The convention that bureaucrats should refrain from publicly expressing their approval or disapproval of government policies is flouted by Abhinav Kumar, an Indian Police Service officer, whenever he writes opinion pieces on Kashmir for The Indian Express. His articles echo the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s ideological position on Kashmir, blames its people for their woes, and endorses the Narendra Modi government’s August 5decision to read down Article 370 and reduce Jammu and Kashmir from State to Union Territory.
Kumar’s disregard for the bureaucratic convention is particularly unsettling because he is posted in Kashmir. Imagine another civil servant describing the August 5 decision as unconstitutional. Bureaucrats publicly debating government policies will ideologically split the bureaucracy and weaken its cohesion.
It is possible Kumar had the government’s prior approval to publish his pieces. In that case, the approval implicates the ruling RSS-Bharatiya Janata Party in creating a politically committed bureaucracy. Worse, Kumar’s writings will likely influence Kashmiris to perceive him as a Sangh partisan in uniform. There are several reasons why they will do so.
Take his piece, A new deal for Kashmir, which was published on July 5. In it, he mulls three policy options in Kashmir.
The first option he examines is the “attrition-driven approach”, which implies tiring out the Kashmiris into realising the futility of craving for independence and supporting the jihadists.
Kumar calls the second option the “abdication approach,” which is pursued by “a very vocal section of our intelligentsia and civil society.” Kumar says they believe that a durable peace in Kashmir can be achieved only by “conceding all the demands of Kashmiris, which may range from complete autonomy to outright independence or merger with Pakistan.” Kumar seems to share the RSS’ suspicion of the intelligentsia and civil society.
Kumar discusses the third option or the “assimilation approach”. He thinks Kashmiri Muslims can be assimilated by abrogating Article 370 and Article 35A, which, until August 5, debarred non-state subjects from owning property in Jammu and Kashmir. “Together, these Articles have frozen the demography and politics of the state and skewed it in favour of the Muslim majority in the Kashmir Valley,” he argues.
Changing Kashmir’s demography has been the Hindu Right’s favoured strategy to integrate it into India. For the RSS, assimilation implies religious minorities embracing the Hindu cultural identity. Fear and suspicion underlie the desire for assimilation, evident from Kumar’s argument for whittling down Kashmir’sMuslim majority. “Some of them favour azadi, some favour a merger with Pakistan. And almost all of them have an issue accepting the idea of India,” he argues.
As one who writes from a historical perspective, with felicity, it is incredible that Kumar should gloss over Kashmir’s past to generalise its political behaviour. When most parts of India, including Jammu, were rocked by Partition riots, not a Hindu was harmed in the Valley. Kashmiri Muslims fought the Pakistani tribesmen who invaded the State in 1947, and apprehended and handed over Pakistani guerrillas who slipped into Kashmir to foment a revolt in 1965.
Since 1947, there has always been in Kashmir a class advocating its independence or merger with Pakistan. But Kumar doesn’t examine why their ranks have augmented over the years. For instance, he doesn’t discuss how the Sangh’s 1951 campaign of “one Constitution, one head of state, and one flag” made Kashmiri Muslims nervous about their future. Nor does Kumar mention the hollowing out of Article 370, nor the persistent rigging of elections, nor the imposition of pliant chief ministers on the State.
For Kumar then, the immorality inherent in the Indian state’s actions doesn’t need to be corrected, but has to be further aggravated through a demographic change in the Valley.
Kumar’s July 5 piece in the Indian Express proved prescient: Precisely a month later, the Modi government nullified Article 370 and abrogated Article 35A. This prompted Kumar to write yet another piece – Why Article 370 had to go– in the Indian Express, on August 16. In it, he examines the public response to the government’s August 5 decisions.
“The usual suspects on the Left have gone apoplectic for the usual reasons,” Kumar writes. He mirrors the Sangh’s disdain for the Left. By contrast, when he castigates those who celebrated the August 5 decision with “bigotry and a hate-filled language”, he calls them “self-styled nationalists”. The most appropriate descriptor for them would have been radical Hindus or Hindu Right or even Sanghis, for nationalist is a descriptor that would include the largest percentage of Indians.
In Why Article 370 had to go, Kumar argues against four strands of criticism against the August 5 decision – that it is legally infirm; that Kashmir’s special status was deemed to exist in perpetuity; that the will of Kashmiris wasn’t ascertained; that the lockdown in the Valley was immoral.
He lists questions that the Supreme Court needs to examine before judging whether the August 5 decision was tenable. He dismisses the criticism that Article 370 was to exist in perpetuity with a remark, which isn’t backed by evidence, “It is hard to believe that [Jawaharlal] Nehru intended Article 370 to be some kind of a blank cheque with no expiry date.”
Kumar echoes the Sangh Parivar’s argument why the government did not need to ascertain the will of Kashmiris before taking the August 5 decision. It was, after all, endorsed by Parliament and, therefore, represented the country’s democratic will. “Should the purported wishes of the Valley somehow override the wishes of the people of India? And the wishes of the people of Jammu and Ladakh? This is an extraordinary claim of democratic entitlement,” declares Kumar with fervour.
His argument is classic majoritarianism. Though Kumar doesn’t state it explicitly, yet the inherent logic of his argument is that it was irrelevant to consult Kashmiris as they constitute a fraction of the country’s population and could not have altered the democratic will, given the majority the BJP enjoys in the Lok Sabha. Tomorrow then, the BJP could very well cite the democratic will to impose Hindi on non-Hindi speaking States. Will that be acceptable to Kumar?
The IPS officer also justifies the lockdown in the Valley: “Trying to pre-empt large-scale violence is not immoral, rather, it is the duty of a responsible government.” This is indeed true, with a caveat though. When the government’s own actions, which are sheathed in debatable morality, become the trigger for unrest, can a lockdown to prevent violence be deemed moral?
Kumar points to Eid, Friday prayers and Independence Day celebrations passing off peacefully to underscore the sagacity of the lockdown. When the entire Valley is barred from coming out, Kumar is only bearing out right what poet Agha Shahid Ali said, “You make a desolation and call it peace.”
Kumar’s most recent piece, For uniformed forces, the last five weeks in the Valley have been a great test of commitment, capability, was published on September 1. He castigates the foreign media outlets for spreading fake news about the security forces’ misconduct or exaggerating accounts of protests.
Kumar bristles, “Since 1989, they have consistently ignored atrocities committed by militants in Kashmir and portrayed the situation primarily in terms of human rights violations by the Indian state. For this constituency, acts of terror are not a human rights violation.”
Kumar’s argument is conceptually flawed – the rights of individuals are enshrined in the Constitution to protect its encroachment by the state. When these rights are violated by non-state actors, their actions are deemed criminal for which the state is supposed to make them account. Deliberately confusing concepts is the Sangh’s hallmark to tar its critics.
In his enthusiasm to justify the August 5 decision, Kumar entangles himself in contradictions. For instance, he writes, “Post-relaxation of curbs, the government’s priorities will be development and employment generation, something jihad and azadi had little spaces for.”
In his July 5 piece, however, he furnished incontrovertible evidence of Kashmir’s prosperity – the traffic jams, the frenetic construction activity, and double-storey houses – and declared, “Whatever is driving the militancy in Kashmir, it is certainly not economic deprivation.” Guess, between July and September, Kumar altered his analysis to ensure it is in sync with the government’s position.
Kumar invokes the idea of India as a secular, pluralistic society to justify the stance he takes on Kashmir. Yet he fails to comprehend, or does not wish to accept, that the process of assimilation and demographic change negate cultural pluralism. This is why he sounds like a Sangh partisan, a politically committed bureaucrat. It will be good for bureaucracy, India and Kashmir if Abhinav Kumar refrains from articulating his views on government policies, not least because he won’t be allowed to oppose them in his writings.
Ajaz Ashraf is a freelance journalist in Delhi. Views are personal.