There can be no two opinions about the Indian state using its full might to bend the people of Kashmir to its own will. The Valley has endured civil disobedience, Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, militancy and insurgency over the past three decades. The Narendra Modi government claims to have taken measures – draconian, no doubt – in order to curb the insurgency and to restore order.
The claims ring hollow, given that the Modi government has been following this exact hardline strategy for the last five years with little success. On the other hand, liberals in India are concerned about the latest military crackdown, but are divided over everything else. True liberals cannot favour the insurgency, in any circumstance. They also oppose the crackdown as an assault on civil liberties. Is there a middle ground for liberals in this situation?
Aim of current insurgency
Kashmir is an enigma with many layers of complexity. It is impossible to trace the first issue and work one’s way up. There is no one right or wrong side in the many disputes that Kashmir has seen. Its history is an open book, even if contested. Let us concede that, over the last 70 years, the state, driven by liberals and conservatives, has tried many different ways to integrate the Valley into the national mainstream, but with little success. The current insurgency is a culmination of that failure. Does that mean we give up? What happens if we do?
What is the ‘opposition’ in the Valley fighting for, and what happens if it is allowed to win? The current insurgency did not manifest overnight. Nor can it be blamed entirely on the current players in the opposition, who are basically teens and young adults, that have seen nothing but life under the jackboots of a coercive state. The resistance has seen evolving aims and methods, including a phase where it was entirely driven by Pakistan-sponsored terrorists. But let us examine just the current insurgency. What is its aim?
The narrative in the Valley runs something like this. The Indian state systematically distrusts and discriminates against Muslims. It suspects their fealty. As a result, it denies them the usual liberties and civil rights that are due to citizens. Muslims should therefore constitute themselves as an Islamic community, demand a state of their own, complete with a state religion, Islamic law and Islamic culture. The ‘opposition’ wants Independence from India but is unlikely to remain independent without India, because it will be swallowed up by Pakistan. Some of them may even welcome that. Make no mistake here. While the movement for independence was inspired by denial of legitimate liberties and civil rights, what the ‘opposition’ now wants to build in its place is anything but a haven of liberty and civil rights. It is openly demanding an Islamic theocracy – not just for the Muslims in the Valley, but for every other citizen in Jammu & Kashmir. How can liberal opinion support such an outcome even as we oppose the state’s jackboots?
What are liberals fighting for
Liberals cannot dissociate themselves from the outcome of their preferred approach to the problems in Kashmir. As liberals, we cannot see ourselves supporting a theocracy – whether Islamic or Hindu or Christian. So, even if the crackdown makes us cringe, we must support the fight against the current insurgency. Liberals would prefer an outcome that eventually restores rule of law, civil liberties and democracy to the troubled land and its people. But we must also accept that getting there is uncertain, very problematic, and fraught with many dangers. We cannot pretend we are not fighting a war, or that there will be no innocent bloodshed. Like it or not, we are at war, and we are at a war for a good cause, however regrettable that might be. We must not confuse our squeamishness about use of violence with love of liberty.
Partisan politics unfortunately clouds issues. Clutter overwhelms substance. Worse, the Modi regime’s penchant for blaming everybody, except its own flawed ideology, for some of our problems elicits strong aversion to even its legitimate actions. Confusion abounds. For instance, while we cannot accept an Islamic theocracy in the Valley, it is hard not to note that some in the ruling party are indeed bent on converting India itself into a Hindu theocracy. Nor is it possible to rule out the fact that the Modi regime’s own ‘all-out’ military methods over the last five years have helped the resistance in the Valley morph and metastasize from a militancy into a locally driven, full-blown, insurgency.
Indeed, there is evidence that such a hardline approach was part of a deliberate strategy to not only drive the Valley into a corner, but also use it as a device to further polarise opinion in the rest of the country. Also, fighting the insurgency doesn’t mean we ignore the risks that arise from it. Most of these risks are being ignored by the Narendra Modi government.
The Kashmirisation of India
The geopolitical risks of the Modi government’s Kashmir move are obvious. We can put them aside for a while and confine ourselves to the internal dimensions of war in Kashmir.
We have major problems arising out of the National Register of Citizens in Assam and the northeast. Hate propaganda and communal polarisation through lynching of innocent Muslims in the cow belt continue unabated. Modi hasn’t yet found time to appropriately condemn them, much less bring them to a halt. Vitriolic speeches by the ruling party members are the order of the day. Workers are losing jobs in an economy that wasn’t creating new jobs in the last five years.
In such a vitiated and communally charged atmosphere, what is to prevent “Kashmirisation” of India instead of the desired of “Indianisation” of Kashmir – as Pratap Bhanu Mehta put it – which is the key objective of the war against insurgency in Kashmir? Many divisive issues lie in wait to entrap us in hate, ranging from Ram Mandir to Uniform Civil Code.
They lit the fire, but too many
No sensible government lights multiple fires all at once. This government has done precisely that. In its single-minded pursuit of communal polarisation to drum up support for its Hindutva agenda and to recast the very basis of our nationhood into the mould of its unitary dystopia, the Modi government has mindlessly pursued the politics of hate. Vilification and demonisation of Muslims continue even as the need is to unite all citizens in our fight against a dangerous insurgency in Kashmir.
The government’s strategy and execution are flawed. It carries the grave risks of sparking unrest without the capacity to contain it.
India’s polity has entered a dark tunnel with no end in sight. The concatenation of issues and events threatens to overwhelm our ideals of liberty, freedom and fraternity. Religious bigotry rules the roost. The BJP’s narratives have warped minds and filled hearts with prejudice. Consequently, liberals need to compel the government to dial down on hatemongering and demonisation of Muslims. The rabble in the ruling party is already toying with incendiary narratives in their premature triumphalism. There is barbaric chatter about Kashmiri land and women. Liberals must conserve their limited resources to fight these dangerous fires.
In Kashmir, the most we can do at this stage is to insist that civil liberties are restored at the earliest and that there are no excesses in establishing rule of law. There is much to be done without having to scratch at history’s wounds. Kashmir’s fires will not be contained if we let the BJP fan the flames to spark fires elsewhere.