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s “Bolivarian revolution” is intact, but the opposition has made gains. This is the message from the 26 September elections to the national assembly. The ruling Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV), and its allies have won 99 of the 165 seats in the national assembly and 5 of the 12 seats for the Latin American parliament, while the opposition led by the coalition Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD) has managed 64 and 5 seats, respectively. In terms of voter support, the MUD has managed to garner support from nearly half the electorate.

Read more here. (An EPW Editorial)

Monday, October 04, 2010

The Ayodhya judgment by the Allahabad High Court - A Blot on secularism

Without mincing words, let me say it clearly that the verdict of the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court was an act that was as worse as the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid. Except the latter was an event that featured hooligans criminally bringing down a structure that for them represented Indian secularism, while the former was handed out by a set of learned judges who ultimately misread the tenets of secularism in working their basis for their atrocious final judgement.

Why do I feel so strongly? After all, despite the profound disappointment in large sections of India's minorities, among some sections of India's liberal intelligentsia and large sections of leftist supporters and adherers to the "left's" notion of secularism - there has been the maintenance of a serene calm and peace among the Indian population who seem to be tired of violence and posturing by political actors on this issue. Some see a utilitarian value in the idea espoused by the court of dividing the disputed property into three portions, which could possibly be an intriguing and workable compromise solution as they have argued.

But for me, the so called solution can only be a viable one, if it is based on a rational, civic and constitutional basis. Which is obviously and unfortunately not the case with this judgement. We know that in 1949, idols were installed in the mosque. We know that in the mid- and late 1980s, there was a frenzy created because of the opening of the locks of the Masjid - an act of pandering to the Hindu Right by the Congress government after they did a similar pandering to Islamic fundamentalists vis-a-vis the Shah Bano case. We also know that the standing structure of the Babri Masjid was destroyed in front of our eyes - riveted on newspapers and news channels - by frenzied hooligans mobilised by the Hindutva brigade of the Sangh Parivar. Implicated in the wanton destruction was nearly the entire leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the act in itself shifted India's politics and society to a new and dangerous ground. Scores of riots followed, thousands of people were affected - many were killed, a degree of polarisation was managed to be achieved by the Hindutva brigade and fundamentalism took root in some sections of the population. Indian governance and administration also got affected and tainted and incidents such as the Gujarat riots were orchestrated. Suffice to say, the "Mandir" issue was the most deleterious of the three M issues - the other were Market (reforms) and Mandal (recommendations) that shifted Indian polity to new ground in the early 1990s.

With this reality and fact in front of us, we expected the Indian court adjudicating on the vexed Babri Masjid-Ranjanmabhoomi issue to do justice. And justice in this sense was to be wrought out by relying on facts and the secular Constitution. Based on this, the judges could in no way have outrightly dismissed the claims of the minority community. They could in no way have given legitimacy to dubious claims of the disputed area being the birthplace of a mythical god of the Hindus. Instead the court did the virtual opposite. It was almost that the court took no necessary cognisance of realities in Ayodhya in independent and constitutional India. Two of the three member bench of the judges, actually gave credence to the myth that Ram was indeed born in the disputed area. One even said that the Babri Masjid was not even a mosque, in many ways removing the moral illegitimacy of the heinous act on 6th December 1992.

The learned judges should have relied on the wisdom imparted in the secular Constitution to adjudicate on the theological matter. But the secularism in this case was surely the Congress version of it. Secularism as defined and understood by progressives and even among certain liberals has always been the arm's length distance between the state and faith. Matters of the state were to be strictly on the basis of civic law, with no intermingling of faith and civic governance. The Congress form of secularism, on the other hand, has mostly always, the active engagement of the state in faith - at times leading to pandering - sometimes to majoritarian fundamentalism and sometimes to minority fundamentalism. This distorted form of secularism is what is evident in the judgement.

Look at the initial lines of the gist of the judgement by one of the judges, Justice DV Sharma -

"The disputed site is the birth place of Lord Ram."

or that of Justice Sudhir Agarwal, in answering Issue No. 4 of Suit 1 -

"The place in suit to the extent it has been held by this Court to be the birthplace of Lord Rama"

Can these “leaps into faith”, as termed by many and what I would more accurately call, “leaps into irrationality”, hold true under rational and factual scrutiny? As this statement by eminent historians (Romila Thapar, Sarvepalli Gopal, Bipan Chandra et al) in Jan-Feb 1990 in the Social Scientist says,

Is Ayodhya the birth place of Rama? This question raises a related one: Is present day Ayodhya the Ayodhya of Ramayana?...

According to Valmiki Ramayana, Rama, the King of Ayodhya, was born in the Treta Yuga, that is thousands of years before the Kali Yuga which is supposed to begin in 3102 BC.

i) There is no archaeological evidence to show that at this early time the region around present day Ayodhya was inhabited. The earliest possible date for settlements at the site are of about the eighth century BC. The archaeological remains indicate a fairly simple material life, more primitive than what is described in the Valmiki Ramayana.

ii) In the Ramayana, there are frequent references to palaces and buildings on a large scale in an urban setting. Such descriptions of an urban complex are not sustained by the archaeological evidence of the eighth century BC.

iii) There is also a controversy over the location of Ayodhya. Early Buddhist texts refer to Shravasti and Saketa, not Ayodhya, as the major cities of Koshala. Jaina texts also refer to Saketa as the capital of Koshala. There are very few references to an Ayodhya, but this is said to be located on the Ganges, not on river Saryu which is the site of present day Ayodhya.

It is amply clear that the “leaps into irrationality” by the said judges of the bench, clearly don’t hold true under scrutiny. How on earth, can this be accepted then?

What of the judges’ (all three of them have accepted that there indeed was a temple over the ruins of which the mosque was built) invocation of the findings of the Archaeological Survey of India’s excavation of the site in 2003? Justice Sharma states emphatically (in the gist of his judgement) that “The Archaeological Survey of India has proved that the structure was a massive Hindu religious structure.” Justice Agarwal, in his gist, says “The building in dispute was constructed after demolition of Non-Islamic religious structure, i.e., a Hindu temple.” Justice Khan says, “Mosque was constructed over the ruins of temples which were lying in utter ruins since a very long time before the construction of mosque and some material thereof was used in
construction of the mosque.”

These statements are also major leaps into “faith” - faith in an ASI “summary of findings” and procedures that have been dismissed by acclaimed historians for various inconsistencies and abnormalities in work. Take this excerpts of the interview of historian Irfan Habib in the Frontline for example, -

The ASI report says that a temple existed beneath the ruins of the Babri Masjid. Is this borne out by the excavations?

I think I have already shown that the evidence found against the existence of such a temple is overwhelming. The ASI has made an appeal to a very small number of stones and objects coming from either early levels or obviously brought in from other sites during the mosque's construction. They are of Buddhist, Jain and Shaivite provenances. How can these be used together to prove the existence of a temple? Can the ASI produce any such combined Buddhist-Jain-Shaivite-Rama temple from anywhere in India?

As for the so-called "pillar-bases", Dr. Ashok Datta has adequately explained them as brickbats and stones used to fill holes and hollows on the ground and ruined floors. This is why these are found at so many levels and in connection with all the four mosque floors.

What sort of structure then existed beneath the Masjid?

I think it is now clear that the Babri Masjid was built at the ruined site of an open mosque (qanati or idgah), and Floor No.4 belonged to such a mosque. A mihrab(arched recess) was found in its foundation wall on the west (significantly enough, not mentioned in the report). This also explains the large amount of evidence of Muslim habitation at the site both below and above the levels of Floor 4.

In other words, two of the three judges have relied on a questionable ASI exercise and dubious findings, which have been widely questioned and have been dismissed as well.

It is the “belief” that there existed a temple over which the “disputed structure” was constructed and that the disputed area was indeed the “birthplace of Ram” that governs the judgement on the location of the idols below the previously existing central dome is to be handed over to Hindus for worship. From our limited observations from secondary sources, the dubitable nature of the basis of the claims makes the judgement untenable.

What of the utilitarian order to divide the property in disputed area to three claimants - the Hindus, the Muslims and the Nirmohi Akhara? For some, this verdict is a workable compromise that could represent a “move on” from the vexed issue that has bedevilled Indian polity and society. But justice served by a court that is supposed to rationally act on factual evidence is not supposed to be utilitarian but conforming to reason and law. This judgement of division of property is also based on the fact that both Hindus and Muslims prayed in the premises of the disputed area. Yet, relevant facts suggest that it has always been one party that has illegally placed idols within the structure, performed shilanyas and ultimately destroyed the structure. Reason cannot treat the plaintiffs therefore on the same pedestal after a purview of these facts. In that sense, this verdict is not acceptable even if it is workable and could perhaps be worked upon by stakeholders outside court.

Even the utilitarian nature of the judgement is more than problematic. The message behind this utilitarianism is that a majoritarian bias in the judgement has to be accepted by the aggrieved party and a “compromise” worked out. The message is flawed and only builds residual angst among the minority community, who are forced to accept the majoritarian bias in the judgement and are asked to accept that this is the workable form of justice.

In jurisprudence, the Allahabad High Court judgement sets, in this writer’s opinion, a bad precedent. It is incumbent on the Supreme Court to reverse the harm that is wrought out by the judgement - one that legitimises the incorrect reading of Indian secularism and one that legitimises irrational beliefs, letting them trump reason and justice. It is hoped that the Supreme Court follows civic rules and legal procedures to establish the property claims rather than arriving at conclusions from theological, mythological and irrational readings.

It is therefore welcome that some plaintiffs have pledged to approach the Supreme Court to undo the damage done.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Kashmir and the return to "normalcy"

After nearly three months of a near-intifada like situation, things seem to be returning to "normal" in Kashmir. The question to be asked is what is "normal" in the valley. The answer to that would more or less determine "what is to be done" in the medium term by stake holders - the Indian state, the Kashmiri political actors and broad Kashmiri society. (cartoon courtesy The Hindu newspaper)

For the Indian state, "normal" simply means a return to status quo; i.e. a highly "security" oriented valley, where incidents of violence are held to a minimum, protests that can be managed and the administration's writ is restored. For the Kashmiri political actors, depending on where they stand on separatism, "normal" is different. For those actors that have accepted Indian citizenship, "normal" is when they can articulate their politics within the framework of what every other political actor in any other state (province) in India works with. Differences are articulated with the manner the development paradigm plays out and the political elite would want to keep the differences articulated at the rhetorical level - i.e. the political opposition blames the incompetence of the ruling party in implementing policies, over which both have generally the same opinion. Thus, the National Conference and its supporting Congress would want to function in a violence-free environment, dispensing patronage and working for the "development" of Kashmir, while the Peoples' Democratic Party would want to expose the former's incompetence in maintaining law and order and implementation of the "development" policies. At times that are abnormal, these parties tend to frame positions on the "nationality" question in terms of "autonomy" or "self-rule" - i.e. articulating sovereignty within the framework of the Indian state, but with powers that are larger than the present status quo of Kashmir as a federal unit of India. But again these positions come up and are expedient when the separatists seem to have their stock running high.

For the separatists, again, "normal" is different for different actors. For the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, led by "hardliner" Syed Ali Shah Geelani, "normal" is when the idea of a Islamic state of Kashmir has enough currency and is articulated through the anger of the Kashmiri people alienated with the Indian state. For Geelani, it is only a break from Indian secularism and civic nationalism, that can be construed as a return to "normal". The normal and the ideal for Geelani is a Kashmir that is annexed to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. For others in the Hurriyat Conference and the separatist "mainstream", there are different motivations for separatism and different ideas for a sovereign Kashmir, but the binding element is a Kashmir that breaks from its past - of an unhappy existence within the Indian state, of false promises of autonomy and failures of the Indian state and so on. There is an Islamic element in many of the separatists' articulations, but there is a preponderance of alienation and angst with the Indian state, that is seen to have militated against the interests of "Kashmiriyat". "Normal" for these sections, is when the Indian state is willing to talk to them to listen to their articulations for a newer future for Kashmir.

From the writings of the "ordinary" Kashmiri citizen, from the voices of Kashmiri civil society though, "normal" seems to be a different story altogether. "Normal" is when the Kashmiri citizen is not subjected to repeated and humiliating "security checks" by personnel holding automatic weapons stationed every 50 metres. "Normal" is when the Kashmiri citizen does not feel harassed by "curfewed nights", "encounter killings", and the feeling of being ghettoised. "Normal" is when the Kashmiri youth does not feel repressed and like an alien when she/he goes out of Kashmir for a job like any other youth in India does. "Normal" for the Kashmiri Pandits is when they do not have to stay in camps and come out of their miserable existence as refugees in their own land and "normal" for the Kashmiri trader is when he is allowed to go to Muzaffarabad unhindered to sell/ buy wares. Of course, as some would argue, there are different views for different classes in Kashmiri society over sovereignty, independence, Islamisation/"jihad" and Kashmiriyat. But as the protests show, there is an unifying factor of alienation and anger against the security forces that seems to transcend views on the aforementioned political subjects. In other words, irrespective of class background, age, gender, the protests have seen participation from various sections and reducing it as some experts have done to local grievances articulated by some from particular class background and separatist motivations alone does not seem to capture the story entirely well.

So, the past few months were times, abnormal. The average Kashmiri citizen, particularly its youth vented out their anger at the abnormality by throwing stones at the Indian establishment - its paramilitary stations, its offices and its army locations. The Tehreek and its supporters wanted to keep the anger on and prepare the Kashmiri citizens for a new jihad - not the failed earlier course of militancy, but this new Palestinian like model of protests. No wonder Geelani wants the Kashmiris to continue civil disobedience, not to attend school and keep the "intifada" like situation on. For Geelani, continuing with the abnormal is the way out to prepare Kashmir for his understanding of the "normal". The separatists are not happy with the deaths of protesting Kashmiri youth killed by indiscriminate security forces' firing and want an urgent redressal by the Indian state.

Meanwhile, after months of vacillating and dilly-dallying - the Indian central government's initial assessment was that the violence and stone throwing was motivated and engineered from outside, then they grudgingly accepted that there is a popular anger that requires some response from them and that culminated in the all party delegation's visit followed by some concessions on the hard security approach of the Indian state. But there is still no acceptance of what construes as "normal" for the Kashmiri citizen. There is still no change in attitude on whether or not to amend/ repeal the much reviled Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which is seen to give impunity to the Indian security forces that has made living in Kashmir abnormal for many of its citizens. There is some grudging acceptance of the venality of the Public Security Act and the detentions that it has entailed, and the need to compensate/ address concerns of protestors' families who have lost their dear ones either to security forces' firing or incarceration. But these steps are token and keeping in mind what is "normal" for the Indian state.

It was the same understanding of what was "normal" that drove the Indian state's inaction and maintenance of stasis after Kashmiris voted in the assembly elections. The "overwhelming" response in the elections was construed as a change from the demands for "azaadi"; only it was not so. The participation in elections were an outcome of the Kashmiris' understanding of "normal" - while their alienation and anger was intact, they expected the elections and the outcome to address their other daily concerns. Which did not quite happen. The Indian state's intransigence on their "security approach" and the Kashmiri political class - the ruling parties and the opposition's inability to work toward the Kashmiri perception of "normal" only heightened local grievances and strengthened the claims of the hard jihadis.
Therefore, much more has to be done by the Indian state - again to revisit its hard security approach. Militancy has been more or less defeated and the currency for hard militancy does not exist in Kashmir anymore. And there is no wrong in addressing angst over historical wrong in Kashmir on the question of the "special status" of Kashmir that has been unfairly addressed by the Indian state. That would mean, continuing political negotiations with all sections of Kashmir's polity and trying to find a way to unite a divided Kashmir without losing sovereignty or exacerbating tensions with neighbours. That would entail a revisit to the "soft borders" idea with an open mind, a look at the "special status" through the autonomy framework and enhancing connectivity with the various parts of divided Jammu and Kashmir. The Indian state should show the gumption to do so and not be afraid to transcend and reject the narrow approach articulated by the likes of the Bharatiya Janata Party or the "strategic community" which want a continuation of the "security" status quo and the management of the "Kashmiri problem".

It is impossible to accept that despite whatever currency the idea of a Islamic state of Kashmir holds, the Indian state has to pander to such a demand, as articulated by some liberals in the Indian intelligentsia. Some "liberals" hold the view that the Indian state has expended too much energy on Kashmir and it is better off giving up claims of sovereignty over the region. That is a foolhardy premise, that amounts to giving up the very basis that constitutes the foundation of the Indian republic. One must remember that exploring the middle ground - the grant of linguistic federalism for e.g. made it possible for states like Tamil Nadu to accept Indian nationality without exception, after grievances over linguistic freedom were addressed adequately. It required a tweak to Indian nationalism to make it federally inclusive and grants of linguistic freedoms to make the idea of India more coherent to Tamils for example. It requires a similar exploring of the middle ground on the question of "absolute" sovereignty in a much depressed, divided and historically wronged region.

Progressives vis-a-vis Kashmir should not give up the middle (and the correct) ground of questioning excesses by the Indian security apparatus, the incompetence of the Kashmiri ruling elite, the vacuity of some separatists' proposals on sovereignty and the incongruity and foolishness of the idea of a religious state driven by millenarian ideas. They can still manage to articulate the concerns of the average Kashmiri citizen while doing so. They (we) should demand a grander gesture from the Indian state that goes beyond the token, expedient moves to restore "normality" and push the Indian state's version of "normal" to be closer to what the Kashmiris demand as to be their "normal" state of existence. The steps taken by the Indian left, whose leaders were the first to visit the Kashmiri valley in turmoil and who have articulated bold measures to alter India's security approach, engaged in talks with separatists of all hues and views are in the right direction. Yet the Indian left is a marginal player politically in a politically volatile region. It requires the Indian ruling classes therefore to accede to the demands made by the Indian left, to be responsive to the Kashmiris. And progressives both in Kashmiri society and outside should work towards exploring and working of the middle ground and be consistent to their first principles of secularism, peace and democracy. That is closer to "what needs to be done" from a left, progressive viewpoint than what seems to be articulated elsewhere.