PRIME Minister Narendra Modi has decided to kill the soul of Kashmir and has provided ample warning that the worst is yet to come. The people's revolt will be crushed by military force, deployed under a thick smokescreen of falsehoods to silence whatever little dissent there is in India on Kashmir, delude international public opinion and appease the United States in the name of combating terrorism. The door is shut on any real dialogue on Kashmir with Pakistan or with the people of Kashmir. The real agenda, which is viciously communal, has been laid bare. Worst of all, Modi has decided, like his natural ally, the U.S., to trample on international law. It is a reckless game to play to buttress power at home. The Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti, is a willing accomplice, using her own brand of rhetoric to deceive her people.
On August 8, The Telegraph published a revealing report by the well-informed Sankarshan Thakur from New Delhi: "This newspaper has been given to understand by those close to formulating the strategy in Kashmir that the Centre is inclined to move even further away from political engagement and deploy a stricter security regime across the Valley. Top army commanders based in the State met Mehbooba Mufti two days ago; they are meant to have discussed contingency plans to deploy the armed forces visibly across the Valley and along the national highway to Jammu, a chronic militant ambush zone."
On the very same day, The Asian Age published a report from Srinagar by a respected correspondent, Yusuf Jameel: "The government is reported to have decided to assign the Army a 'bigger and more useful' role in resolving the crisis triggered by the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani on 8 July."
On August 9, The Telegraph published Imran Ahmed Siddiqui's report from New Delhi: "Sources in the Union Home Ministry said the government intended to act tough and would deploy more armed forces across the Valley to tackle the surge of protests." Mehbooba Mufti met Home Minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi on August 8.
Burhan Wani was killed on July 8. Shishir Gupta reported three days later that the "security agencies have not picked up any communication intercepts from Pakistan inciting separatists in the Valley" (Hindustan Times, July 12). Nirupama Subramanian reported that the militancy was "leaderless". None of the Hurriyat leaders could control it. "The fierce resistance put up by local communities, from under 10-year-olds to senior citizens, at encounter sites, and the mass displays of anger more than grief at their funerals, is now all too well known.… What this approach has done is to bring out kids as young as eight or 12 years old, to whom defiance of the Indian state is now as natural as playing cricket" (The Indian Express, July 12).
There were 7,000 militants who operated in Jammu and Kashmir in the 1990s. "The figure is currently pegged at around 200" (Hindustan Times, July 12). This is the reality. The official version is a farrago of manifest, demonstrable falsehood. "Whatever is happening in Kashmir is Pakistan-sponsored" (Rajnath Singh, July 10). "In the fight against separatism the people of Kashmir are with the country" (Arun Jaitley, the Finance Minister, on July 18); "[There is a… mindset that stokes] baseless anger against India" (Rajnath Singh, July 21).
Narendra Modi first spoke on the crisis only a month later on August 9 at Bhabra in Madhya Pradesh in these terms: "gullible and simple youth"; that is, they had no views or emotions of their own; "democratic values"; "Kashmir has the same freedom that every Indian has"; "a handful of misguided people"; "stones are being handed to innocent children" and "we want Kashmir to attain new heights of development"; "Kashmir has the same freedom that every Indian feels".
These statements are manifestly false, belied by reports in major Indian dailies. They were not escapist; they were a part of a strategy of suppression by deed with denial in words as its companion. Very significantly, there was no reference to Pakistan at all, nor to Balochistan. They came as an afterthought (Hindustan Times and The Asian Age, August 10). That very day, someone else also spoke up for the first time and in these strong words. "Prevarication and deflection of responsibility." (Both words had been used in the past.) "The problem in Kashmir is about the people of Kashmir and their political aspirations—neither about any other country nor about terrorism." He urged India to "engage with the people of Kashmir" and to have "a sustained, comprehensive political dialogue on Kashmir" with Pakistan. The speaker was Farooq Abdullah (Kashmir Times, August 10).
It was at the all-party meeting on August 12 that Modi revealed his tactics, which he refined on August 15. He would take the battle into the opponent's camp, accomplishing three aims in one go—appease the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) constituency, threaten Pakistan, and silence Kashmiris, whose "genuine grievances" he would redress. One who says that is either ignorant or deliberately rejects the truth. "Pakistan was at the root of the current unrest." It must "answer for its atrocities in Balochistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir [PoK]".
Matters of irrelevance
This has escaped notice. Modi "internationalised" Kashmir by inviting the world to notice the happenings there. "The time has come for Pakistan to explain to the world community about excesses committed in PoK and Balochistan." Indeed, "the Foreign Ministry should take initiatives to develop contact with citizens of PoK settled abroad and apprise them about how their family and friends are treated there". Similarly, violation of human rights in Balochistan should be brought to the attention of the global audience (The Times of India, August 13).
As to the first part, Ajit Doval will tell him that the task devolves on the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), which has long been on this job. Kallol Bhattacharjee reported inThe Hindu of August 15 about what "representatives of the Free Balochistan Movement (FBM) based in Delhi and London" told him. One of them, Balaach Pardili Baloch, "who has been a resident in India for some years, was appointed the representative of the FBM in October 2015 when he first addressed a public event in Delhi". So, Yusuf Raza Gilani was not wrong, after all, in raising the issue India's interference in Balochistan with Manmohan Singh at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on July 16, 2009. All that the joint statement said was: "Prime Minister Gilani mentioned that Pakistan has some information on threats in Balochistan and other areas." Sheikh Abdullah and Mirza Afzal were interned for nearly three years for meeting Zhou Enlai in Algiers in 1965. As to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) being tasked with raising these matters before the "world community", nothing would suit Pakistan more.
Modi mentioned two other issues. One was that "we should talk about four parts of Jammu and Kashmir—Jammu, Kashmir Valley, Ladakh and PoK". Why and how was it relevant to the immediate crisis? The motive is evident—box and isolate the Valley by talking about the other areas. In 1995, this writer was treated to a long PowerPoint discourse in Srinagar by a Corps Commander, Lt Gen. J.K. Mukherjee, to establish that Kashmiris are not in a majority in the Valley. On retirement, he wrote an article in The Statesman to prove that. The motive was: the Valley matters not. It can be ignored. Even more sinister was Modi's reference to Kashmiri Pandits' displacement. The relevance of these two matters to the immediate crisis is dubious.
On August 15, Modi gave his rhetoric free rein. "When innocent children were massacred in Peshawar, the Indian Parliament wept; every school in India shed tears at this tragedy." The media, print and electronic, were sorely remiss in not reporting these lugubrious events. One wonders if he himself wept then, or over the pogrom in Gujarat in 2002. His charge that "some people glorify terrorists in our country" reveals discomfiture at the unwelcome publicity which the protests and the armed forces' excesses in the Valley had received.
Unwittingly, Arun Jaitley, the Finance Minister, knocked the bottom out of Modi's theatrical outpourings on August 12, immediately after Modi's speech. Anand Mishra reported: "Asked why the Prime Minister had raised the issue of Balochistan and PoK, Jaitley said Modi's remarks were in the context of Pakistan's 'interference in the internal affairs of India'" (The Indian Express, August 13). So, they were not the outpourings of a bleeding heart but the riposte of an adversary.
A calm appraisal will reveal that to score debating points India's Prime Minister has wantonly damaged the national interest. His remarks are irrelevant to the needs of a grave situation, futile as a remedy, and are counterproductive. His "natural ally", the U.S., will be alarmed for reasons more than one. On August 9, the State Department's spokesperson Elizabeth Trudeau told the press: "We stand with Pakistan as they move forward on this fight against terror" (Kashmir Times, August 10).
Alarm in neighbourhood
As an empty threat, Modi's statement will earn ridicule. As a hint of intervention, it will cause alarm. The Hindu rightly remarked, on August 16: "In what was perhaps intended as a hint of India's capability to intervene, in an unspecified manner, in Balochistan, he said the people there had commended him for highlighting attacks against them by people within Pakistan. The warning sent out was that if Pakistan continues to interfere in Kashmir, India can do likewise, making an issue over the violence in Balochistan. Other than further escalating tensions between the two countries, it is difficult to see what can come out of such aggressive posturing on the internal problems of Pakistan."
Dissent within Balochistan and the PoK will be undermined, just as the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in Pakistan was, when Indira Gandhi lent it her support in the days of Zia-ul-Haq. While extremists in the country will be elated (the RSS, particularly), Kashmir will view the ploy with disgust. Proclamation of an interventionist policy will alarm Nepal and Sri Lanka, who have borne the brunt of India's interventions in the past. Iran is unlikely to be pleased.
And China? K.P. Nayar's well-informed report in The Telegraph (August 16) is noteworthy. He suggests that the policy has long been in the making. The Tibetan Prime Minister-in-exile, Lobsang Sangay, was invited to Modi's swearing-in ceremony and posed for a group photograph of South Asian leaders with Modi and President Pranab Mukherjee "as if he were a head of state". At the same time, a representative of the government in Taiwan "was smuggled into the diplomatic enclosure where she sat with Ambassadors". Nayar was told by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership at its highest level that these incidents were indicative of the future policies of the Modi government. A top BJP leader said on the background: "If the Chinese do not give up their claim on Arunachal Pradesh or give us pinpricks in Kashmir, we will use Tibetan Independence and Uighur dissidence against them.… The diplomatic game will no longer be one-sided." The Hindustan Times' correspondent wrote that the message that China was supposed to get from this (the speech) was: "Keep Pakistan's generals out of Kashmir or your fears about India sabotaging the Chinese-Pakistan Economic Corridor could come true." It passes through PoK. China is unlikely to comply, still less abandon its claim to Arunachal Pradesh.
Does Modi intend to act on his bold rhetoric? If not, he will cut a sorry figure. The passage of time will make matters worse. On August 17, "top government sources" said, obviously as instructed, that "humanity does not stop at the borders" (The Asian Age, August 18). Why not then accede to the request by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, to permit his team access to Jammu and Kashmir and PoK, as he requested Pakistan? "I deeply regret that our requests for access have not been granted" (Hindustan Times, August 18).
India has a very bad record of refusal to the U.N.'s Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights. The High Commissioner's team will be well qualified to judge the veracity of claims of Pakistan's sponsorship of the post-July 8 protests. Humans can lie; photographs do not. For years, newspapers have published photographs of women wailing at the windows as the massively attended funeral processions of slain militants passed by. On one single day, August 17, two dailies published on the front page colour photographs of masses of Kashmiris shouting pro-azadi slogans during funeral marches at two different places: The Hindu at Budgam and The Asian Age at the village Aripanthan, West of Srinagar. On August 5, protest rallies were held after Friday prayers in around 45 places in the 10 districts of the Valley. Pakistanis do not put stones in the hands of eight- to 12-year-olds.
Mehbooba Mufti's role and rhetoric
Mehbooba Mufti's rhetoric is hard to follow: attacks on Pakistan and pleas for talks with it in one and the same speech. Not one reporter supports her charge that protesters used "children as a shield". They report, instead, that the kids are out of control and act with ferocious zeal. Her speech is perilously close to that of Sir Humphrey Appleby in retirement: "Disengaged the operation of his mind from the content of his speech."
However, a method lurks beneath the madness, which was exposed with sheer brilliance by a 23-year-old scholar from Tufts University in Britain, Niya Shahdad. It bears quotation in extenso. "When Mehbooba declares that the 'sacrifices of these innocent children will not go waste', she cloaks her claims in the kind of doublespeak that reeks of a politician's deception and desperation. The very implications upon which that guise of condemnation is built—that these children are innocent because they have been 'misled' onto a path of 'senseless' violence by 'certain internal forces' or otherwise—dismisses every conscious sacrifice of those left dead and wounded while fighting an oppressor whose name she can no longer spell today. If there is anyone acting under the influence of others, it is the CM alone; a puppet communicating through the gestures designed and approved by New Delhi.… [She attempts to] appease us with the language of our struggle, but the meanings hidden underneath those words militate against that very struggle. The violence she describes as 'senseless' is truly senseless, but not because the children are taking to the streets instead of schools. It is senseless because a five-year-old Nasir Ahmed Khan is found on the street with a needle and sand pierced into his eyes.… Kashmir has been independent and existed outside of the Indian nation-state for a long time now. Today, if there is a silver lining amid its time of bleeding and mourning, it is that it inches closer to standing independent of those forces that act, oppress and deceive from within" (The Indian Express, August 8; emphasis added throughout).
As A.S. Dulat said: "She has become too much a part of Delhi and has left the current problem to the Centre." Enough of Mehbooba Mufti, for now. After the Suez debate, Aneurin Bevan, on seeing Prime Minister Harold Macmillan enter the House, ceased questioning the Foreign Minister Selwyn Lloyd, remarking: "Why should I question the monkey when I can question the organ grinder?"
To turn to the least worthy of the performers, one Jitendra Singh, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, spearheaded the Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti in Jammu that called for a blockade of the Valley in 2008. In Parliament on August 10, he coined a new term "intellectual terrorism" and "anti-India intellectualism", a poor reflection on his intellect. Dissent terrorises him. His soulmate Lt Gen. B.S. Jaswal, Commander-in-Chief Northern Command, dubbed political protest "agitational terrorism" on October 31, 2010. Jitendra Singh expatiated on August 13: "One more battle for freedom is pending and that is to liberate the people of PoK from illegal occupation of Pakistan so that they can be reunited with India."
But, what "freedom" do the people of Kashmir enjoy? Harinder Baweja reported from Srinagar on August 15: "As India and Indians prepare to celebrate Independence day and the freedoms we gained, let us pause for a moment to think of the lack of any 'azadi' in Kashmir, which is often called the crown on India's head. The crown is bereft of sheen, of jewels, of 'Indian-ness'. Every Kashmiri is locked up at home because of the government's fear that Pakistani flags might flutter atop buildings, that black flags might mar the celebrations of the nation's birth.… Local militants, who now outnumber Pakistani terrorists in the Valley, are on an upswing after Wani's death" (Hindustan Times, August 15).
Omar Abdullah, the National Conference leader, seized an opportunity to occupy the ground the Muftis had vacated by convening a meeting of opposition parties in Srinagar on August 17—the Congress, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the People's Democratic Front, the Democratic Nationalist Party and Engineer Abdul Rasheed's Awami Ittehad. Omar Abdullah said: "Pakistan is not behind the present situation." The meeting called for a special session of the State Assembly, a judicial inquiry into the excesses by the security forces, a ban on the use of pellet guns, and dialogue with all the stakeholders. He also called for talks with Pakistan (The Hindu, August 18).
However, this is what Omar Abdullah said on July 23: India had been "dishonest with the people of Jammu and Kashmir". He cited its limited accession and said: "You have gradually whittled that away to the point that autonomy is a fig leaf to what it was in 1947" (Hindustan Times, July 24). But in the six years he was in office, not once did he raise the issue. In 2014, he would have accepted the BJP as a coalition partner. The tragedy of Kashmir has been the moral bankruptcy of its Chief Ministers, from the Bakshi (1953) to the Mufti (2016). The Chief Minister of Sri Lanka's Northern Province, C.V. Vigneswaran, boldly attacks Colombo for its wrongs. On August 18, he alleged that 104 ex-Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) men were injected with poison at rehabilitation centres. He can do so because he does not owe his job to Colombo. Unlike India, Sri Lanka is honest about elections (The Hindu, August 19). There is no fiddling by spooks and political parties of the Centre.
Modi's speech in Parliament on August 12 had a sinister bit which lies at the core of his pact with the Jammu and Kashmir People's Democratic Party (PDP). This was his reference to the return of the Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley. And thereby hangs a tale. The coalition took power on March 1, 2015. On April 7, 2015, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed was put on the mat by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh; the Mufti obliged. It was disclosed that the Minister had asked the Mufti to provide land for "composite townships" for Kashmiri Pandits and in direct quotes: "The Chief Minister assured the Union Home Minister that the [Kashmir]… government will acquire and provide land in the Valley at the earliest."
The Mufti inherited the problem from Omar Abdullah when he was Chief Minister. Naeem Akhtar, State Education Minister, said on May 19: "We will make land available where both Pandits and Dogras can live peacefully." The Pandits "will live in transit accommodation… to provide breathing space till they feel confident to move to their original places". Mehbooba Mufti said Kashmiri Pandits would comprise half of the inmates. "We can't throw them like pigeons before the cats," she remarked. The offensive remark about her people reveals her outlook.
On July 24, it was reported that in May the Mufti regime had identified seven places in the Valley's 10 districts "and had started work on the ground", a fact that was suppressed. About 9,01,775 acres had been identified. These were Mehbooba Mufti's "transit colonies". Divisional Commissioners had begun acquiring the land. An official said that the State "must not talk about these clusters for some time as, given the resentment in the population, it could well backfire" (Yusuf Jameel, The Asian Age, July 24). This was the unsaid part of the PDP-BJP alliance.
Courtesy Frontline magazine
(To be continued…)