Kashmir Portal

A digital Kashmir Info Network


Posted by Kashmir Portal on June 14, 2009

By Javaid Iqbal Bhat

The very idea of breaking away from the Shopian episode and picking a new issue for discussion is heartbreaking. In the gallery of macabre images being inherited from the arrogant Indian hegemony, the album from Shopian can never be effaced. The despair cannot grow deeper. It was in a moment like this that the famous Jonathan Swift of Ireland in an essay entitled “A Modest Proposal” humbly requested the rich and the powerful to take the little boys and girls of Ireland and prepare a special non vegetarian meal for themselves. That way the endemic discomfort of the powerless can be eased. We are in no different situation though of course our problem is of the political nature. The intensity of the consciousness of suppression has hit the peak. One wonders if after this there is any other brutality that can be imagined. Yet, despite the surrounding gloom, for today’s column I decided to go over to another theme; if for no other purpose at least to bring a little relief (distraction?) from the bottomless frustration. Though, as would be clear soon, the nub is not so far away from Omar Abdullah’s tight upper lip declaration “accidental drowning.”

Conventionally, the techniques for the retention of power used to be more open. The rule or the authority was established in a more open, clear, direct and broad based manner. The awe and veneration among the masses towards the seat of the authority was created through measures which were not so clandestine. Such as, the demonstration of the military strength of the ruler. Or through wanton exploits in the foreign territories. Lest Authority was seen as blood thirsty, the show of power was also done through the network of charitable institutions, the elaborately laid out public works and the widely publicized donations. The intention in both cases was common; to lay deep the roots of authority. In other words for the ruler to be seen and recognized as powerful, above whom no one existed in main and might, it was believed to be indispensable to try to remain open and overt.

That was though in the past. Today the case is substantially different. There is a fine overlap between power and concealment. Not that there is no open demonstration of authority and influence. The naked show of power does exist; and brutally so. Yet at the same time there is an almost equal quantity of involvement with hiding and concealment. The consolidation of power is not solely or substantially wedded to openness, transparency and publicity. It has a cardinal link with the fine art of concealment. Why is there an almost pathological preoccupation with keeping certain things away from the masses? The reason is that idea of the rule and the ruler is not merely concerned with the physical self of the king, and his mammoth size monuments and minarets. Today the rule and the ruler are at a huge distance from the masses as they are, ironically, also very close to them.That is due to the omnipresence of images. Through the print and electronic these images mediate between the ruler and the ruled. There is a huge flow and dissemination of them. They are carefully produced and attractively sold out through the mass media. In fact the image may not necessarily be a reality but they are vested with the color of reality and given a fair touch of authenticity through a meticulous packaging. Thus making the image sometimes far taller and durable than the medieval monuments. Through the appealing mass media the images are voraciously consumed. That there is no stop on the emission and circulation of images implies their valuability for the rule and the rulers. From the top leadership, those who have shaped the ideological base or serve as a source of inspiration, only select photos are used for creating a desired impression. The photos are selected keeping in view the temper of the masses at a given point of time. Others not falling in line are cast away as though that facet of the ruler did not exist. There were definitely in the past sculptors and calligraphers who performed this function but it was so minimal in scope as to be negligible compared to the huge bombardment in our period.

For an example, every paper currency note in India carries a smiling Gandhi. It seems the Father of the Nation has taken birth with a smile and left the world with one. Actually the widest possible circulation of the smiling Gandhi reinforces the “Mahatma” impression in the consciousness of the masses. The permanent smile worn by the Father puts him next to the serenely smiling gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. Though what is concealed in the dominant discourse is revealed elsewhere; in the Dalit sub culture the images of Gandhi are shown vis-�-vis Ambedkar, wherein the latter is depicted in reverential poses. And not like any archetypal Indian saint in whom the long flowing beard is replaced by a clean shaven face and the smile. For the insurgent Dalit movement in India a bold and serene Bhimrao pushes away the toothy smile of Gandhi, and when the two are shown together, an arguing and adamant Mahatma faces a calm  Dalit messiah, Ambedkar.

Similarly the oldest political formation of India, the Congress Party uses the images of Nehru. Broadly seen, his images in the public are constituted around three themes; as a thinking Brahmin, as an organizer and builder (the celebrated film “Gandhi” by Mr. Attenborough congealed his persona as a smart, active organizer) and as one doting on children, the chacha Nehru. Common to all these mass circulated images is a rose attached to his coat. So far it is alright. However, how many know hat the first Prime Minister of India, in addition to the above, was also a chain smoker; a fact mentioned by R C Rajamain in his book “Witness to History”. Actually not many. For mass memorization in this manner goes against the clean image so painstakingly constructed; an idealization of someone who was after all a human being prone to so many crude temptations. The idealization is necessary if dynasty is to be created and sustained. They cannot survive for along on (real)ization.

Closer home, for a long time the sher-bakra divide shaped the political discourse of Kashmir.The sher group was made of the peasants and workers, on the other hand the Bakra was mostly made of the urban-clerical-bourgeosie. And the images on both the sides were framed as per the same dichotomy. Whatever was a misfit in this split was withheld with clinical precision from the popular mind. One such picture is that of the grandfather of the current Chief Minister. Scarcely can anyone say with confidence that the messiah of the peasants ever sported a long beard. That is however as much true as it is hidden.. For once, not only does it break the conventional adversarial dichotomy (the Sher,it turns out, is also a self reinvented Bakra) but it also stains the much sought after secular image and character for the Party. It is true that there is an easy access to images, however, the filters are not in every one’s custody. They are ever alive to the possibility of the diminution of power if everything is paraded before the public. The dynasties are more prone to the fall in esteem and power subsequent to the exposure of the hidden closet. The only S M Abdullah in the mass memory is a tall figure delivering thunderous speeches or one in the offices overlooking the official work with a clean shaven face and a slightly tilted Karakuli. The beard has gone; it is no longer needed. Though it may be retrieved if the future demands. As dynasties are vulnerable to hiding so are the masses prone to scandal (and switching sides) if the hidden is exposed. Hence hide and rule; reveal and perish.

Javaid Iqbal Bhat is Research Scholar, Centre for English Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Email:  javjnu@gmail.com

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