An Embarrassing Embrace

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by Khursheed Wani

From the ramparts of Delhi’s Red Fort, Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeated the rhetoric second time on August 15, that people of Kashmir need to be embraced rather than treated with bullets and abuses. He habitually invoked his distant predecessor and party ideologue Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s prescription for the resolution of Kashmir through Insaniyat (humanity) jumhooriyat (democracy) and Kashmiriyat (Kashmiri ethos). A day after Modi delivered the last speech of his tenure, Vajpayee breathed his last at 93, drawing curtains on the life of another powerful Indian personality who promised peace, reconciliation and resolution to the people but could not move beyond words and rhetoric.

Unlike 2017, when Modi introduced “embrace” word in Delhi’s Kashmir lexicon, this time it did not cut much ice with the people of Kashmir. Previously Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was prompt in welcoming the statement and offering separatists’ role for meaningful negotiations but after experiencing the ground realities for 365 days, nobody seemed ready to believe his words another time. A faction of Hurriyat dismissed it as dramabaazi (theatrics).

The pessimism is not misplaced. Modi’s entire tenure is replete with iron-fist approach against the people and their leadership. The embrace has rarely been experienced but embarrassment knew no bounds.

The embrace went too far when a weaver Farooq Dar was tied with ropes to the the bonnet of an armoured vehicle and paraded through more than a dozen villages as a human shield. The ‘humanity’ exhibited itself when soldiers involved in serious crimes were awarded for ‘gallantry’. The number of non-combatants killed during protests against cordon and search operations continued to swell in Kashmir since the ‘embrace’ and ‘no-bullet, no abuse’ bugle was blown. Many times, teenagers were killed miles away from the encounter sites where army usually justifies its action against the protesters attempting to help holed up militants escape.

The chant of democracy also proved to be meaningless. Just two months ago, Modi’s BJP pulled out of the coalition government led by Mehbooba Mufti in a brazenly unceremonious and humiliating way. Mehbooba’s incompetence to rule notwithstanding, she had not even dreamt of being thrown away in such a fashion.

A senior political leader who has served as minister for decades and presided over the state assembly on occasions told me that such insulting ouster has not been witnessed or heard of. “At least, a senior minister in Delhi or a top central BJP leader should have politely told Mehbooba that the support was being withdrawn. She was informed through her principal secretary and most of the ministers came to know through media,” he told me. This is the Modi’s interpretation of democracy.

Worse, after the ouster of BJPDP government, the Sangh Parivaar attempted to break its ally, the PDP, to form a new government on its ruins. But for the stringent anti-defection law, the effort could have succeeded to give new meaning to the jumhooriyat mantra. Interestingly, this engineering has found several takers within the PDP as several legislators openly came out to support the BJP and clandestine efforts to form a new government.

Modi in his speech referred to the conduct of Urban Local Bodies and Panchayat polls to buttress his claim of democracy. Governor NN Vohra parroted the same words in his Srinagar address, the same day, even pointing towards amendment in laws to pave way for holding the polls. The schedule has been fixed between September and November and it seems that the central rule’s primary focus would be shifted towards these elections after the culmination of Amarnath yatra.

The polls have been held in Kashmir in the past even when nobody participated. It seems that the government is again preparing to repeat the farcical exercise in the name of democracy. Those who are connected with the ground in Kashmir, especially in southern districts, can vouch that the situation is not conducive for any election. The number of militants has swelled and their public support has grown manifold. Militants target at will and many lives have become vulnerable.

Instead of finding effective solutions to engage with the militants, the conduct of polls would turn out to be an affront. This would increase the vulnerability of people who might be lured to participate in these polls. At a time when Special Police Officials (SPO) are resigning from the south Kashmir region after several fatal attacks on native police and paramilitary men, throwing a new crop of lame ducks in the vortex of violence can be anything but democracy or democratic process.

On the Kashmir front, Modi could not make any headway during his tenure much like Vajpayee failed when he was at the helm of affairs. However, Vajpayee is credited with some cosmetic measures like a photo op with senior Hurriyat Conference leaders or offering a hand of friendship to Pakistan from the Kashmir soil. Modi failed to do so. Vajpayee had an aura. He insulted National Conference by dumping their internal autonomy resolution, yet the NC is lauding him as a statesman. Modi’s tenure would not be remembered even for cosmic measures. This fits his image that he chose to create for himself.

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