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September 27, 2019

When winning is losing


September 27, 2019

Indian Prime Minister Modi’s annexation of Occupied Kashmir on August 5 has exposed the region to a host of unpredictable and potentially dangerous possibilities.

By revoking Article 370 and Article 35-A of the Indian constitution, Modi may have fulfilled the BJP’s longstanding wish of stripping IOK of its special status much to the thunderous applause of his party’s hardcore support base. However, in the process of doing so, he has ended up igniting fire whose raging flames are likely to keep the region ablaze for a long time. Consider the following:

Peace with India emerged as a consensual plank of Pakistan’s foreign policy particularly during the last decade. Irrespective of who is in power in Islamabad, all elements of the national power demonstrated rare unanimity of views on advancing the peace process with India. Going by the campaign pronouncements of the key Pakistani political leaders and the election manifestos, it becomes apparent that pursuing peace and normalization of relations with New Delhi turns out to be a shared goal.

This presents a sharp contrast to India where Pakistan continues to remain the central issue around which the electoral campaigns of the mainstream Indian political parties are woven. The political leaders try to outdo each other in criticizing Islamabad in what could be described as a set template to attract more votes. A look at how Modi and the BJP ran its electoral campaign shows that Pakistan-bashing was the central pillar of the re-election strategy, particularly after Pulwama. All other domestic issues such as economy and governance were relegated to the insignificant secondary position.

One major disadvantage of such vitriolic campaigns is that they tend to legitimize hatred and extremism by handing down license to the people. The Indian media has not been immune from this rising anti-Pakistan rhetoric. Jumping on the bandwagon, it has often served as a mouthpiece of the saffron brigade. The combined impact of this phobia is the shrinking space for peace and reasonable debates for normalization of relations.

By annexing Kashmir in contravention of the bilateral treaties and the UN resolutions, Modi has lost a rare opportunity of establishing peace in South Asia. Ever since assuming power last year, Prime Minister Imran Khan made relentless appeals for the resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan. In his victory speech in August last year, he outlined shared challenges facing both the countries that warranted a peaceful way forward. His peace overtures met deafening silence from the Modi government that probably interpreted this passionate desire for peace as a weakness on Islamabad’s path.

Pakistan’s push for the normalization of relations with India represented an inter-institutional understanding within the top decision-making echelons that given the varied challenges of economic development and terrorism, a peaceful neighbourhood was a prerequisite for Pakistan.

During the aborted Agra summit in 2001, Pakistan demonstrated a flexible approach and new thinking in trying to find a common ground for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. For a country that always emphasized the UN resolutions as the basis of any solution, it was a major departure, representing a rare consensus within all elements of the national power to pursue peace with the archrival.

Through the abrogation of Article 370, the Modi government has not only subjected the region to the prospect of massive instability but also lost valuable peace partners in Pakistan with who it could do serious business.

Despite the disputed nature of Kashmir, successive Indian governments were still able to find partners and political allies in Farooq Abdullahs, Umar Abdullahs, and Mahbooba Muftis. After the recent developments in the wake of August 5 such as curfew, communication blackout and imprisonment of the Kashmiri leadership of all hues and colours, these ‘mainstream’ leaders feel betrayed. There is, now, nothing to distinguish between them and those accused of toeing Islamabad’s line.

Modi’s revocation of the special status of the valley has brought Kashmiris on the same page vis-à-vis their relationship with the Indian Union. Burhan Wani may no longer be ‘one odd extremist’ but a representation of the Kashmiri youth, a hero and an inspiration to them.

It is a combination of uncertainty and unpredictability of how Kashmiris will respond after the curfew is lifted that is giving sleepless nights to the Modi government. History bears witness to the fact that no matter how powerful a military machine is, it cannot browbeat a people into submission when they rise up against what they presume to be an attack on their identity.

Modi’s mission of imposing Hindu nationalism on a multiethnic, multicultural and multi-faith country runs contrary to the idea of India fashioned by its founding fathers such as Gandhi and Nehru. The BJP has purposefully demolished all symbols that defined Nehru’s India in an attempt to reimagine it as a Hindu-only country. The emergence of Modi-led India is marked by a carefully calibrated idea of a supreme leader who is superhuman, infallible and god-like and whose intentions and actions cannot be called into question leave alone reproached.

For long India has leveraged its position of being a secular country and the largest democracy as vital instruments in its diplomatic toolkit to extend its soft power. India may still be democracy in form but in essence, the Modi junta has robbed it of its democratic spirit. True to the pattern of how fascist parties behave, all institutions of the country are falling in line before the BJP juggernaut one after the other.

Today Indian politics is defined in a binary of the BJP versus others, a prospect that would have scared the hell out of the founding fathers of the Republic. After Kashmiris, the people of Assam are in line to be stripped of their citizenship.

Modi may have been an inventor of ‘hug diplomacy’ and a welcome guest in world capitals thanks to the vast market India offers, yet this global clout has not stopped the international media from subjecting its post-Aug 5 actions to scrutiny. The world leaders may not have spoken about the worst human rights violations in Kashmir out of expediency, the din of the world media has, however, been deafening.

It is for the first time in recent memory that Kashmir, which India always tried to describe as an internal matter or a bilateral issue at best, has hogged the headlines and been the subject of opinion editorials of the leading publications. Couple it with the reports of international human rights organizations such as Amnesty and the UN Human Rights Council, and you will get a fair idea of the amount of censure the Modi government has been subjected to over its handling of Kashmiris.

If the revocation of the special status was meant to put the international character of the Kashmir dispute to an end, the opposite has happened. The critique of India on human rights abuses has undermined its image of a democratic and secular country, placing it on the negative side of global opinion.

Modi’s project of refashioning Indian society and polity in the image of Hindutva ideology has dangerous implications. The problem with hyper-nationalism is that the balloon of expectations has to be kept inflated periodically, which means more insanity down the line. So the ‘victory’ of Kashmir that Modi took pride in has the makings of a long-term defeat.

The writer, a Chevening scholar, studied International Journalism at the University of Sussex.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @Amanat222