A STRONGLY etched memory of Sept 11, 2001, is a television shot of George W. Bush’s shocked face as his chief of staff whispers into his ear that a second aircraft had crashed into the World Trade Centre. The US president is then visiting a Florida elementary school where very young children are reading a story to him.
Bush continues to sit listening to the children for another seven minutes before moving to an adjacent room where he gives a brief press conference before being whisked away to the airport to board Air Force One. But those seven minutes become a hugely controversial issue with critics later seeking Bush junior’s impeachment for doing nothing for ‘so long’ while the country was under a terrorist attack. My memory of September 2001 was jogged by the raging controversy here over what Prime Minister Narendra Modi was doing in the wake of the horrific attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama that killed over 40 of the paramilitary forces — not just about what he did in the immediate aftermath of the attack but over the next few hours. There has been no clear answer so far.
Modi was in the Jim Corbett National Park shooting a promotional film on himself with Discovery channel till nearly four hours after the terror attack, claims the Congress Party. Not true, says the government; he was there for an official conservation event. In a familiar pattern, both the opposition and government are trading charges over the ‘politicisation’ of a terror attack — how such an act can be devoid of politics is difficult to fathom — while the country teeters on the edge of insanity. The hounding of Kashmiris, primarily students and academics, in BJP-ruled states is the latest manifestation of the hate campaigns that the storm troopers of the ruling Hindu supremacist dispensation have unleashed in the country. While Muslims and Dalits remain the favourite targets, Jammu and Kashmir has been in the cross hairs of the central government, too, for almost as long.
Demonisation of Jammu and Kashmir and its people has been standard fare on the TV channels that support the Modi regime but with Pulwama it has acquired a self-righteous viciousness that allows outfits like the ABVP, the student wing of the Hindu right-wing organisation, the RSS, to run riot. They have been pulling Kashmiri students out of their colleges, thrashing them publicly and forcing educational institutions to promise that no more Kashmiris will be admitted — all in BJP-ruled states. It’s not without reason that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed concern about that targeting of the community.
Modi’s response to the Pulwama attack will deepen the alienation of the Kashmiris.
The virulence is not new but runs deep in the Hindutva fold. No less a personage than the governor of Meghalaya, the constitutional head of the state, has called for a boycott of everything Kashmiri, a statement that has invited no censure from the government possibly since he is a long-time RSS member who is also part of the BJP national executive.
The worrying question is why any sensible government would allow its supporters to deepen the alienation of the Kashmiris by persecuting even those who want to be part of the India story, those who have chosen to study and work in other parts. Kashmiris by and large have been feeling vulnerable in recent years and it’s only in a few states like Kerala where they say they feel quite secure. After Pulwama, the Marxist-ruled state has made it a point to say the necessary steps have been taken to ensure their safety as have West Bengal and Punjab, all opposition-ruled.
The Pulwama terror strike by a young Kashmiri suicide bomber is unprecedented in the valley and reflects the alienation of a large section of its young population owing to the malign incompetence of the Modi government and the strong-arm tactics of the army. However, the political reaction to the outrageous act of 20-year-old Kashmiri Adil Ahmad Dar, the alleged perpetrator, who the Pakistan-based outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad has claimed as its fidayeen, shows very little understanding of the Kashmir problem.
Certainly the BJP must be aware of the fact that militancy had shown a marked decline in the decade before 2014 and that casualties, particularly of the security forces had declined to an all-time low. But it is also true that while casualties may have been on the decline, state repression had been increasing since 2009 when the Congress was ruling at the centre. This spiked after 2016 when the political environment became more restrictive as the violence escalated and large numbers of youth were blinded by the army pellet guns. In recent months several groups of academics and public figures have put together reports warning the government of the growing alienation in Jammu and Kashmir but it’s doubtful if they were even read.
If Modi is interested in an objective appraisal of the Kashmir situation he is showing no sign of it. Winning the hearts and minds of Kashmiris is apparently not in the BJP’s rule book. Instead, he told a public meeting in Bihar that he feels “the same fire in my heart that’s burning inside you” in a tacit backing for the rage that the saffron brigade is fomenting. For the prime minister, Pakistan is the grit in his eye, and it’s clear that the government’s focus is on winning the international diplomatic battle against terrorism while ignoring some home truths.
India may not have got much joy from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who came to Delhi after showering largesse on the Imran Khan government, but it is crowing, or at least the media is, about the success of India’s New Delhi’s “coercive diplomacy” in getting the UNSC to issue a statement condemning the Pulwama terror attack that also named the JeM. But that again may not amount to much going by the assessment of former diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar. He says it is a ‘routine’ statement, almost word for word the same issued the Security Council on Feb 14 in response to the terror attack in Iran.
Isolating global terror organisations is, of course, important for India’s security. Even more so is the need to understand why Adil Ahmad Dar committed such a heinous act. It would help in resolving the Kashmir issue.
The writer is a journalist based in Delhi.
Published in Dawn, February 24th, 2019