Circa 2014. Halfway through election campaigning, it occurred to me that the issues of azaadi, autonomy and Article 370 were never raised in any of the meetings, anywhere. Not once was it asked of me where I stood on these. Even in private conversations with people—farmers, shopkeepers, traders, and agricultural labourers—the National Conference’s demand for ‘autonomy’ or the PDP’s concept of ‘self-rule’ were never mentioned, even in passing.
The reason for this, it turned out, was simple: people didn’t see these mainstream parties as having any role in the resolution of the Kashmir issue. These parties were only about governance and, in the words of John Lewis, the civil rights pioneer, about “good trouble”. Nothing more. Nothing less either! Coexisting with this was the palpable separatist sentiment that one could sense and see. The families of militants—dead or alive—were respected. They were invariably seen as the “village elders” who exercise influence that comes with upward social mobility. Over the years, socially, militancy had become a rite of passage.