As protests, sloganeering, stone pelting surfaced on mainland India streets, Kashmir’s Standard Operations Procedure (SOP) was literally in vogue with arrests, firing, internet ban and snapping of cell phone services. Many think that as Kashmir story moved out of the Valley, it is Kashmir dominating the spaces, processes and the policies, reports Masood Hussain
Kashmir has ceased to be in Kashmir. That is perhaps why the readers of Kashmir newspapers feel a sort of emptiness in the print space. The Kashmir story has moved out of Kashmir.
The trend was perhaps summed up by commentator Pratap Banu Mehta. “The BJP thinks it is going to Indianise Kashmir,” Mehta wrote in The Indian Express. “But, instead, what we will see is potentially the Kashmirisation of India..”
These lines did not take much time to become a reality. In wake of the Citizenship Act and the subsequent amendment to it, the protests started initially in the north east and then in one of the many universities in Delhi. There were instances of stone pelting, firing, tear smoke shelling, killing more than half a dozen so far. As the tensions escalated, authorities imposed restrictive orders over assembly under Section 144. There were preventive arrests as well. This situation triggered a debate, perhaps for the first time, about the illegality of imposition of Section 144 in quelling a situation that is guaranteed by the constitution.
As the situation changed, the Standard Kashmir Operation (SOP) made appearance almost everywhere. Cops in Delhi open fire and denied and it took media quite an effort to establish that the firing had taken place. Politicians who wanted to assemble and protest were rounded up and released late in the night. As the situation deteriorated further, authorities snapped the cell phone telephony and the mobile internet.
Even the Kashmir style of protests was visible in the plains. Student leader turned Communist politician, Kanhaya Kumar’s huge gathering in Bihar discovered the Azaadi slogans of Kashmir to suit their requirements. The campus exhibited the same situation – protests followed by a stop in class work and in certain cases the campuses were closed for the time being. Instead of identifying the diversity of counter-protest package, the politicians the commentators said it was looking more like Kashmir.
Incidents of stone pelting in the plains appeared at a time when the MHA was projecting visible fall in these incidents in Kashmir. “Home ministry officials said as many as 190 stone pelting incidents have been reported in Kashmir valley since August 5 and a total of 544 incidents thus far in 2019 as against 802 in all of 2018,” The Hindustan Times reported. “As of December 8, 250 stone-pelters were in jail in Kashmir.”
Like Kashmir, after the protests the debate was diverted to the “violence” aspect of the protests. “Nobody understands,” one commentator told a TV channel dominated by noisy panellists, “that the first act of violence was committed on the constitution using a majority vote.”
The situation was aptly summed up by Iltija, who is handling her mother, Mehbooba Mufti’s twitter handle. “Fellow citizens don’t need to visit Kashmir anymore to witness their subjugation,” she said in a tweet that was viral soon after. “BJP has brought Kashmir right to the doorstep of every Indian.”
Everywhere there is dissent within India, the first sentence that makes news is; “We are not Kashmir”. This sentence was heard from Maharashtra, Assam, Nagaland and down south. “The government should not mistake this for Kashmir,” Standhope Varah, an Ukhrul-based member of the Naga Ceasefire Monitoring committee told The Indian Express.
“It is a shameful thing,” writer activist Arundhati Rai said in Delhi. “They are turning India into Kashmir.”
Apparently, Kashmir has ceased to be a place alone. It is now being talked about as a process after the Narendra Modi government did away with the erstwhile state’s special status and bifurcated it into two federally governed Union Territories.
Nagaland is just one instance. Though dissimilar to Kashmir in history and politics, it has shades of similarity on the situational front. It has been one of the festering crises in recent history of India where a huge insurgency consumed hundreds of lives in last six decades.
The region that has remained in crisis since 1951, witnessed protracted parleys – P V Narasimha Rao meeting Naga leaders in Paris; HD Deve Gowda meeting them in Bangkok; Atal Bihari Vajpayee talking to them in Amsterdam, following which they returned home and engaged with the Manmohan Singh government. Earlier, they inked a ceasefire agreement in Inder Kumar Gujral’s regime in 1997.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi deserves credit for the first follow-up, eight years later, when an agreement was signed in his presence on August 3, 2015 on basis of which it was announced that NSC-IM (National Socialist Council of Nagalim -Isak-Muivah) and the government of India has reached a ‘framework agreement’ that will mark an end to the crisis. His government appointed former Special Director of the Intelligence Bureau, R N Ravi as an interlocutor in 2014. He was recently appointed as the Nagaland governor.
In last many years, Ravi had countless sessions of talking and finally the two sides had reached to some understanding. The two sides were supposed to sign the agreement on October 31. In run-up to the day, Nagaland witnessed a sort of Kashmir situation in which people crowded markets to stock grains. Nothing happened as the two sides missed the deadline.
Nobody is aware of the elusive agreement. Naga sides had been demanding creation of an autonomous Nagalim, a Greater Nagaland, by integrating all the Naga-inhabited areas across Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland. Besides, it is seeking a separate Naga flag, a Constitution, min-parliament and many other things that will make the ‘Naga Homeland’ distinct. Naga leaders talk of a ‘shared sovereignty’.
If Delhi accedes to all these demands, it will puncture the Eak Vidhan, Eak Nishan, Eak Pradhan slogan that was key to the abrogation of Article 370 and binning of Jammu and Kashmir constitution. Ravi, who is now the Nagaland governor, recently termed the withdrawing of special status to Jammu and Kashmir as “the correction of a sin”. He asserted, according to The Indian Express, that there was no question of acceding (to) the demand for a separate Naga flag and constitution, or a separate autonomous territory integrating all Naga-inhabited areas.
The region continues to be on the edge. Rebels continue their presence, albeit with low recruitments, and retain their “rights” over a “cut” of five percent from all developmental contracts in the region. The newspaper reported from the NSCN (I-M) Hebron camp that its cadres have “gone to the jungles in preparation for what might happen after the agreement deadline lapsed. “Around 300 are estimated to have crossed over into Myanmar.” The state’s cultural and demographic identity is currently protected by Article 371 (A) of the Constitution of India.
The last development on Nagaland front was a meeting of NSC-IM leader Isak Muivah with R N Ravi. The discussions were around hammering out differences over flag and constitution and find ways to an “honourable” solution. Reports appearing in media suggest Nagas’s have already climbed-down on the territorial issues of the autonomous region.
IN SRI LANKA
The abrogation of special status to Kashmir is not obstructing Delhi’s polices at home alone. It has gone off shore.
In Sri Lanka, for instance, Delhi will find it very difficult to convince the Sinhala Buddhist nationalist leader Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the island country’s new president, to extend autonomy to the Hindu Tamil population living in the north and east of the island. Like Modi, who retained power on a strong Hindu nationalism, Gotabaya also came to power on basis of a mass campaign for cultural nationalism.
“We believe that early and full implementation of the 13th Amendment and going beyond it would contribute to this process,” Prime Minister Modi had advised the majority Buddhist Sinhalese government in his speech at Jaffna in his 2015 visit.
The amendment, a 1987 constitutional provision, was aimed at granting autonomy to the minority dominated regions as part of a greater reconciliation process. An outcome of the July 1987 accord between Rajiv Gandhi and J R Jayewardene, Sri Lankan parliament in November that year had amended its 1978 constitution to establish provincial councils and declare both Sinhalese and Tamil as national languages. The amendments, however, were implemented in breach as the erstwhile Tamil Tigers, the LTTE, also rejected it.
August 5, decision-making in Delhi, changed it altogether. In the run up to the election campaign, Mahinda Rajapaksa and leader of now ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) said that the devolution debate in his island country would now consider the developments in Jammu and Kashmir. Many think, this was the key factor behind the flight of S Jaishanker, India’s foreign minister, to Colombo within 24 hours of Rajapaksa’s takeover.
Visiting Delhi in late November, Rajapaksa used the same language in his interview with The Hindu asserting that devolving political rights to the Tamil-dominated areas is not his priority. Rather, he said he will focus on the regions’ economic development.
The issue will play up in the Tamil Nadu elections in 2021, big time, analysts believe.
India’s other neighbour, Nepal, got also entangled with Kashmir, for interestingly different reasons – cartography. On November 4, MHA issued a new map of Jammu and Kashmir. While showing Pakistan administered regions of Kashmir in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir and the Gilgit and Baltistan in the UT of Ladakh, the map showed Kalapani and Lipulekh in Ladakh too.
These two areas are disputed between India and Nepal. The map shows Kalapani, a 372 sq km area, as part of Uttarakhand, bordering far-west Nepal and Tibet. India and Nepal are talking on this subject since 2000. Now the matter is with the respective foreign secretaries.
Days after the new map was issued, students, Communist party and the opposition Congress resorted to street protests. An angry statement was also issued. There was an all party meeting as well. Later, Nepali parliament’s State Affairs Committee asked its government to update the Himalayan country’s political map. Later, the parliament’s International Relations Committee asked the government to issue a new political map that includes Kalapani and Lipulekh inside Nepalese territory.
However, both governments avoided fanning the flames. Nepal’s Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali actually ignored the summons from his parliament’s International Relations Committee. “The Nepal Government is committed to protecting its international border and any border-related issue relating to the two friendly countries needs to be resolved through a diplomatic channel on the basis of historical documents and evidence,” Kathmandu said in a statement. It asked its Foreign Secretary to follow up.
Delhi had also to come on record. “Our map accurately depicts the sovereign territory of India. The new map has in no manner revised our boundary with Nepal,” MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar was quoted saying. “The boundary delineation exercise with Nepal is ongoing under the existing mechanism. We reiterate our commitment to find a solution through dialogue in the spirit of our close and friendly bilateral relations.”
After Kashmir splashed on the newspaper front pages, the Indian diaspora got involved in the support of the official position on Kashmir. It might require some research to understand whether it was a voluntary or involuntary but the fact is that diaspora was hyper-active in United Kingdom and the United States of America. It worked in both the counters, who belong to the powerful P-5 in United Nations.
Kashmir became a major issue in the United Kingdom especially because the country was readying for the fourth election in five years. In September, the Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Party took a stand on Kashmir, by supporting international intervention, which triggered a serious reaction from more than 100 diaspora groups representing 1.4 million British citizens of Indian origin.
“Boris Johnson, who was locked in a do-or-die political battle, grabbed the opportunity to tap into the Indian diaspora’s resentment against Labour,” strategic affairs writer, Dr C Raja Mohan wrote. “He devoted some quality time for a temple-run during the campaign to reassure the Indian diaspora that the Conservative government will be mindful of its concerns… whether or not the Indian diaspora made a decisive difference to the overall electoral outcome in favour of Johnson, there is no doubt that Labour’s Kashmir policy helped unite the Indian community in Britain.”
Boris made history by getting 360 berths in the 650 member House of Commons as the anti-Labour diaspora campaign forced a 12 percent swing from Labour to Conservatives. Indian campaign was a key to sealing the fate of 10 constituencies. Prime Minister Modi was pleased and made a call to Boris assuring him that they will work together. Delhi has always faced problems with the Labour. At one point of time, it led to the cancellation of a royal visit.
There may not be any policy intervention but Kashmir will still remain in news in the powerful British press. Interestingly, there are 15 members each from Pakistan and Indian origin who were elected to the House of Commons. Of the 15 Pakistanis’ (10 Labour and five Conservatives), nine have Kashmir origins. Interestingly, seven Indian origin MPs each were elected on Labour and Conservative Party mandate.
But the UK, including the Conservatives, have not taken the stand by Indian diaspora easy. “The Hindu has learnt that a senior British diplomat met the BJP’s Foreign Cell Head in Delhi to express the concerns, after interviews given by BJP-affiliated OF-BJP (Overseas Friends of BJP) leaders, including president Kuldip Singh Shekhawat, that indicated that the Indian ruling party would prefer a Conservative party win,” The Hindu reported. It quoted a source saying: “We raised concerns over remarks made in London by OFBJP (Overseas Friends of BJP) that the BJP was supporting Conservative candidates”, adding, they “received assurances that [the BJP was] not.”
“..we conveyed our position that while there may have been some hurt feelings over Mr Corbyn’s position over the Indian government’s actions on Jammu and Kashmir, that preference had not translated into any mobilisation for Mr Johnson,” The Hindu quoted BJP officials saying. “We made it clear that we believe that elections in Britain are solely the prerogative of the British people.”
The experience was slightly different in USA where the Howdy Modi event triggered a chain reaction. Though India, world’s most populous country, and the USA, the most powerful democracy, are close allies, the Ab Ki Baar, Trump Sarkar slogan by the Prime Minister Modi created a silent response. In US, Trump holds power but is unable to control Congress. Even the strong institutions are outside the purview of the White House. Trump is undergoing an impeachment, right now.
Unlike UK, USA was not going to polls quickly. Initially after August 5, those protesting Delhi’s interventions in Kashmir were either Pakistani or Kashmiri diaspora. After the Citizenship laws were promulgated, even Indian Muslim diaspora joined the opposition to BJPs policies.
This all changed the institutional response towards Delhi. First it was a Congress hearing by a sub-committee on Asian affairs. A month later, there was another hearing by the US Congress’s Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC). In both the hearing Kashmir was the main subject. In both the hearings, the private citizens roped in by Ministry of External Affairs – mostly Kashmiri Pandit journalists, invoked 1990 situation to counter the 2019 happenings.
As the government finally came out, they were caught in a new situation – the Chennai born Democrat Congress lawmaker Pramila Jayapal along with Republican counterpart Steve Watkins sponsored a bipartisan resolution on Kashmir, which, she refused to reconsider despite protests by Indian diaspora outside her office.
At yet another Congressional briefing that Indian American Muslim Council, Engage Action and the Hindus for Human Rights, had organised Gregory Stanton of Genocide Watch expressed concern over the human rights situation in Kashmir and Assam.
Stanton, who, according to Press Trust of India, has devised his Ten Stages of Genocide presentation for the US Department of State in 1996 and whose draft resolution led to the creation of the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda and the Burundi Commission of Inquiry, told the hearing that Kashmir and Assam was a “classic case” and followed the pattern listed in his genocide model. This, he said, while reviewing the Citizenship Amendment Bill. “Preparation for genocide is definitely under way in India,” Stanton claimed. “The persecution of Muslims in Assam and Kashmir is the stage just before genocide.”
More recently when the Defence and the Foreign Ministers, Rajnath Singh and S Jaishanker, met their counterparts in 2+2 meeting in Washington, Kashmir did figure in both the meetings. “The US has expressed its concern over what the roadmap is in Kashmir to return to economic and political normalcy, and what has concerned the administration about the actions in Kashmir are the prolonged detentions of political leaders as well as other residents of the Valley, in addition to the restrictions that continue to exist on cell phone coverage and internet,” media reports quoting the US official said.
“This is not a relationship where we deal in ultimatums,” one official was quoted saying. “Again, I think this is a country, a democracy where these policies are being voted on, they’re being debated, they’re being reviewed by a judiciary, and so I would not use that terminology.”
Interestingly, Jiashanker “abruptly” canceled a meeting with senior US Congressmen after the US lawmakers refused his demand to exclude Democrat Pramila Jayapal who had criticized Delhi’s policies in Kashmir. “It’s a missed opportunity,” The Washington Post that broke the news quoted Ashley Tellis, an India scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, saying. “Minister Jaishankar is incredibly thoughtful and articulate — and not engaging with Congress, which has traditionally been a bastion of strong support for India, is shortsighted.”
Admitting that Kashmir cropped up, Jaishanker was quoted saying after his meeting with his American counterpart: “Secretary Pompeo and I had a brief discussion on that (Kashmir). I shared with him that direction of events was positive. Obviously, things will happen at their time.”
A news report quoted Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, saying that the toughest criticism of India has come from US institutions lacking any responsibility for managing US-India relations. “I do think that Washington, like most other Western capitals, holds India to a particularly high standard,” Kugelman was quoted saying. “I think there is some genuine surprise and disappointment that the world’s largest democracy appears to be undercutting its longstanding and fundamental traditions of secularism, democracy and pluralism.”
The show is on.