NARENDRA Modi has carried out the biggest upheaval in independent India’s history and looks likely to get away with it, in the short run at least. And Pakistan has received a challenge that it will find hard to meet if it remains stuck in its traditional brief on Kashmir.
The implications of the Modi government’s action are grave by any standard. By beginning the end of the special status of its part of Jammu & Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian constitution, it has repudiated the solemn compact made with the people of Jammu & Kashmir at the time of the state’s questionable accession to India.
It has also repudiated the pledge Jawaharlal Nehru had made in 1952 that the constitution of India would not be extended to the India-held Kashmir against the will of its people. What he had said is worth recalling:
“I say with all respect to our Constitution that it just does not matter what your Constitution says; if the people of Jammu & Kashmir do not want it, it will not go there. Because what is the alternative? The alternative is compulsion and coercion. ... I say with all deference to this Parliament ... the decision will be made in the hearts and minds of the men and women of Kashmir; neither in this Parliament, nor in the United Nations, nor by anybody else.”
Pakistan must not allow Modi’s excesses to divert it from its goal of eventually achieving peace in South Asia.
The Modi government has belittled India by imposing its fiat on the Kashmiri people after losing its battle in their hearts and minds. It has not only dealt a grievous blow to India’s quest for a secular order, it has also pushed the polity further away from its democratic pretensions.
Above all, the region has been pushed perilously close to an armed conflict.
Modi has been able to attempt all this because he considers himself, with considerable justification, to be in an impregnable position. He has led the BJP to an unprecedented victory in the latest general election. The opposition parties are scattered and demoralised. A large part of the population is still under the spell of the revanchist theory of Hindutva, as evidenced by ordinary Indians’ murderous attacks on fellow citizens for gao rakhsha. Amit Shah’s bill has been adopted by the Rajya Sabha where the BJP does not have a majority, and also by the Lok Sabha. And the international community does not seem to be ready to create problems for the Indian government beyond making vacuous remarks.
However, the Modi government has taken grave risks and the rosy picture described above could change.
The Kashmiri people’s struggle is unlikely to be suppressed. It may lose steam now and then, only to resurge when another Burhan Wani arrives. The attack on Kashmir’s autonomy should change the nature of the resistance by replacing Muslim separatism with Kashmiri people’s movement for national liberation, a struggle that has its roots in Habba Khatoon’s defiance of Emperor Akbar in the 16th century.
India’s economy has self-generating capacity to a considerable extent, but the country depends on foreign capital, whose availability cannot be taken for granted, for maintaining high growth rates. Any economic setback will erode the regime’s political base.
Further, it will be wrong to presume that the secular, democratic and even the left elements in Indian society have been routed forever. They will survive and give battle to the BJP because, apart from anything else, they are in the mainstream of humankind’s march towards democracy and justice, while religious fanatics have little to offer to the coming generations.
Where do all these developments in India leave Pakistan?
One hopes the present phase of unprofitable wailing and desperate calls on half-friends will soon be over and Pakistan will settle down to a long-term response to the Modi designs to shape the destiny of the Kashmiri people.
That Pakistan is in no position to intervene directly is quite clear. It must also deal with Indian provocations in a manner that open hostilities are avoided. While it must offer its moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri people at all possible forums and reserve its right to repel aggression, it should trim its expectations of meaningful support from the Muslim countries. In fact, Pakistan should accept the transformation of the Kashmiri people’s struggle into a movement for national redemption.
Besides, Islamabad should critically assess the value of the support friendly countries are offering. This applies specifically to Mr Trump’s offer of mediation on Kashmir. The question whether Trump invited Prime Minister Imran Khan to Washington after getting wind of Modi’s plans to scrap Article 370 is quite valid. A correct answer will help in understanding whether Trump offered mediation in the context of the original Kashmir dispute, or in the context of the present uprising in Kashmir, or in the post-Aug 5 context. In any case, it would be naive to expect that Trump will ignore his hard-earned openings into the Indian market for the sake of Pakistan, however keen for the latter’s help in Afghanistan he might be.
There is a danger that New Delhi’s decision about Kashmir will give a boost to the hate-India fundamentalists in Pakistan. This should not be allowed to happen, for this will strengthen the Hindutva following and adversely affect the Indian democratic forces’ struggle to regain their lost ground. Whatever views Pakistan may have had about India’s secular credentials, a secular, democratic India will remain Pakistan’s best bet. Pakistan must not allow the Modi government’s excesses to divert it from its goal of eventually achieving peace and harmony across South Asia.
Meanwhile, Pakistan must concentrate on acquiring economic strength, making the polity truly democratic, confining religion to the private lives of the faithful, and guaranteeing justice for all. Success on these fronts alone will enable Pakistan to extend succour to the incredibly brave people of Kashmir.
Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2019