Have you ever felt a sense that your life is playing in a continuous loop? It’s a suffocating feeling, as if there is nothing you can do to release yourself from a cycle that seems to go on and on. Joseph Heller captured that sense brilliantly in Catch-22—how a person can be trapped by the circuitous, paradoxical demands a state sometimes makes on its subjects. India has reached, in Kashmir, a loop of Hellerian proportion.
The facts in brief: In April 2015, 25-year-old Khalid Muzaffar Wani was killed by the Indian Army. They reported that they found and killed him in the forest after he went to meet his brother Burhan, a notorious commander of the Hizbul Mujaheedin. The Army described Khalid as an “overground worker” of the Hizbul Mujaheedin.
On December 13, more than a year and a half later, the state government of Jammu and Kashmir approved compensation (provisionally) for Khalid Wani’s family. The Jammu and Kashmir government has to regularly compensate the families of civilians killed by militants and in anti-militant operations by the Indian Army.
But while the Army says Wani is a terrorist, the state government’s decision to award him compensation indicates they believe he wasn’t a militant. His father, Muzaffar Wani, said as much: “It is really good news for me. At least the government has now admitted that my son was innocent and was killed in cold blood by the Army. It was my demand to inquire into his death and today’s government’s announcement vindicated my stand that Khalid was innocent.”
The J&K government, of course, falls within the Union of India. So now the Indian Union will compensate (provisionally) the family of a person that it believes gave his life fighting to destroy that very Union. I know Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a famous speech about winning hearts and minds when he was in Kashmir, but surely this is taking it too far.
That’s a joke. The Bharatiya Janata Party is, of course, up in arms. Their state unit chief has vigorously opposed the move, insisting that Wani is a militant. The situation is especially embarrassing for the BJP because it is a junior partner in the coalition government in J&K, headed by Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party. The compensation, if given, will be given in its name.
The PDP is brought to power by Kashmiri Muslims. So it will seek to address the demands of Kashmiri Muslims in whichever way it can without antagonising New Delhi. The PDP also knows how politically problematic compensating Wani’s family is – note that Wani’s father has clarified that he did not ask for compensation from the Indian state.
The PDP did this anyway because it has to position itself as of the people, and this is what the people want. Now when the Army inevitably rejects Wani from the list of those compensated, the PDP can say it tried its best, that the Army and the Indian state stepped in.
In truth this is not a crisis for the BJP or the PDP. This is a crisis of the Indian state. It is a tragic irony that in Kashmiri politics the party in Opposition is able to take the position of the average Kashmiri much better than the party in power. This is the exact opposite of how a representative democracy should work.
Now, Omar Abdullah of the National Conference complains publicly about any number of state infractions. But when he was in power for 10 years he was silent every time an incident flared up.
The ruling party is currently the PDP, but it might as well be Omar Abdullah’s National Conference. Neither of these parties represents the most important strand of political thought in Kashmir – the demand for self-determination. But both of these parties are voted into power by the very people who have this demand.
So whenever they are in power they have to play this dangerous double-game, keeping New Delhi happy, while they keep their own supporters quiet, if not happy—knowing all the while that the interests of both parties are diametrically opposed.
Joseph Heller went to war and returned with one of the funniest novels of the 20th century. Sometimes only wit can capture just how absurd politics is. On Twitter a couple of weeks ago, a user named Mehvish Mushtaq showed how betrayed the Kashmiri feels about the lack of genuine political choice.
A Greater Kashmir headline that morning ran, “Accept responsibility for civilian killings: Omar tells Mehbooba.” In the photograph he tweeted out, he made a few key adjustments: