Criticism galore

The Commonwealth Journalists Association portrayed a critical observation of India’s Kashmir policy in a debate circling around the Valley’s lockdown and eventual bifurcation

Kashmir: What the future holds — was the subject of a highly charged debate held by the Commonwealth Journalists Association at Parliament House with John Elliot, author of Implosion: India's Tryst with Reality in the chair, who likened the issue with war games.

Lord Meghnadh Desai opened proceedings with India's ruling BJP's explanatory statement that abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution was in accordance with the party's manifesto and the longstanding promise of party leaders since the days of Syama Prasad Mukherjee in the 1950s. Back in power in the second term with an overwhelming majority in Parliament, the BJP felt it had found its master chance to implement its Kashmir policy, and grabbed it. The changeover represented post-colonial nationalism and reorganisation. The redesignation of Kashmir into two Union Territories, Lord Desai said, was 'irreversible,' a remark which drew a response from the floor that the Indian Supreme Court's ruling on the issue was still awaited. Responding to the criticism of the treatment meted out to Kashmiri leaders like Farooq Abdullah, Lord Desai came out with what seemed like an explanation that the Abdullah family had 'looted' the state over the years.

Muzzammil Ayub Thakur, of Justice Foundation: Institute of International Relations, who hails from Shopian in Kashmir, said that over 30,000 people had been arrested in the recent lockdown in Kashmir. Detailing a litany of excesses, he spoke of thousands of rapes and other human rights violations. Schools had been shut, funeral processions banned, and people were having to bury the dead in their own houses. Over one million soldiers had been deployed and Kashmir turned into an open prison, he claimed.

Tahir Aziz, of South Asia Conciliation Resources, who, like the earlier speaker, hails from Kashmir, stressed there were many perspectives on Kashmir and they were not irreconcilable. The opinions of people at local, regional and wider levels needed to be considered and taken into account for a lasting way forward.

Victoria Schofield, the author of Kashmir in Conflict who spoke of her first visit to Kashmir in 1981 and her last visit this year in May, said foreign journalists had always been allowed to visit the Valley but this was the first time they had been banned since the August lockdown. India's heavy-handed policy, she feared, would lead to ever more protests. The suppression of the aspirations of people was driving more young people to join funeral processions in ever larger numbers. In line with her earlier known views, Schofield said Kashmir faced 'a long, hard road ahead' as this time, the people had not just been 'stabbed in the back with a knife' but had been dealt a blow with a 'long sword.'

Andrew Whitehead, the author of A Mission in Kashmir, regretted that he had 'no positive' line to offer in the prevailing situation in Kashmir. As a general observer in London, he thought the huge crowd of protesters outside the Indian High Commission recently were not Kashmiris. The people of Kashmir Valley, he said, did not wish to be part of either India or Pakistan. The UN resolutions on Kashmir were dormant and the state was under the Emergency rule as during the days of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The scrapping of Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution was wrong in the absence of any consultation of the people. So was the arrest or house arrest of MPs, MLAs and former chief ministers of the state. The detention of former Central government ministers and allies of BJP, especially of senior leader Farook Abdullah, now in his eighties, was all too glaring. To top it all, the press and media were completely frozen.

Perhaps the most trenchant criticism of the lockdown in Kashmir came from Nitasha Kaul, of Westminster University. Effortlessly assertive of her Kashmiri identity, she pointed out that there were many Kashmirs and many Kashmiris. India's Central "right-wing" regime had not only changed the political "chessboard " but thrown out the old one and replaced it with a new one of its own design. With all their funds, the current backers of prime minister Modi's "crony" regime were only turning the government ever more "colonial and right-wing." Kaul minced no words and attacked the Modi regime for its "proto-fascist" policies.

Notwithstanding the highly charged views and counter-views of some speakers, the role of probably the most crucial player was missed altogether. There was no mention at all of Pakistan's military government which not only controls Pakistan's internal polity but directs and implements the country's entire Kashmir strategy. A case of staging Hamlet without the ghost!

(Subhash Chopra is the author of 'Kipling Sahib – The Raj Patriot' and 'India and Britannia – An Abiding Affair.' The views expressed are strictly personal)

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