India’s New Kashmir Narrative
Diversified reportage of the Kashmir issue leads to more politicization
STATECRAFT BY HAPPYMON JACOB
I am increasingly of the opinion that the Indian – not necessarily New Delhi’s - perception on Kashmir has undergone considerable transformation in the recent past. This new Indian approach to Kashmir can only be comprehensively understood and explained by looking at the various domestic social, political, economic and other related developments within India. Today, my intention is not to explain what this ‘new approach’ is, but analyse, only briefly though due to space constraints, the larger social, political, economic and ideational context which has made the new Indian approach to Kashmir possible. I will try and flag a few ideas regarding the ‘new actors’ and ‘new identities’ in India that have prompted the creation of a new Indian discourse on Kashmir.
The first new actor that I would like to identify as having acted as a catalyst, in more ways than one, in transforming the Indian approach to Kashmir is the proactive media in the country. The Indian media has clearly acted as an agent of change by way of flagging newer issues and adopting non-traditional approaches to understanding issues concerning the Indian nation in general and the Kashmir issue in particular. This is primarily achieved by the media by being a mediator and communicator of the multiple narratives on various aspects of the nation’s day today existence, over and above the existing state narrative. This generation and promotion of multivocality by the media has helped the Indian re-imagination of the Kashmir conflict.
Diversified reportage of the Kashmir issue, using varied sources and providing contrasting viewpoints, has led to more politicization, less securitization and further nuancing of the Kashmir issue in India. Free media creates debates, debates create disagreements, disagreements encourage and legitimise differing shades of opinions and that is what was lacking in India’s Kashmir discourse for a long time.
The rise of a bold, new and outspoken, and yet mostly nationalistic, civil society in India has consistently challenged the Indian state on issues ranging from the construction of nuclear reactors in inhabited areas to police excesses to draconian laws such as the MOCACA, AFSPA to human rights violations in Kashmir. Criticism of the government is increasingly seen as healthy and legitimate, and much required for a better India. This has invariably helped the Kashmir cause for those speaking out against human rights excesses in Kashmir are not seen as being unpatriotic. There have been exceptions, I admit.
India aspires to be a great power and a chunk of the international community thinks that India could well become one. Has India exhibited appropriate behaviour patterns befitting a rising (great) power? Has its new approach towards Kashmir shown the great power-like behaviour and attitudes of the country?
Great power aspirations of the Indian middle class and the strategic elite have, to some extent, led sections within the country look at Kashmir in a non-traditional manner. One aspect of this argument is an emerging thinking in India that if it has to rise to the status of a great power it should be able to resolve its internal problems.
The other strand of this thinking is that the Kashmir conflict is hurting India and hence it needs to devise new ways of addressing the Kashmir conflict. Vir Sanghvi, former editor of the Hindustan Times, an influential English daily in India, argued that Kashmir is a liability for India and India should let Kashmir go away if it wants to. There are also others, such as Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar, who think that Kashmir deserves to have a chance to decide its own destiny. Mind you, these are not the so-called bleeding heart liberals!
Aspirational identity of a great power has also prompted India to constantly look for feedback and reassurance from the international community. It looks out for words that confirm the Indian greatness and more so engages in actions vis-à-vis Kashmir to confirm to the international and great power standards to showcase to the world that it is doing the right things in Kashmir. The open invite India extended to international election observers to come and witness the ‘free and fair’ state assembly elections in 2008 is an example of this.
The constant search for the aspirational great power identity also manifests in the creation of an image of India that is reasonable, caring, and willing to accommodate legitimate Kashmiri demands. Both the leaders and the analysts in India have tried to portray such an image to the Kashmiris in the last one decade or so. Even as India is peeved at the western criticism of its human rights record, it realizes the need to reconcile to the western human rights standards in order to justify its new-found place in the high table of nations that manage the international system.
I looked at Bollywood films to understand the portrayal of Kashmir. While in the 1960s and 1970s films mostly focused on the beauty of Kashmir, we see the portrayal of Kashmir as a terrorist-infested and Pakistan-supporting state in Bollywood films in the 1990s. This is now starting to change with more and more films becoming bold enough to challenge the state version of things in Kashmir by depicting human rights violations committed by the Indian security forces there and the plight of the Kashmiris in general. Bollywood films are indicative of the nuances of the popular culture and popular perceptions in India.
For instance, while films such as Barsaat (1994) and Kashmir ki Kali (1964) are set against the beauty of Kashmir valley, films such as Roja (1994), Dil Se (1998) talk about militancy in Kashmir from a statist point of view. Since 2000 or so, some films have been made in the backdrop of Kashmir such as Mission Kashmir (2000), Pukar (2004) Yahaan (2005) Shaurya (2008) Lamhaa: the untold story of Kashmir (2010) and Inshallah football (2010) have tried to depict human rights issues or at least talked about the human face of the insurgency in Kashmir.
Lastupdate on : Sat, 26 Nov 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 26 Nov 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 27 Nov 2011 00:00:00 IST
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