All politics is local: A Member of Parliament worked in New Delhi, with her heart in Kashmir

Patrick B. McGuigan’s preface: This essay is adapted from a Facebook post by Dr. Nyla Ali Khan, native of Kashmir, now a professor at Rose State College in Midwest City and visiting professor at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. Her most recent book is “Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s Reflections on Kashmir,” a compilation of her grandfather’s speeches in the years just after India’s creation as a multi-party and multi-ethnic democratic nation – in the aftermath of the British colonial era. In this essay we are transported in just several dozen words to a time in the history of India, when hopes for tolerance and inclusion, liberty and fraternity, still seemed reasonable, if tenuous. As oppression of Kashmir and Jammu now increases in the subcontinent, people of good will pray for a change in hearts of those now in power in New Delhi. 

In a parliamentary democracy, ideally, regional voices should have power and regional aspirations should be legitimized in the parliament.
It is unfortunate that the Parliament of India is now a homogenized space in which regional aspirations are subsumed and delegitimatized.
Parliamentarians worth their salt recognize that all politics are local.

I recall my grandmother’s term in the Parliament. She did not shirk from attending parliamentary sessions, but her heart lay in Kashmir.
Her political growth had occurred and her conviction had strengthened while working at the grassroots level.
She instinctively knew that reforms and consciousness raising could occur most decisively at the grassroots level, not in the plush halls of parliament in New Delhi.

I would venture to say that the red tape of parliament couldn’t engage an activist who had walked shoulder to shoulder with the stalwarts of the anti-monarchical and anti-colonial movements of the Indian subcontinent.

I recall Nani (Akbar Jehan Abdullah) writing notes to herself every evening during a summer parliament session in 1985, telling me that she would be vocal in her denunciation of the mental and physical shackles imposed on the people of Kashmir.
She believed those shackles were being imposed in the name of “democracy,” “religion,” “justice,” and “peace.”

In some quiet moments that she and I shared at the dinner table, she would tell me that the structures of governance might change, but it was armed might that gave nation-states the legitimacy to wage wars and to annihilate peoples in the wake of those wars.

Some things do not change, it seems, but I wish they would.