Aijaz Zaka Syed
Kudos to Narendra Modi and his hefty henchman, Amit Shah. They have managed to transform India’s image overnight from that of being the world’s largest democracy into a highhanded occupation power. Something that Pakistan couldn’t accomplish over the past 73 years despite its best efforts. If the much feted democracy is today being compared to the Apartheid states of Israel and erstwhile South Africa, you know who deserves the credit. Over the years, many Pakistani commentators, including some of my friends from Kashmir, have tended to see parallels between Palestine and Kashmir.
Today, all those equivalences appear justified after what Kashmir and Kashmiris have been put through over the past three weeks. Barricaded in their homes and deprived of the basic essentials of life as the security forces besiege and patrol the length and breadth of the bifurcated state, the Kashmiri predicament appears little different from that of the historically dispossessed Palestinians. Internet and telephone communication continues to remain suspended; more than 200 newspapers published from the state are in a freeze and even hospitals shut.If all this looks and feels like occupation, it probably is. When you have an entire state imprisoned and their basic rights scrapped by a couple of folks sitting in their high citadels in distant Delhi, well, that sounds like anything but democracy. Many pundits suggest that Modi’s India is following in the footsteps of his friend Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel. But even Israel in its long history of subjugating Palestinians couldn’t quite manage to shut down life in the Occupied Territories in the manner the BJP has done in Kashmir. By summarily scrapping Article 370 that solemnised the accession of J&K to India in extraordinary circumstances and acknowledged the special status promised to the Muslim-majority state by Delhi, Modi has managed to implement one of the three key poll planks of the BJP and its presiding deity, RSS; the other two being the Uniform Civil Code and building of a Ram temple at the site of the martyred Babri Masjid. Distinguished author and legal luminary AG Noorani is convinced that the BJP will soon push ahead with the implementation of the rest of the saffron agenda too. Given the manner in which the country’s highest courts have lately been conducting themselves, a favourable verdict on Ayodhya does look like an inevitability. The moment is ripe too, given the utter chaos and disarray in the opposition ranks and collapse of the rule of law. The contentious Article 370 has been on the agenda of the RSS and its various offshoots since 1952. The Parivar has repeatedly attacked the special autonomy and recognition Article 370 and Article 35 (A) conferred on Kashmir although over the years, and thanks to the pliability of Kashmiri politicians, these historic assurances have been hollowed out. The state had already lost much of its autonomy and the so-called special character and nearly all laws of the Indian Union came to apply in J&K. This gradual loss of autonomy and special Muslim character of the state is one of the main reasons behind the political unrest and resurgence of militancy in the state in the 1990s. As the Kashmiris saw it, instead of honouring its commitment of a plebiscite under the United Nations and allowing Kashmiris on both sides to determine their own destiny, New Delhi had over the years gradually stripped the state of the last semblance of autonomy. Now even that fig leaf of autonomy and commitments made to Kashmiris by India’s founding fathers has been snatched away – and in such a contemptuous manner too. Even the most ‘pro-India’ politicians in the state are finding it difficult to stomach the humiliation and betrayal. Not only has the J&K been divested of its autonomy and special identity, it has been fractured into two and downgraded to the status of a Union territory without any powers, to be governed by Delhi through a puppet lieutenant governor. This is a classic case of adding insult to the injury. In the words of A S Dulat, former head of India’s premier intelligence agency, RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) and top adviser to the Vajpayee government on Kashmir, by revoking Article 370 and degrading J&K to a Union territory, the Modi government has not just betrayed Kashmiris, it has run their nose into the ground. As someone put it, in the eyes of the BJP, the Kashmiris are doubly guilty – they are Muslims and have the audacity to pine for freedom. But this is not just about showing the Kashmiris their place. Those who have closely followed the political trajectory of Prime Minister Modi since his eventful days as Gujarat’s satrap would understand this. This is about showing ‘Them’ – the Kashmiris, Indian Muslims and Pakistan, take your pick; they are all one and the same in the saffron worldview – as well as the waiting gallery of the BJP’s majoritarian support base what a resurgent ‘Hindu India’ led by Modi can do As Kapil Komireddi argues in the Washington Post, the Kashmir crisis is no longer about territory. It’s about a Hindu victory over Islam: “Modi’s sudden takeover in Kashmir is the fulfilment of a long ideological yearning to make a predominantly Muslim population surrender to his vision of a homogenous Hindu nation. It is also a way of conveying to the rest of India – a union of dizzyingly diverse states – that no one is exempt from the Hindu-power paradise he wants to build on the subcontinent. Kashmir is both a warning and a template.
Any state that deviates from this vision can be brought under Delhi’s thumb in the name of “unity.” But if the BJP and the powerful duo that rules India through it think they can get away with these delusions of grandeur, they had better think again. Their reckless actions in Kashmir risk producing at least two serious and unintended consequences:
First and foremost, the BJP move has wittingly or unwittingly resurrected the Kashmir question, something that had been nearly consigned to the back-burner of history by successive Indian governments and their dexterous diplomats with the connivance of world powers. Modi and Shah have now brought it to the global centre-stage. US President Donald Trump has twice offered to mediate between India and Pakistan and help them resolve the K conundrum.
Last week, the UN Security Council met to discuss the issue in an extraordinary closed-door meeting, after more than five decades. Although the meeting ended without an outcome, the issue is certain to occupy the attention of the world body for weeks and month to come.
The global media has also been preoccupied with the issue dedicating much of their coverage to the manner in which the greatest democracy has overnight divested Kashmiris of their own. Influential Western newspapers and media outlets have been outraged by the unprecedented crackdown on the Himalayan state.
Governments around the world with their strategic economic interests may choose to ignore what is happening in Kashmir. But they cannot forever ignore the global public opinion, including their own.
Secondly, the power grab in Kashmir is bound to give a new lease of life to the insurgency and strong separatist movement in the state. This has already angered and re-eneregised the influential Kashmiri diaspora in the UK and US; they have started pressuring the lawmakers on both sides of the pond asking them to intervene.
On Tuesday, a number of US lawmakers, including Congressman Adam Smith, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, called India’s US ambassador to express their concern over the situation, urging India to immediately lift curbs on Kashmiris. “There are legitimate concerns about the ongoing communications blackouts, increased militarisation of the region, and enforcement of curfews,” Smith told the Indian envoy.
What will it take for politicians in Delhi to understand that the Kashmiris are a fiercely proud and free-spirited people? You can only win them over with love and empathy. You can never subjugate them at gunpoint; nor crush their spirit.