Remember the statement the prime minister had made expansively on Independence Day from the ramparts of the Red Fort?
Kashmiris, he said, should not/will not be dealt with in bullets but in hugs (goli se nahi, gale mil ke).
Well, he just missed a fine opportunity.
Every day over the last week, reports poured in of targeted acts of hate and intimidation against Kashmiri students and itinerant traders across half a dozen cities of “mainland” India. Kashmiris were asked to leave their hostels, obliged to remain locked in, in some places suffering the ignominy of having to defecate in plastic bags, refused hotel rooms, called stone pelters, mauled inside train compartments and told they would no longer find admission to colleges and other institutes.
India’s all-powerful numero uno did not think it fit to issue one single tweet, let alone address the nation, to assure them of being integral to India, or reprimand the harassers in order to ensure that they continued with their work and studies without fear of mob attacks.
He was, instead hugging the Saudi Crown Prince, best friend of the Pakistani establishment and leader of a nation-state known to have not the cleanest record in the matter of funding the wrong kinds of people. Indeed, someone whom the American intelligence agencies hold culpable of having ordered the gruesome murder of a reputed Saudi journalist.
Finally a statement
On February 22, after the stern intervention of the Supreme Court directing the chief secretaries as nodal officers of 10 states to make sure that attacks against Kashmiris of any description are nipped in the bud, Narendra Modi finally thought it expedient to make reference to the events of the last ten days.
Regrettably, much water has flown under the Jhelum and much damage has been done – damage which could have been prevented had the prime minister seen the gravity of the situation in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack, suspended his schedules, such as they were, and chosen to speak for the Kashmiris just as first reports of assaults on Kashmiris began to come in.
In the teeth of the plethora of visuals of Kashmiris telling their tale of exclusion and physical intimidation, ruling party scions were making statements that all reports of the episode were not just exaggerated but untrue – something they could not have done had the prime minister spoken to the issue in time.
An honourable governor, sworn to uphold the constitution, brazenly asked for a boycott of Kashmir and Kashmiris endorsing the view that all Kashmiri economic activity be strangulated, including visits to Amarnath.
If you thought that this at least would have drawn opprobrium either from the honourable president of India or the prime minister, you thought wrong.
India’s Kashmir policy
Clearly, it is not Pakistan alone that is in denial about Kashmir: we are too. A fine way that of winning over the Kashmiris. And a fine reward to them for having repudiated the “two-nation” thesis against the pulls of the history of the Partition of undivided India.
It is pertinent to recall how those that rule today condemned the killing of Sikhs in the aftermath of the assassination of Indira Gandhi, and quite rightly. It was unconscionable that a whole community was pronounced guilty for the vile and murderous act committed by two of its members.
Many made the same argument at the time of the pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat. How could all Gujarati Muslims be held guilty of what some among its community members may have done at Godhra. Likewise, it was nobody’s case that all Tamilians were complicit in the murder of Rajiv Gandhi; nor, it may be said, were all Hindus guilty of the assassination of Gandhi.
Yet, the same logic does not seem to have dawned on those who chose to intimidate and indict all Kashmiris far away from the valley for what one terrorist did at Pulwama.
All that while governmental agencies and friendly media channels were flaunting visuals of thousands of young Kashmiris participating in the recruitment programmes of the Indian security forces, clearly as a badge of loyalty.
Even more regrettably, the main opposition party with the honourable exception of the chief minister of Punjab), while going hyper-nationalist in the wake of the Pulwama tragedy, did not think it fit to utter a word about the targeting of Kashmiri students and traders, even as all mainstream political forces in Kashmir were issuing statements condemning the terror attack in Pulwama. Are they to blame for remarking that, after all, India seems to want Kashmir without the Kashmiris?
Think how day in and day out the ruling party and governmental agencies foreground young Kashmiris who break the administrative and other professional glass ceilings. Might one ask then what is to happen to the careers of the Kashmiri students and trainees who are now obliged to return to the safety of their homes in the valley, leaving their labours and ambitions aborted?
A grievous wound
A grievous wound has been inflicted on the trusting endeavours of young Kashmiris to find a stake in the life of the mainland. All these years Kashmiri mainstream forces have pleaded for a change of course vis-a-vis the government’s Kashmir policy, only to draw the ire of the Ajit Doval doctrine.
Yet, the prime minister has been willing to sign on a joint statement with the visiting Saudi prince to make efforts towards a composite dialogue. Clearly, there seems to be more trust in the politic prince than in the peaceniks at home whose iterations go unheeded.
Even so, can it be hoped that the commitment made in the joint statement will now translate into a rethink about Kashmir and Kashmiris? You are welcome to puzzle that one out.
The pity is that the promise of the hug made from the Red Fort may have turned not just into another cruel joke, but into a deepened nightmare.
Those who think that bullying and boycotting aspiring and peace-loving Kashmiris are performing a great nationalist ritual may in fact be doing just the work that Jihadis, here and elsewhere, wish to be done in the valley.