Kashmir’s Chaotic Flavours Of Khichdi

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Just short of declaring it a national dish, Khichdi has been named by the Government of India as the ‘Brand India dish’. That in no way allays the fear of this being forced on people like another ritual and symbol of nationalism, giving the right wing’s emboldened lumpen elements to engage in another display of hooliganism. The otherwise bland dish, associated usually with the diet for the ailing and sick, neither appealing to the eyes or the palette, has been put on the pedestal of national pride – food that is said to unite a diverse nation. Debates have begun raging over the aptness of this forced symbol of homogeneity even as the government has begun defending the move on grounds of the inclusiveness of khichdi which is eaten in its variant forms in almost all parts of the country.

Whether or not that is something that Indians would want to be identified with collectively or individually, metaphorically it may be an apt identifier of the government and its governance. In much of north India and parts of South Asia, cooking ‘khichdi’ is an expression that metaphorically means creating a mess or cooking up a conspiracy. The present government with its slew of policies and actions has already turned the country into a hash of jolted economy, mob lynchings, cow politics – all garnished with a ‘Mann ki Baat’ and slogans of ultra-nationalism. It is a clear mess. To cover up its previous folly with propaganda and fresh schemes (often a re-hash of schemes existing much before), it is constantly cooking up a brew with deleterious impact on various segments of society including farmers and small and medium businessmen.

In Kashmir, khichdi assumes an even greater significance. The closest version of the khichdi in the Valley is Tahiri, which is rice cooked in mutton stock, something that may not titillate the senses of the Hindu right wing. Kashmiris flaunt their rich cuisine of wazwan which includes its famed show-stopper – Gushtaba, meat ball cooked in a curry of yoghurt. Symbolically, in Kashmir, khichdi can be as notorious as the ‘Gushtaba’ that has come to be understood as the metaphor of politics of deceit. Kashmir’s political cuisine for decades has been a blend of deceit, conspiracies and mishandling by New Delhi. The Kashmiris could thus, rightly, take the ownership of khichdi, which is already metaphorically a part of their life, if not put on their dastarkhwan.

The nation-wide amusement over the khichdi episode is further enhanced in Kashmir, where this hullabaloo almost coincides with the announcement of an interlocutor by New Delhi for Kashmir. About a week ago, despite a history that induces skepticism about New Delhi’s overtures for peace and for the reasons that the existing ground realities were at odds with the sudden switch-over from militarily crushing Kashmiris to interlocution, one could have easily given the benefit of doubt and seen the move as a possible though feeble window of opportunity. The suspense has not lasted long.

The intelligence background of the interlocutor and his focus, in his several interviews, on ‘law and order’ and ‘religious radicalisation’ of youth are only one part of the problem. The tendency to view symptoms and consequences of the Kashmir issue as the sole problem raises doubts over an exercise that has yet to begin. The bid to assess and review a situation that has been assessed many times before again raises question mark over the new interlocutor’s assignment. But what completely diminishes all hope is the government’s tirade against autonomy to the point that no less than the prime minister has equated it with the ‘azadi’, blurring the lines between the cherished aspiration of many and a constitutional provision. Previous governments in New Delhi in the past have spoken about Kashmir issue while skirting autonomy or going around it, even found ways to hollow it out without disturbing the shell. This government opposes the very nature and legality of autonomy that the state already enjoys as a constitutional provision. This stand appears to be in consonance with the earlier stance that the government had taken on the issue of Article 35 A. Its ministers said the act defining the permanent resident of the state was unconstitutional and needed to be opposed. Later the government distanced itself from the case filed in the Supreme Court, maintaining that it was purely a legal matter, but refused to defend it. Now in a recent hearing on the case, it maintained that the case be adjourned in view of the Kashmir initiative launched by it. So eventually, is Article 35 A a legal or political issue? The government’s actions and words arouse suspicions and confound the confusion.

More importantly, the new discourse against autonomy does not only put the separatists on the retreat. Even mainstream political parties and civil society groups would be pretty much hesitant to engage in a so-called peace initiative that runs parallel to discordant notes of belligerence. Already, skepticism with respect to New Delhi’s engagement stems from years of sequence of events, history of failed missions and added to that the suspicious and confusing nature of the present initiative where terms of engagement are not spelled out and where language of belligerence continues to alternate with peace mantra for Kashmir.

That’s quite a khichdi? And why indeed is it being cooked? Is it in view of the international pressure? Is it aimed to buy time? Kashmir has been a twin project of the Hindu right wing, that now rules the country. It has been its long cherished wish to integrate it fully into India through ruthless military actions and by changing its demography and as of now, it uses the chaos and violence in Kashmir to serve its electoral politics elsewhere in the country. A messier and virulent Kashmir suits the politics of the Hindu right wing. Is it for this reason that the Gujarat elections, which are most crucial for Modi have been postponed? A perfect khichdi by default or design!

Just as a tail-piece to add to madness of this season of khichdi, the braid cutting phenomenon that had virtually pushed the Valley on the edge of psychological panic, chaos and violence has suddenly become unfashionable. Is there more than a coincidence to this?