Between Trump And Malik

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Everybody who is anybody in Jammu and Kashmir has been talking about the twin axis of the Kashmir – the internal, involving the issues of Kashmir, and the external, involving the issue of Kashmir. All of a sudden, for no visible linkages, both axes became live wires last week.

Satyapal Malik Donald Trump

Satyapal Malik                                                                               Donald Trump

Catch-22 is a celebrated novel by American author Joseph Heller. The title has been explained as “a problematic situation for which the only solution is denied by a circumstance inherent in the problem or by a rule”. Prior to the mass response to the novel, it was usually ‘a devil and deep sea situation’.

In Kashmir, the region’s peculiar politics has led to the interesting devil and deep sea situations. In fact, it is trying to come out of a situation that has literally overtaken Kashmir. One situation was created by the state’s governor Satya Pal Malik, the Chief Executive of the state, and another by US president, Donald Trump, the most powerful man on earth.

The two men, almost in the same age group, regardless of their status, divided the public opinion – one within the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and another, across the world.

For different statements, linking directly to Kashmir, they have got supporters and opponents to what they said or to what they intended to say. Interestingly, the two situations created by the two statements actually are two huge pointers towards the ‘internal’ and ‘external’ angles of the Kashmir that everybody on Srinagar streets has been talking for ages.

Governor’s Desert Speech

Kashmir’s year-old governor Satya Pal Malik, while throwing open the Tourism Festival 2019, made a brief speech in which his emphasis was on his crusade against corruption.

Talking about his frustration in not being able to root out corruption, Malik said the militants, who are “killing their own people”, should target the plunderers of Kashmir. “Kill those who have looted the wealth of Kashmir. Have you killed any of them?”

Specifically targeting the political class and the bureaucracy, Malik said only public pressure would make bureaucracy work. After watching the ill-clad horsemen helping Amarnath yatris, Malik regretted: “In Srinagar, there are officers owning 20-room houses with carpets worth crores. The retired have a house each in Maharani Bagh and Vasant Kunj.” In old Srinagar city, he said poverty is so much that “I cannot tell you what people do to fill their bellies.”

Taking head-on the “big dynasts”, living a “luxurious” life, the governor said they have infinite wealth. “They have a home each in Srinagar, Delhi, Dubai, London and other parts of the world,” Malik said. “We try to see a big hotel in Srinagar and revelation comes these netas have stakes. They have stakes everywhere as they take the money of the poor.” He announced that within three months three “big fish” – all former ministers – will be arrested. One, he said, was recently interrogated.

Holding the political class responsible for doubletalk, Malik said the Kashmir politicians “Dili Mein Daratay Hein, Yehan Badkatay Hein”. He suggested to them: “They should speak in one language at both places and need not scare us.”

Quick Reaction

NC Vice President Omar Abdullah was first to react. “This man, ostensibly a responsible man, occupying a constitutional position, tells militants to kill politicians perceived to be corrupt. Perhaps this man should find out about his own reputation in Delhi these days before sanctioning unlawful killings & kangaroo courts,” Omar responds in a tweet. “Save this tweet – after today any mainstream politician or serving/retired bureaucrat killed in J&K has been murdered on the express orders of the Governor of J&K Satyapal Malik.”

Later, after a marathon meeting, the NC said Malik’s remarks are “unconstitutional and cast a shadow on the credibility, independence and neutrality of the high office of the Governor”.

This brought Malik to back foot. He got the media to Raj Bhawan to say that his comment was in a “fit of anger”.

“As a Governor, I should have avoided making such a comment, but as an individual, this is what I feel,” he told a reporter later.

Asked about Omar’s reaction, the Governor said: “He is a political juvenile who tweets on everything.”

While most of the political class kept quiet, there were a few who welcomed the crusade against corruption. “It is most appropriating to take bigger fishes to task on priority but asking militants to kill corrupt politicians is a confession that the government has miserably failed to handle the issue,” a vocal politician who is now the new face of Dr Shah Feasal led Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Movement (JKPM) said.

Social media was jammed by the comments in support of the governor’s crusade against corruption. Some even suggested names and asked Raj Bhawan to act.

There is no denying of the fact that the corruption, over the years, has become sort of a part of the DNA in Jammu and Kashmir. The political instability of the region, at various points in time, encouraged systems in Delhi and Srinagar to encourage corruption. Gradually, this became part of life. But at the same time, this is also a fact that not everybody is corrupt.

Post the land-to-tiller, Kashmir’s poverty ratios are quite low in comparison to the neighbouring states. Certain agrarian economies are huge money-spinners. Besides, almost 750 thousand individuals working for the state and the central government from across the state – excluding those serving the armed forces – are bringing home almost Rs 30,000 crore as wages and salaries. Homes are the only few limited options for the people in Kashmir to spend, in addition to marrying off their daughters and throwing big wazwaan parties, going to Haj and, now, investing heavily in the education of the kids.

Trump In Oval Office

Kashmir’s political class was still simmering in the corruption that a global shock overtook everybody. In a joint presser with visiting Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan, the American president Donald Trump responded to a Kashmir-related question and it became an instant global headline: “I was with Prime Minister Modi two weeks ago, and we talked about this (Kashmir) subject. And he actually said, “Would you like to be a mediator or arbitrator?”  I said, “Where?”  He said, “Kashmir”.

Then Trump told the reporter that he would like to see it resolved. “And if I can help, I would love to be a mediator,” he said in his signature style and added, “It should be resolved”.

Storm Starts

It was a huge success for Khan who is negotiating a re-engagement process with the USA, especially to help withdrawal of the American troops from Afghanistan gracefully.

The Indo-American friendship has tilted the balance in the region especially after the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

But after Trump uttered K-word, there was a literal storm in India, which avoids third party intervention in Kashmir, because of Simla agreement and the Lahore Declaration. Mehbooba Mufti, the former Chief Minister and BJP ally, said it indicated a policy shift.

Though Raveesh Kumar, the MEA spokesman, denied Prime Minister ever making such a request to his American counterpart, nobody in opposition is willing to accept.

“I would like to categorically state that no such request has been made by the PM to the US President,” India’s Foreign Minister S Jaishankar said. “I would underline that any engagement with Pakistan would require an end to cross-border terrorism. Let me conclude by emphasising that the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration provide the basis to resolve all issues between India and Pakistan bilaterally.”

A day later, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh reiterated the same thing.“We cannot compromise with India’s self-respect,” Singh said in the Lok Sabha. “There was no discussion on Kashmir during the meeting between the Prime Minister and US President Trump in June. There is no question of any mediation on the Kashmir issue.”

Delhi’s strong objections to the US State Department did lead to a statement. “While Kashmir is a bilateral issue for both parties to discuss, the Trump administration welcomes Pakistan and India sitting down and the United States stands ready to assist,” the US State Department said.

At the White House when a reporter asked Trump’s Chief Economic Advisor Larry Kudlow if the President “made up” the comments he attributed to PM Modi, he responded: “The President doesn’t make things up”.

In the parliament, currently in session, the opposition parties, however, are seeking a response from the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They want to reassure that India’s Kashmir policy has not changed from the post-1971 bilateralism. But there are voices from Kashmir – both NC and PDP – who want Delhi and Islamabad to accept Trump’s role in solving the issue.

At the same time, the debate is that if Prime Minister has not made any such offer, what was the motive of Trump in claiming so. Trump is in a situation in Afghanistan where he needs exit with Pakistan’s help. Is it something that is linked to that? There are no clear answers other than the fact that Trump has pushed Kashmir to the newspaper front-pages across the world.

A general impression in commentaries on Trump is that he lies with impunity. At the same time, some serious commentators insist that Trump is a “smart man, whose lies or half-truths are laced with intent”.

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