24 January 2011

The fabric of belonging

Had the national flag which the BJP wants to unfurl in Srinagar also been dipped by them to honour the memory of the hundred young Indians who were shot dead in the valley last year, Kashmir would be a very different place ...

24 January 2011
The Hindu

The fabric of belonging

Siddharth Varadarajan

Jammu and Kashmir is a part of India but the people of Kashmir can be forgiven for believing their country has forsaken them.

Throughout the summer of their most recent discontent, when a hundred young men and women lost their lives in police firing, leaders from the ruling and opposition parties acted as if nothing untoward had happened. Six months earlier, the mere threat of violence in Hyderabad led the Union Home Minister to declare the government had agreed to the formation of a separate state for Telangana. In Rajasthan, the blockade of national highways by agitating Gujjars produced an instant offer of dialogue and negotiation. But in Kashmir, the corpses kept piling up while the government, the Opposition (with some honourable exceptions) and civil society in the rest of India reacted with the kind of detachment reserved for death and destruction in faraway lands like Darfur and Iraq.

The fact that the public mood in the valley began to soften slightly only after an all-party delegation visited Srinagar and condoled with some of the victims' families underlined something quite unpleasant about ourselves. That the indifference of mainland India to the suffering of the ordinary Kashmiri is as much a factor in the alienation of the State as the politics of separatism and the violence of extremist groups operating with the tacit and sometimes overt backing of the Pakistani military. With characteristic indecisiveness, however, the Manmohan Singh government failed swiftly to capitalise on that initiative. When a group of interlocutors was finally appointed with a fairly open-ended mandate to listen, talk and report back, the mood in Kashmir had once again begun to harden. The fact that Dileep Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and M.M. Ansari have still managed to make some headway in their interactions is more a result of their own personal commitment to changing the terms of New Delhi's engagement with the valley than with the attitude of the Centre and of Political India, which continue to send mixed signals.

One day, the Union Home Secretary tells reporters the government is prepared to pare down the presence of the security forces in Kashmir, the next day this statement is bluntly contradicted by the Defence Minister. The Prime Minister and Union Home Minister speak of amending the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act while the Army Chief announces publicly that he will never accept this. In the Machchil fake encounter case, the same general declares that his soldiers — who are accused of kidnapping and killing three young Kashmiri men — can never get justice in Kashmir, as if the State is not a part of India. Only the Army, he said, will be allowed to investigate the matter. Of course, in the Pathribal fake encounter of 2000 — where the Army has taken the Central Bureau of Investigation all the way to the Supreme Court to prevent its officers from standing trial for murder — the Army has not seen fit to even proceed against them under its own authority. Surely such a cavalier attitude to justice ought not to be tolerated in an integral part of India?

The Government of India rightly protested when Beijing began treating Kashmir-born or Kashmir-domiciled Indians differently from the rest while issuing visas for travel to China. But the same government does not mind treating Kashmiri Indians differently when it comes to issuing passports for them to travel. A Srinagar-born colleague of mine whose family left Kashmir to live in Delhi as part of the forced migration of Pandits from the valley in the 1990s was recently told by the Passport Office that she had to provide additional documentation that other Indians are not required to do in order to obtain a passport. As for Kashmiris applying for Indian passports in Srinagar, a recent documentary film by Ashvin Kumar, Inshallah Football, documents the heartbreaking experience they have to endure before the country which so emotionally claims them as its own will allow them to travel abroad.

Hoisting the flag

As the Centre's three interlocutors plough a lonely furrow through the infertile and even hostile soil of distrust and alienation, patiently listening to and cataloguing popular grievances, the Bharatiya Janata Party wants to rekindle a sense of estrangement by staging a provocative and high profile yatra to Srinagar in order to hoist the Indian flag at Lal Chowk in the heart of the city's commercial centre on January 26.

There is nothing patriotic or noble about the BJP's plans and intentions. Instead of a voyage of solidarity and empathy aimed at reassuring the people of the State that the party will fight for the sacred values of truth, justice and inclusiveness which the flag embodies, the party is planning an expedition based on the flawed belief that meaningless symbolism is all that is required to win hearts and minds and cement Kashmir's status as a part of India.

If a sense of national belonging can be instilled and solidified by the mere hoisting of a flag, 60 years of official ceremonies in Srinagar ought to have ended the sense of alienation that is writ large over the valley. Even if the BJP goes ahead with their mindless yatra, it will not alter the realities on the ground one bit and would actually make the situation worse. Whatever we may say or do or wish, surely Kashmir will be an integral part of India in a meaningful sense only when the residents of Srinagar themselves throng to Lal Chowk and hoist the tri-colour themselves. The challenge for the Indian polity is to create the conditions for that to happen one day, however difficult that may seem today. But the BJP's proposed flaghoisting is not just an exercise in naivette or cynicism. It is the product of a mindset that considers Kashmir to be terra nullius, an empty landscape to be coveted and possessed rather than a land with a people and soul who acceded to India in 1947 on the basis of a covenant which must be respected in full measure and who have as much right to a life with dignity as those elsewhere in the country do.

A politician can drape himself in the national flag but it is the texture of his politics which will determine whether he truly cares for the nation and its peoples or not. Today, the Congress politician and businessman Naveen Jindal is known not for fighting a landmark case over the right of ordinary citizens to fly the flag but for his endorsement of the obscurantist tradition of khap panchayats. Ministers and officials will preside over flag hoisting ceremonies on Republic Day throughout India even as their policies and actions in the preceding year have bled the hallowed earth on which they stand dry. Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel and the people of India know this only too well. If the BJP really wants to do something for the country, let them take their yatra to Karnataka. There is a large plot of land in that State which the party's chief minister signed over to his relatives. Let the process of safeguarding this country from those who are undermining its foundations begin by planting the national flag there.


Ravi Kiran said...

Making a flag hoisting look like an earth shattering event is well done . Omar Abdullah as the state's CM hoists a flag , will that not enrage the seperatists , will there not be violence ? This thing might have been a lot simpler had the govt facilitated it ..The argument that hoisting a national flag will outrage the valley into fresh violence is just hatred for BJP above every other thing ..

Ravi Kiran said...

You are the front line of defence for the congress party .. You are a perfect Royalist Mr Varadarajan . I recommend that you join Congress party , the knowledge you have will fetch you a good position in the congress party . You are wasting your time in Journalism ...Sonia Gandhi does not disappoint people with such unflinching loyalty ..

Aditya Singh said...

I would broadly agree with the point in your article of why addressing the alienation is more important than hoisting the flag and I am no fan of BJP. But for some reason I do have sympathy for the BJP on this "agitation of nationalism" that they are organizing. Of course only as long as they can keep their agitation peaceful. These are some of the reasons why it does not seem completely mindless to me:

1) The people by themselves do not always agitate, neither separatists nor in this case the BJP workers. The leaders insight them to do so. This is, in a way, a signal to the separatist leaders, Kashmiri leaders and others that two can play the game.

2) For too long the nationalism in J&K has been hostage to threats from separatists from the valley. A counter voice is needed in the valley, if they are not to dominate the discourse. Though it needs to be peaceful, it needs to be a political voice, not official administrative voice alone.

3) Flag hoisting should not be limited to the government official functions in J&K. The nationalistic people in J&K need to use the symbolic occasions to let their presence known.

4) It is perhaps not so easy for the locals alone to politically raise the nationalistic voice. A national party is in a position to do so with the political force that is needed.

5) Umar Abdullah has lately been quite belligerent in his autonomy demand. Every time he is not able to control the failing of his own government, he demands more autonomy for state government. Some kind of political message in J&K from the regions of Laddakh and Jammu that we want more integration not less is needed. BJP wants to create base in these regions.

6) Stopping someone from raising the national flag is illegal. National flag is raised for the express purpose of symbolism; that in this country there will be respect for the unity and integrity of the nation. Unless we decide that we are willing to accept secession of the valley, we should not stop the people of India to raise flag in the valley.

7) Police excesses should not be tolerated but law and order is a local subject. The government of J&K is responsible for the local police excesses. Nationalism is a separate issue and police excesses is a different issue. These should not be linked.

8)The question of life of dignity for the refugees who had to flee the valley for fear of violence should be raised in the same breath as the sentiments of the separatists.

Anonymous said...

Will those that demand BJP hoist flag in Karnataka before doing so in Kashmir also demand that Stalinist mass murderers and rapist goons disband their goon army, apologise for their rapes and mass murders of Nandigram and butchering of innocent in Singur and elsewhere before commencing any political agitation?

Will those that demand respect for constitution themselves stop their savage attack on Indian judiciary on behalf a mass murderer eye-gouger propagandist who pretends to be human rights campaigner? Will they continue to talk with forked tongue about Mamata Banerji being a 'Maoist supporter' and yet themselves singing Maoist murderers' songs?

Anonymous said...

The indifference shown to casualty amongst protesters and others in Kashmir in the rest of India is, in of itself, a powerful message that is being sent to the Taliban inspired Sunni extremists of Kashmir, inspired by jehadi terrorist Pakistani fanatics like Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

Mind you, this indifference is 'secular' too - Indians of all religions are not bothered if a few people that would otherwise have turned terrorists or have no faith in Indian or human values die.

The message is this - if some Wahabi fanatics think that if they wish to expand the failed experiment of a separate state for subcontinents' Muslims on the basis that they cannot live in peace and harmony with Hindus and other religions, that they have to join a terrorist state to our west founded on similar hatred and fanatic barbarianism, then they have to be ready to face the consequences. The ordinary Indian, Muslim or Hindu, would have no sympathy for them.

The issue is not BJP hoisting the flag, the issue is what is the basis for this separatism. It is ironic that the communists as well as assorted leftist 'useful idiots'
and the JNU Maoist coalition encourages this separatism that is based on hatred, bigotry and fanatic barbarianism, when they should be against it. Or is it that they are perfectly okay with rabid communalism as long as it not Hindu?

Aditya Sengupta said...

I think Aditya Singh makes very good points. I have no patience for a lot of the (rabid) antics of the BJP, and I do sympathize with the lack of attention given to ordinary Kashmiris, and a seeming lack of will to gradually entice them to the mainstream. However somehow the way the BJP was prevented from their flag hoisting wasn't quite right. It smacked of undemocratic behaviour, as if Pakistani flags in J&K, and in other parts of the country (eg Park Circus area in Kolkata) are ok, but we are apologetic about the Indian flag in Indian territory

I wonder whether you could take the trouble to respond to some of the points Aditya Singh raises.