By Amulya Ganguli
Not long after the anodyne statements on Kashmir by a group of far right European M.P.s soothed the government’s jangled nerves, a mainstream German leader – the chancellor, no less – touched a raw spot yet again for the government by saying that the situation in Kashmir is “unsustainable”.
The government had been edgy ever since the liberal Western media found as specious its explanations for the abrogation of Article 370, notwithstanding all of New Delhi’s attempts to link its constitutional coup with the threat of terrorism.
The US congressional hearings, too, made the government realize that the world – or at least the liberal sections – were not accepting at face value the justifications for locking up people, shutting down the Internet and stationing heavily-armed troops all along the deserted streets.
It was only the renewed focus on terrorism by the right-wing Europeans during their all-expenses paid junket in Kashmir which enabled the government to heave a sigh of relief. But Angela Merkel’s unfavourable assessment of the Kashmir scene has been a damper.
It now appears that far from the government being able to restore any semblance of normalcy in the valley in the near future, the situation is likely to become messier. The reason is that the government does not appear to have any idea as to how to let the locals lead a normal life with functioning schools and colleges, busy market places and free communications.
Behind the government’s cluelessness is the fact that it is apparently totally oblivious of the popular sentiments about its pre-emptive, ideologically driven measures. The government is trying to get around this blank wall of incomprehension by holding village-level elections.
But it cannot be certain as to what extent the newly-elected panches and sarpanches are true representatives of the people in view of the boycott of the polls by parties other than the BJP which, as is known, never had much of a base in the Muslim-dominated valley. Even the polling percentage of 98 is redolent of elections in regimented societies.
For a government to be unaware of what the people are thinking behind closed doors is an unnerving experience, for it raises the spectre of an uprising once the soldiers are asked to return to their barracks. It is this fear which has made the government keep three former chief ministers and hundreds of others in detention.
The history of all countries which have used incarceration as a political tool tells us that it is “unsustainable”. Only a communist country which is not accountable either to its own people or the international community can keep suspects in jail for indefinite periods.
But not a democracy, especially if its leaders are fond of frequently interacting with their counterparts elsewhere, for questions will constantly be asked about the restoration of normality.
A stage is reached, therefore, as it did in South Africa in the last days of the apartheid regime, when prolonged incarcerations suggested that the government was more scared of its opponents than the latter of the rulers.
There is another aspect of keeping critics behind bars for long. It is that a spell in jail can make them more popular. This is what the former Jammu and Kashmir governor, Satyapal Malik, had in mind when he said that the longer the detainees stayed in jail, the more votes they would get. Perhaps this is what the government is concerned about.
Arguably, the success of the BJP’s nationalist card in ensuring a large majority in the Lok Sabha emboldened the government to embark on implementing the pro-Hindu agenda of the RSS, which includes the Ram temple, Kashmir, NRC, the citizenship bill and others.
The government was also possibly encouraged to go ahead by the weakness of the Congress and other “secular” opposition parties and the penchant of parties like the Biju Janata Dal, the YSR Congress and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi to be on the side of a powerful ruling party at the centre even if it meant compromising on principles, if they had any.
But the ground reality is posing problems, especially with regard to Kashmir and the NRC/citizenship bill issues. On the latter, The Economist has decried the move to “strip millions of poor and mostly Muslim people in Assam of citizenship”.
Despite the resistance which the BJP is facing on these issues in the north-east, the party seems determined to take the NRC route to identify the “termites” in every province, an exercise fraught with the possibility of fomenting communal tension.
The BJP might have been able to pursue its ideological objectives with greater confidence but for two drawbacks. One is the failure to sell the Kashmir narrative with any degree of success and the other is the faltering economy. If the recent election results are a guide, it means that the BJP’s earlier strike rate is no longer sustainable. (IPA Service)