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Kashmir Conundrum

Kashmir Conundrum

23 is one of the most commonly cited prime numbers - a number that can only be divided by itself and one. In the film “A Beautiful Mind”, based on the life of Nobel Prize-winning economist John Forbes Nash, played by Russell Crowe, the number featured prominently in his battle with mental illness.

Nash’s breakdown began when he claimed that a photograph of Pope John XXIII on the cover of the “Life” magazine was, in fact, him, the proof being that 23 was his favourite number. There are two films with the title “23”.

Why I mentioned this tidbit here is that the number of European Union MPs who were brought to Srinagar for a two-day conducted trip was 23. The trip concluded on the day Kashmir’s status was formally reduced to a Union Territory and Article 370 became a thing of the past.

The trip was an out and out official exercise, though a different stratagem was used to give it an unofficial status. A government is in many ways different from a corporate or an NGO for it functions within the boundaries of a statute. Every penny it spends has to be accounted for.

That is how we know how much money was spent on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visits abroad since he returned to power in May last. However, nobody knows how much money Mukesh Ambani spends every month on keeping his 27-storied house functional. 

Had the government accorded the trip the official status, it would have been organised by the External Affairs Ministry. The invitation would have gone to the EU parliament and its speaker or some such authority would have chosen the members based on some time-tested principles.

That is how Indian MPs are selected for inclusion in delegations visiting foreign countries or attending international conferences. No sovereign government would surrender its authority to select members to be sent on such delegations. Imagine how the Modi government would react if the OPEC gives the government names of certain MPs to be sent as India’s delegates to an OPEC meeting!

So a different stratagem was employed. The government chose a lady to send out invitations to some selected MPs. Who is this lady? She is Madi Sharma, whose name comes before Narendra Modi’s, i.e., alphabetically speaking. 

I visited her website to know more about her. On the Home Page, there is a slogan, “You must be the change you want to see — No excuses”. This quotation is attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. The “No excuses” part is her own creation. The website revealed that Madi stood for “Make A Difference Ideas”. The construction of the sentence is inelegant, if not outrightly incorrect.

She describes herself in a single, simple paragraph, “My greatest achievement is taking an unknown single parent of ethnic minority background, without qualifications, and making her a global case study and role model. I love what I do, there are not enough hours in a day, and I am proud that my enthusiasm inspires others”.

Again, her English is to be blamed if you get an impression that she is talking about another person whom she has made a role model. No, she is talking about herself in the style of Metropolitans and Swamis, who prefer not to use the first person style of narration.

It is no mean achievement to contact so many MPs of diverse backgrounds, organise the logistics and influence the Indian government to accord a red-carpet welcome to them. Madi Sharma will certainly be a role model and inspiration for anyone in the event management business.

It was grossly unfair for Asaduddin Owaisi, MP, to call Madi Sharma’s invitees “Nazi supporters”. It’s true that Europe is the home of Fascism and the Nazis came to power only with the support of ordinary Germans. After all, the Third Reich had a democratic basis.

Owaisi would find the book “Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust” by the American writer Daniel Goldhagen quite instructive, as I personally found it to be. The Gujarat riots would not have been possible without the involvement of ordinary men and women, not just the khaki-clad indoctrinated hoodlums.

Today, the word Nazi is considered derogatory. Owaisi should have known this. He also should have known that we in India believe in the concept, “Atithi Devo Bhava (Guest is God)”.  He should also have known a little historical fact.

The founders of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) were great admirers of the ideology that Adolf Hitler and Mussolini propounded and promoted. The MP can see it in the books of Guruji Golwalkar, who headed the organisation when it was banned by Sardar Patel following Gandhi’s assassination.

Owaisi should also know that today’s RSS does not want to be reminded of its one-time admiration for the fascist ideology. People change with time. It was only recently that a German envoy went all the way to Nagpur to offer floral tributes to Dr Hedgewar, who founded the RSS in 1925.

Owaisi can ponder over why no German envoy dared to do so during the last seven decades of India’s independence. People change when it is convenient for them. Political etiquette demanded that Owaisi should not have called the European MPs names.

Nobody can question the rights of the people the world over to visit Kashmir. It was not for no reason that when Mughal Emperor Jehangir visited the Kashmir Valley in the 17th century, he exclaimed, “If there is a heaven on earth, it's here, it's here, it's here.” 

Kashmiris love people from all over the world to visit the state, nay Union Territory, for tourism provides them their bread and butter. Even today they can rely on tourism to provide them sustenance. But the MPs were brought with a different purpose. It was evident from the way they were taken to Srinagar and allowed to have the benefit of interaction with the highest  civil and military authorities. This makes it clear that the visit was organised by the government itself using poor Madi Sharma’s name.

Now, defenders of the trip argue that Pakistan routinely organises such tours of foreign dignitaries to its side of Kashmir, which we call Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and they call Azad Kashmir.

The argument is patently unacceptable for it equates India, a secular, democratic, multicultural country, with Pakistan, a theocratic, monotheistic state where the Army has the last word. India has always claimed the high moral ground when it came to Kashmir. What the flawed argument means is that India is following in the footsteps of the “Land of the Pure”, which is what the word Pakistan means.

Democracy and transparency are what India should project at all times, not personality cult and secrecy. The statement the MPs made on the concluding day of the visit was quite revealing. They repeated what the government has all along been saying in defence of the Kashmir decision.

The European MPs opined that it was Article 370 which was preventing Kashmir from developing into a modern state. And they expected Kashmir to flourish once it became a Union Territory. In that case, every state in India should become a UT to achieve a faster rate of growth.

The poor MPs did not know that on many indices of growth, Kashmir was way ahead of states, continuously ruled by the ruling BJP. If they had checked with Niti Ayog, it would have told them that the most backward district in the whole country was Nuh in Haryana district.

The district headquarters was within 100 kms from the South and North Blocks where the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, the Defence Minister and the Finance Minister sat. On what basis did they say that Kashmir would be put on the fast track of development when the states in the cow belt, most of them ruled by the BJP, continue to remain a drag on the economy?

What credibility do the MPs have when they had limited access to the common people who knew the ground situation better than the police, intelligence and military officers? It is claimed that when they return to their countries, they would defend India on Kashmir.

However, India’s time-tested policy is that Kashmir is an internal issue and other countries and leaders have no role to play in it. In that case, why should it bother what 23 European MPs say about Article 370? What credibility do they have when they received Madi Sharma’s hospitality?

The MPs have pointed out that terrorism has been at the root of the problem in Kashmir. Yes, everyone everywhere has to be involved in the fight against terrorism. However, what credibility does a country have when it has on its Treasury Benches in Parliament a person accused of terrorism? Did it not have another person from 1.3 billion people to field in the parliamentary elections, instead of her? 

Terrorism is evil. Let it be said with all the authority one can command that there cannot be any “my terrorists” and “your terrorists”!

I am sure my readers would have known the story of the “Emperor’s New Clothes”, written by Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen. “It is about two weavers who promise an Emperor a new suit of clothes that they say is invisible to those who are unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent – while in reality, they make no clothes at all, making  everyone believe the clothes are invisible to them. 

“When the emperor parades before his subjects in his new "clothes", no one dares to say that they do not see any suit of clothes on him for fear that they will be seen as stupid. Finally a child cries out, "He isn't wearing anything at all!"

A similar kind of thing happened during the MPs’ visit. Like the child in the Andersen story, one of the visiting MPs blurted out that the government should have allowed the Indian Opposition MPs, too, to visit Kashmir. Instead, what did the government do? Those who went to Srinagar like Congress leader Rahul Gandhi were not allowed to visit the state and were sent back by the next available flight.

CPM leader Sitaram Yechury had to approach the Supreme Court for special permission to visit his ailing party colleague in Kashmir. Meanwhile, many persons who visited Kashmir have come back with their first-person accounts which suggest that the Kashmiris have been suffering from deprivation since the government did a sort of annexation like in the case of Sikkim.

The battle in Kashmir has to be fought in the minds of the people there, not in the minds of the European MPs. The first and foremost thing the government should do is to restore normalcy in the state. It cannot claim normalcy when the people are not allowed to walk freely on the streets and communication facilities are denied to them.

Any government can make mistakes. A good government is one which makes amends in a spirit of give and take. Kashmir needs the healing touch, not the so-called development that Modi has been promising ever since he came to power six years ago. 

Punjab is a case in point. It is utterly wrong to say that peace was restored in the state through the strong-arm tactics of KPS Gill. Peace was restored when democracy was restored. The government should think of ways of winning the confidence of the people there. 

Instead wasting time and energy on hosting European MPs, it should start a political process in Kashmir so that the people regain their confidence in the political system in India. If autonomy can be given to Karbi Anglong, why not to Kashmir? The Kashmir story is proof that it is easy to mount a tiger but difficult to dismount from it.

( ajphilip@gmail.com)

(Published on 04th November 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 45)