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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 39 New Delhi September 17, 2016

Unrest 2016: State of Politics and Philosophy in Kashmir

Sunday 18 September 2016

by Ashfaq Maqsood Ali

“Unless political power and philosophy meet together, there can be no rest from troubles for states nor for all mankind.” —Plato 

The early philosophical trend of human beings was revolving around the issues of being and becoming. In contrast, Socrates and Sophists appeared as a watermark on political philosophy as they were concerned about the fundamental questions proportional to the day-to-day social and political aspects of life. Socrates is known for his contribution to Greek philosophy equivalent to that of Jesus for Christian theology. Sophists, on the other hand, were the first Greek political educators who taught young men from wealthy families. Even different in perception and opposite to Sophists, Socrates shared with them a common realisation that the sixth-century BC philosophers’ investigation of nature was leading nowhere and both concentrated on certain ethical queries regarding life. The very ethical question raised was how human beings ought to live their lives. This fundamental question completely shaped the political thought in the following centuries.

It is evident that Socrates and Sophists were interested in ethical questions instead of empirical ones. Even the empirical methods as adopted and applied in social sciences led to the craze of science, when the twentieth-century political scientists declared the death of political theory. However, behaviouralism again confronted with the political behaviour of people based on normative principles. This made the advocates of behaviouralism to rethink over the value-fact dichotomy and David Easton immediately reformulated his stand while calling for the revival of values in political analysis under post-behaviouralism. One should remain cognisant that ethical questions always deal with ends and raise the issue of standards to justify the validity of these ends. On the other hand, empirical questions are concerned only with what ‘in fact’ exists.

In relation to the Kashmir unrest 2016, the theory of percentages—as only five per cent people are responsible for all disturbances, the theory of classes and divisions, as poor, unemployed, uneducated and emotion-led people are on the streets, the theory of suspicion over the role of external factors, all are basically supporting to reveal what is ‘in fact’. Initiatives like the All-Party Delegation, economic packages, multi-track diplomacies, seeking alternatives for mass controlling weaponry are substantiating the empirical approach to the problem. However, what the current-day politics, generally in the developing world and particularly in Jammu and Kashmir, failed to reintegrate is the essence and integration of values for a substantial end. It has been recognised by leading political analysts since the 1970s that empiricism minus values is a half-way approach to deal with political issues. The empirical approach towards the Kashmir issue has not served the very essential question of how people in Kashmir ought to live.

Social philosophers and scientists agree that the ultimate end of human action should be happiness, even though there is disagreement over the standards of happiness. People in Kashmir too have aspirations for happiness and ought to live a good life. However, they are also stuck among the standards of happiness as advocated by various active organisations. Politically motivated confusions among the Kashmiri people regarding the standards of happy life revolve around the maintenance of the status-quo, restoration of autonomy and pre-1953 position, self-rule, independence for Greater Kashmir, four-point formula, freedom from India and merger with Pakistan, Islamisation and establishment of Islamic Sharia (law) etc. Such confusions have the potential to alter and interpret facts for advantages of any concerned organisation. Nevertheless, no one can adulterate the real end that people ought to live a happy life. This end cannot be altered in any way as it falls within the domain of philosophy. Here, philosophers prefer to die instead of living a life below the real standard of happiness. For instance, the death of Socrates, ethically, is thousand times better than thousands of empirical lives to live.

People remain obedient to democratic nation-states for assuring a good life. Thus, being the agent of democratic states, the very object of all governments at all levels should be the happiness of the common people. Now, what is the real standard of happiness for those who are at the helm of affairs? Both Socrates and Sophists maintained that ‘virtue’ ought to be that standard. Because, virtue presupposes for some end and strives for excellence in a specific function. For that matter, a public representative in any democratic nation will work for the end of happiness of the people and will strive for excellence in doing so.

Unfortunately, people in mainstream and non-mainstream domains of Kashmir politics failed to ‘recognise and know’ the quality of virtue. They have mastery over the method of how to continue the process to serve their partial interests at the cost of the general prosperity and happiness of the Kashmiri people. Even if they know anything about virtue, they know and practice it as taught by Sophists, for whom virtue was the ability to acquire things that give pleasure, and political virtue was the ability to acquire these things by the successful use of power. For Sophists, the end of politics is the acquisition of power, and the virtue of a politician is her/his ability to master the techniques of attaining it. Thus, they taught and advocated rhetoric in Ancient Greece as the most important technique for gaining power. This rhetoric-factor in Kashmir politics justifies that the so-called representatives are followers of Sophists who preached radical individualism for selfish interests at the expense of the larger social good. This definition always works for the upper strata of society as it is based on the principle of ‘might is right’. Denying that very definition of Sophists, Socrates suggested that “Virtue is Knowledge”, not merely instrumental of how to attain power, but largely ethical of how we ought to live our lives. This knowledge is required to learn the art of living a good life and one who knows this art is a virtuous human being.

When power is given to people who follow Sophists’ definition of virtue that political power is a tool to satiate particular (instead of general) interests, they will definitely fail to rule properly while producing unhappiness, leaving the space for resistance from the general public. Thus, beyond the empirical theories of percentages, class-divisions or suspicions lies the very ‘idea’ of good life that dominates the whole Valley. Even if there is any validity of these remarks by the incumbent Chief Minister Ms Mehbooba Mufti, that five per cent active-actors are the cause of disturbances in Kashmir, the question remains as to why remaining ninetyfive per cent are passive. Again, it is because of this ‘idea’ that people ought to live a good life. The very essence of the 2016 unrest in the Kashmir Valley is the anger against the state apparatus, the anger against negative politics from top to bottom, and the anger against a particular type of rule benefiting a select and influential minority.

Thus, it is not only the calculated percentage or suspicious agents responsible for creating disturbances. Lack of virtue in politics has mainly contributed for the unrest 2016 leading the people in Kashmir to resist the state. Obviously, there is a space for all active-but-disturbing elements as well as external factors to play their part as well. Nevertheless, overemphasis on empiricism and ethical neutrality will lead to wrong diagnosis, and targeting people under the five per cent imprint will be disastrous for building a healthy democracy.

Concerned organisations of Kashmir politics, both from the mainstream and non-mainstream camps, should first ‘know and recognise’ the ethical truths regarding a good life for all. It is time for the non-mainstream camp to come out with a clear and inclusive agenda on the Kashmir issue, instead of relying on confusions that prove antithetical to the interests of the people. There is also a lesson for mainstream parties, both at the regional and Central level, that commitment towards philosophy of politics is the only alternative left to handle the Kashmir issue. Thus, instead of partial interests, the Central and State-level governments should work for genuine happiness and prosperity of the people in Jammu and Kashmir. Erosion of autonomy has been testified as resulting in political decay. The theory of complete merger of Jammu and Kashmir with the Indian Union, like other States, is a total failure. It is time to test the standard of other alternatives. For instance, political packages for restoring autonomy has the potential to act as a confidence-building measure while satiating the psychological, political and economic dimensions of the Kashmir problem. According to Socrates, “If one knows, really knows, what is ethically correct, one cannot help but act accordingly, for no one would knowingly do something that produces unhappiness.” Thus, knowing virtue is the very essence of Socrates’ political doctrine.

The author did his Ph.D from the Centre of Central Asian Studies, University of Kashmir. He is now a Lecturer in Political Science, Government Degree College for Women, Srinagar. He can be contacted at e-mail:

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