Two and a half months since the Union government nullified Article 370 and imposed a savage clampdown on the Kashmir Valley, which shows all the hallmarks of martial rule, all that the ruling party in Delhi can offer its beleaguered people is calumny and cold comfort.
Addressing a party convention in Srinagar, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) general secretary Ram Madhav offered some sage advice to the political leaders of the Valley on how one should conduct politics while languishing in a state of incarceration. “Do politics on the (demand for) early restoration of statehood. But don’t send secret messages from the SKICC saying the guns need to be picked up. This is not politics,” he said while addressing an audience numbering less than 300.
For the record, this was the first public meeting addressed by a prominent BJP leader since 5 August. SKICC is an allusion to the Sher-i-Kashmir International Conventional Centre, where nearly a dozen politicians have been jailed. In true Hindutva fashion, Madhav offered no evidence that secret messages of any kind were indeed being dispatched. We may also note that three former chief ministers of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir are being held at other locations and the insinuation that they, too, are involved in such incendiary activity is inescapable.
Madhav made the BJP and the Union government’s intentions crystal clear in the course of his address. While promising that the new administration in Kashmir would follow the party’s purely rhetorical path of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’—inclusive development—it would also not baulk at imposing this path of development by means of force. “There will now be only two paths for J&K—peace and development and whosoever comes in between will be dealt with sternly. If detaining 200-300 people helps maintain peace, then let them stay there for a little longer. … We can detain 300-400 more people for the new system and there are many jails for such people in India,” Madhav said, leaving very little for the imagination.
Madhav publicly and directly said something the Union government has been saying through the mouths of various spokespersons indirectly over the past couple of months or so. The burden of that particular song is that it is the duty of mainstream politicians—and, of course, the general populace—to help the BJP achieve its ends.
They must, therefore, help the government to restore normalcy by urging the people of the Valley to embrace the new regime and, in effect, believe the rafts of lies uttered like a litany practically every day about its developmental bona fides. They must, therefore, believe that Kashmiri autonomy is responsible for the underdevelopment of the Valley and that its abolition will usher in a golden age of prosperity that will bring the new Union territory on par with the rest of the country. Which part is, of course, never specified. Jharkhand or Tamil Nadu? Chhattisgarh or Maharashtra? Bihar or Kerala?
As long as the jailed, and impugned, politicians don’t play the role assigned to them by the BJP and the current regime, they will be considered subversives by definition, vilified without evidence and kept in jails of different types, which, as we have been told, abound in India. That is the obvious meaning of the phrase “do politics”.
And what about the BJP? What kind of politics is it incumbent on it to ‘do’? Madhav did not draw a map for his audience, but considering that it took two and a half months for the party to hold its first public meeting in the Valley while the jackboots have been trampling all over it, not much is left to the imagination.
We all know, of course, what kind of “politics” the BJP wants to “do” and has been doing. Within months of getting its huge majority in the Lok Sabha, the party abrogated Article 370 without even the pretence of a debate whether in the House or outside it, shut down the Valley, sent in the jackboots and put most politicians of any consequence in jail along with many other citizens.
Within weeks of the shutdown, it began lying through its teeth about how life in the Valley had returned to normal, expecting its falsehoods to be believed just because it had completely muzzled the press. Unfortunately, it was quite obvious to all those who chose to look that nothing was normal and that the Valley looked suspiciously like occupied territory.
Meanwhile, the insidious peddling of the little lies and the big ones proceeds apace. The biggest one is that all of this was necessary because autonomy had kept Kashmir in the grips of underdevelopment and that the task of releasing Jammu and Kashmir from the shackles of autonomy was undertaken to help develop it. The task of development also required the deployment of tens of thousands of security personnel, the muzzling of the press, the disruption of communication networks of all kinds and mass arrests—in short, the suspension of democracy and the imposition of a draconian autocracy.
Why should we be surprised? Every tinpot dictator (and colonial regime) in history has said the same thing: What you need is bread, liberty is an unnecessary luxury.
The truth behind the lie about development is not very difficult to perceive. The Kashmir exercise is essentially one designed to build an extra electoral constituency and help win elections. The BJP has figured out that the hardcore Hindutva constituency is already behind it and that particular political line cannot be milked any further. Kashmir will line up behind it a jingoistic constituency that is not necessarily communally inclined. The campaigns for the assembly elections in Haryana and Maharashtra demonstrated that abundantly.
Suhit K Sen is a freelance journalist in Kolkata. The views are personal.