The all-powerful, absolute Narendra Modi-Amit Shah regime seems to be caught in a typical and predictable Catch-22 scenario when it comes to the simmering and endless crisis in Jammu and Kashmir. Clearly, the current scenario is of their own making and all credit goes to them for the ruthless crackdown, total economic and communication breakdown causing colossal loss to the state and collective social suffering currently prevailing in Kashmir, with no obvious solution in sight.
The muscular strong-arm tactics seem to have played into a terrible human, social, political and economic crisis, with the Valley looking at a dead-end. Across India, even the bhakts are now compelled to ask the inevitable question: When will the blockade end — it has been plus 60 days and counting?
Indeed, will it ever end?
Muscular rhetoric and muscle-flexing notwithstanding, the fact is that Kashmir has become an international issue, with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan appearing as ‘victim’ in various global platforms, with China backing it overtly and tacitly, and the international press going gung-ho over his manufactured phobia of a nuclear war in the subcontinent. He has even called Narendra Modi a “fascist”, not exactly a term of endearment between two honourable prime ministers living across the Line of Control with a shared history and geography. He has even successfully played with Europe’s obsessive and hidden fear of a historic repeat of “fascism” and has provoked the phobia of what Modi and RSS want to do in Kashmir (“a bloodbath!”), reminiscent of what Adolf Hitler and the Nazis did in Europe during and before World War II.
Imran Khan has called Narendra Modi a “fascist”, not exactly a term of endearment between two honourable prime ministers. He has even successfully played with Europe’s obsessive and hidden fear of a historic repeat of “fascism”.
Imran Khan and his sharp speech-writers are well aware that this discourse of memory as a troubling phenomenon strikes a disturbing and deeper chord in the West, then, for instance, the reminder of the Gujarat genocide in 2002 with Modi at the helm of affairs. No wonder, despite Modi’s trusted spin-masters and a totally pliant media in India, the RSS-backed ‘Howdy Modi’ grand show got pathetically less media coverage in the West than Imran Khan’s passionate ‘Kashmir’ speech at the United Nations and his ‘off the record’ conversations with scores of international journalists lambasting Modi and the RSS.
Indeed, despite his foreign minister going round and round in an undiplomatic circle to defend his rock star boss in Houston, even the so-called ‘trump card’ of ‘Ab ki baar Trump sarkaar’ has turned out to be a cliché which has not only fallen flat, or, become a bad diplomatic hangover with democrats in the US, it seems to be badly boomeranging with Donald Trump decisively in the dock over the clear and irrefutable impeachment case against him on his diabolical and dubious bargaining with the president of Ukraine. Clearly, Modi’s best ideological buddies, including Trump in the US, Boris Johnson in Britain, and ‘Bibi Netanyahu’ in Tel Aviv are in terribly sticky wickets of their own making, and life might actually come a full circle for Modi too in the days to come, if cynical political observers can be believed. After all, history is neither permanent nor monolithic, neither infinite nor eternal. Often, the vicious circle turns into a full circle.
Nothing illustrates this Catch-22 dilemma more transparently than the chess game in Kashmir, with the two most powerful men in the current government in Delhi playing one pawn against the other, while both the king and his ‘shadow’ seem trapped on the slippery chessboard. If absolute power could always translate in terms of great visionary politics, then most powerful dictators, tin-pot dictators and banana republic oligarchs would have ruled eternally with a bloody iron fist — from Mussolini and Idi Amin to Batista and Mugabe. As a senior journalist, disturbed about the future of Kashmir and speaking to Hardnews, commented, “These people do not know how to do politics. Muscle-flexing is not always beneficial in the complex and nuanced art and craft of politics. Especially when you are in power. It might just boomerang.”
Uncannily, people in Kashmir have been very quiet, deceptive and secretive despite the humiliation, and the rage. They have not made suicidal moves, and they have been biding their time. A paradigm shift in terms of movement of troops and restoration of communication lines might just about make the volcano explode.
Muscle-flexing apart, there are real dilemmas. Local-level elections have turned out to be a farce in recent times in Jammu and Kashmir. Post-August 5, it might turn out to be both a dark comedy and a real nightmare. New Delhi’s attempt to prop up a subservient and sycophantic leadership on the ground will in all probability turn out to be a card that will badly fail. The promises of hundreds of crores for panchayats or block development officers, might be the usual lollypop floated for decades by ruling regimes in the Centre, but these are not ordinary times and even the most addictive and tempting lollypop might not have takers in the Valley. It was reported that the sarpanches who had a so-called ‘successful and special meeting’ with Amit Shah in Delhi and were promised miscellaneous lollypops amidst the crackdown were actually afraid to return to their villages, fearing the wrath of the people. Hence, the attempt by the Modi-Shah government to prop up loyal stooges on the ground might not really succeed. Surely, isolating and discrediting the mainstream politicians might not actually succeed in the final run, despite the disgust and distrust for mainline politicians, both in the PDP and NCP in Kashmir.
The recent visit of a National Conference (NC) delegation of politicians released from a jail in Jammu to the residence of Farooq Abdullah, his wife, and his son Omar, under house arrest in Srinagar, has only given confusing and mixed signals. There are unconfirmed reports that the BJP-led NDA government might try to soften the NC, knowing fully well that its former ally, the PDP, led by Mehbooba Mufti, is totally discredited, and the NC is still a cadre-based party. Despite its low ratings, 83-year-old senior Abdullah, a ‘nationalist’, is still taken seriously in Kashmir, has his die-hard supporters in the Valley and beyond, and is respected across the mainstream political spectrum in India.
Sources believe that the NC might ignore the abrogation of Article 370, which is clearly and brazenly illegal, and seek the restoration of statehood and an end to the military clampdown. This might pave the way for the restoration of ‘normalcy’ in the state, though it is reported that the PDP will fight tooth and nail for the restoration of Article 370. Presumably, this might seem to be its last trump card to gather some goodwill in the Valley, though for ordinary citizens this Article and its repeated dilutions have only meant the gradual loss and betrayal of the early promises made by Jawaharlal Nehru to Sheikh Abdullah and the people of Kashmir. Even Amit Shah, surprisingly, has said that the down gradation of the state to a UT will be reversed in the days to come. When and how, no one knows.
As a senior journalist, while speaking to Hardnews, commented, “These people do not know how to do politics. Muscle-flexing is not always beneficial in the complex and nuanced art and craft of politics. Especially when you are in power. It might just boomerang.”
Besides, even pro-BJP Jammu and Buddhist Ladakh are now seeking protection in some other form of Article 35A, which too has been abrogated, in the line of Himachal Pradesh and the North-east. There is tangible fear here that ‘outsiders’ will seek cheap land here, real estate prices will go down due to sudden demand, and land owned by their ancestors and others will be ‘captured’ by hook or crook by ‘outsiders’ including big business industrialists and real estate sharks. Indeed, the celebratory mood here post-August 5 is not really as high as it was in the recent past.
The final and perhaps the most crucial aspect of the infinite crisis in Kashmir is the unprecedented military and communication clampdown, the total collapse of the economy and social processes, and the complete breakdown of social and collective institutions, including schools, higher education, health and business. Rage, angst and anger are stalking the lanes and bylanes of entire Kashmir, and the restoration of ‘normalcy’ or communication networks might witness a massive and sustained explosion unprecedented and unseen in Kashmir in its entire history.
Indeed, uncannily, people in Kashmir have been very quiet, deceptive and secretive despite the sorrow, the humiliation, the depression, the fear, and the rage. They have not made suicidal moves, they have not done street protests at a mass scale, and they have been waiting for their time, biding their time, amidst the huge military occupation. A paradigm shift in terms of movement of troops and restoration of communication lines might just about make the volcano explode.
Will it, or will it not?
Even the muscle-flexing apparatus led by the two stalwarts in the BJP government is not too sure, even while trained terrorists seem to be waiting to strike as the first snow arrives of another frozen winter. As stated earlier, it’s a typically predictable Catch-22 scenario, and even the most muscular gamblers might have actually botched it up very, very, badly. Instead, they might just goof up yet again, obsessed with power. machismo and arrogance as they are, unable to stop what might be a massive human and political crisis ready to explode and boomerang on their faces.