PM’s butt-numbing speech
MANMOHAN SINGH WANTS TO BRIBE KASHMIRIS TO SILENCE, COMMENTS ADITYA SINHA
When I read the prime minister’s speech this week on Kashmir, I too wanted to pick up a stone and hurl it at the government. Not because the speech was, as with most of Manmohan Singh’s speeches, butt-numbingly boring. Not because it was, as a Kashmiri Facebook friend put it, “the same old rhetoric”. It was because the prime minister, being the head of the government of the second largest population on the planet, speaks for that population with a certain gravitas; and all that this well-respected mild-mannered academic could think to do was offer the Kashmiris a bribe. It wasn’t an original brainwave at that; prime ministers since Jawaharlal Nehru have adopted bribery as their Kashmir policy. Kashmiris gave their verdict on the speech by returning to stone-pelting. That boys are picking up stones at the risk of catching a bullet (fired in warning) with the middle of their foreheads tells you how hoary the bribery-policy is. That youngsters continue to retaliate to bullets with stones instead of crossing a hill and picking up an AK-47 tells you a lot about self-restraint. If events during the past few weeks in Kashmir weren’t so pessimism-inducing, one might say the boys were Gandhians with stones.
Manmohan Singh — forgive me, I’ve lost too much respect for him to address him as prime minister — is no orator and so it would be unfair, after over 50 deaths of mostly students, to expect him to reach out to the Kashmiris with a poem instead of blithely stating that “I share the grief and sorrow” of every Kashmiri mother. His predecessor was eminently capable of crystallising in a poem the empathy that Kashmiris need to hear from the vast nation of India that they now see as an totalitarian state. His predecessor followed a political ideology but when it came to this very complex issue, he became pragmatic in the way that statesmen do. Manmohan Singh cannot be pragmatic. It’s not only because he is not a politician (you merely need to take a hard look at Kashmir to see why sneering at politics or politicians is always a lazy option); it’s not only because his big political achievement during UPA-I, the Indo-US civil nuclear deal, was the result not of political deal-making but of strong-arm tactics; but it looks increasingly as if it is because Manmohan Singh has no ideology. His party boss Sonia Gandhi is more worthy because at least she publicly champions a left-of-centre ideology. He champions none, other than perhaps the market.
The Kashmiris wouldn’t care a toss if Manmohan Singh had at least hinted at the beginning of a political roadmap to sort out their grievance. Instead, he made only one specific announcement, of the constitution of an expert group to find jobs for Kashmiris, comprising worthies like C Rangarajan, N R Narayana Murthy and Tarun Das. This is laughable because it implies that the reason boys are on the streets risking paramilitary bullets is because they don’t have jobs. It is sad because Manmohan Singh is either unmindful or, worse, deliberately ignoring the fact that Kashmiris with jobs — not just in the Valley but outside as well — are among those on the streets. We can safely say that the stone-pelting has nothing to do with employment opportunities. This gives Manmohan Singh’s speech a sinister character: for, by inference, it would appear that he has utter disdain for the Kashmiri political aspiration.
He’s not alone in this disdain. An example of the avoidance of this simple fact is what one former top espiocrat has written on the protests: like many wonks who sit comfortably on their butter-chicken-fed-backsides in the imperial capital, he ascribes the stone-pelting to a well thought-out Pakistani policy; and further, he blames Mufti Muhammad Sayeed’s PDP for fanning the flames by pushing an extreme autonomy position instead of swooning at Delhi’s pseudo-autonomy promises (which are about as genuine as promises of full employment or total eradication of poverty). Firstly, “well thought-out Pakistan policy” is not just an oxymoron but a logical impossibility. Secondly, the PDP is a political party that responds to issues that through its cadres it recognises as relevant to its people. A party that addresses issues relevant only to Rome does not remain a relevant party for long. If a Tamil party invokes issues of Tamil pride, a Kashmiri party will do the analogous. The PDP is not being irresponsible — to its people. It knows that soft autonomy isn’t going to cut it now. The only way to get people interested is to talk hard autonomy. Give the PDP credit for at least keeping within the mainstream, even if it doesn’t look that way to a bunch of North Block whiz-kids.
You could defend Manmohan Singh saying that he has to be careful in his speeches because as prime minister he has to represent all shades of opinion and when it comes to Kashmir there are some very strong views, particularly among the conservatives. These views are not new, subtle or even well thought out: a corrosive former editor used to say that India should keep the land and throw out all the Muslims. This kind of thinking belies the general belief that Indians are an intelligent race, inventors of the zero and masters of modern software coding. The alarming part however is that Manmohan Singh is bullied by this opinion. Again, it is strange that when it comes to a foreign country, Pakistan, Manmohan Singh is willing to defy the BJP and try out new things, to the extent of making concessions like he did at Sharm-el-Sheikh, to the dismay of many Indians. And he has kept at it, not looking over his shoulder at Indian public opinion, despite the Pakistan Army’s obvious impatience to launch another terrorist strike at India. Yet when it comes to Kashmir, which is supposedly an inalienable part of our nation, Manmohan Singh is less than bold and less than generous. It can only mean he is less than interested.
Besides making some of us want to pick up a few stones and hurl it at Manmohan Singh, his lack of interest in sorting out Kashmir makes you wonder why it fails to move him. One can only guess, but again why not contrast him with his predecessor, who was actually keen on a settlement. His predecessor was a political prime minister, worthy of his office. This man is not. India deserves a better PM.
(Courtesy: Indian Express)
Lastupdate on : Sun, 15 Aug 2010 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sun, 15 Aug 2010 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Mon, 16 Aug 2010 00:00:00 IST
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