Guardian, Friday January 11, 2002
India turned Kashmir into the bitter place it is now
BJP Hindu nationalism has made the conflict more dangerous
When sections of the Kashmiri crowd booed the Indian side and waved flags similar to the Pakistani flag at a match between India and the West Indies in Srinagar in 1983, the reaction in government circles in Delhi was fury. The Kashmiris, or, rather, the Kashmiri government, by not preventing the outrage, had failed the sub-continental version of the cricket test. Not many months afterwards, after underhand manoeuvres, the then Kashmiri chief minister, Farooq Abdullah, was toppled.
Recounting the story in his book on Kashmir, the distinguished Indian journalist MJ Akbar notes that there was at that time no serious Pakistani-supported subversion in Kashmir. Instead, there was an established pattern of Indian subversion of Kashmiri institutions and leaders. From the beginning, the Indians could not bring themselves to leave well enough alone in a state that had acceded to the Indian union - even in the Indian version of events - on the basis of a document which gave its government full powers except in foreign, defence and fiscal policy.
The story of Indian-held Kashmir had, from 1948, been of efforts to wear down and abolish the Kashmiri difference. There were periods when saner policies prevailed. But usually New Delhi wanted a crude mastery in Kashmir and it wanted Kashmiri leaders, notably Sheikh Abdullah and his son Farooq, to be utterly compliant allies. In this, it ignored the fact that any successful Kashmiri leader had to reflect to some extent the ambivalent feelings of part of the Muslim majority toward the Indian connection. It undermined and detained leaders when they failed to be as loyal as expected, and replaced them with worse men. Mrs Gandhi wanted Farooq out because he would not go along with what amounted to a merger of Kashmir's main party with Congress. The cricket incident was a useful tool in the campaign to unseat him.
Rajiv Gandhi reinstated Farooq in 1987 but the rigged elections of that year reduced belief in the political dispensation in Kashmir, Islamic parties gained ground, the ranks of unemployed youth increased, and significant armed actions happened. New Delhi's reaction was to send in disastrously hard-line administrators. One of them famously said: "The bullet is the only solution for Kashmir." In the resulting campaign, with its reprisals, rapes, and killing of innocents, the insurgents were damaged, but the population of the Vale was comprehensively alienated.
The consequence was that, as Victoria Schofield writes: "No political leader prepared to voice the demands of Kashmiri activists and militants would be acceptable to Delhi; any leader of whom Delhi approved would be rejected by the militants." In her careful and even-handed account she shows how the first phase of this deterioration preceded serious Pakistani intervention. Once it was under way, Pakistan certainly seized on the opportunity it saw, in both Afghanistan and Kashmir, to follow a forward strategy which would supposedly enable it to counterbalance India's much greater strength.
But it was New Delhi which bore most responsibility for the dismal situation in Kashmir - first for the years in which normal politics in the state slipped into decline, and then for a counter-insurgency effort, which lacked the scrupulous care which alone brings a chance of true success in such campaigns. Indian governments later tried to repair the damage done in the early 1990s, even as Pakistani-supported subversion of a more Islamist character continued, with Afghan and foreign militants added to the mix.
But the Bharatiya Janata party's arrival in government brought new and dangerous uncertainties, something now often overlooked by an outside world inclined to see an end to Pakistani-supported cross-border terrorism as a dependable step toward a Kashmir solution.
That is to forget that the BJP is not a normal political party, but the parliamentary wing of a Hindu nationalist movement that has already succeeded in radically changing Indian political culture for the worse. This is a party whose position on Kashmir has been not just that there can be no talks with Pakistan until cross-border terrorism ends, but that there can be no talks until Pakistan has handed over to India the part of Kashmir which it holds. This is the party dedicated to the proposition that Kashmir's autonomous status, so often violated in practice, should be officially abolished. This is the party intent on getting rid of the separate civil code for Muslims.
It is true that Atal Behari Vajpayee, the BJP leader, has postponed or temporarily amended such BJP objectives in the interests of building the coalitions at which he is so adept. Many say that Vajpayee possesses a particularly gentle and winning personality. He has made an ally of Farooq Abdullah, and he has met Pakistani leaders twice as prime minister. He has almost certainly explored, in behind-scenes diplomatic meetings with Americans and others, prospects for a settlement of the Indo-Pakistani conflict.
Against this has to be laid the fact that BJP's accession to power has made that conflict much more dangerous. This is the party that, enjoying the direct support of only a fifth of the voters, tested and deployed nuclear weapons, provoking Pakistan into acquiring nuclear weapons too. Some of its members have openly spoken of using those weapons against Pakistan in the event of a war over Kashmir, and some have called for the invasion and occupation of Pakistani-held Kashmir.
Nowhere else in the world, as the leftwing analyst and journalist Aijaz Ahmad says, have nuclear threats been so lightly thrown around.
This may be only foolish rhetoric. What is undeniable is that the BJP has changed the agenda of Indian politics, resulting in a situation in which the opposition often competes with the BJP in patriotic and anti-Pakistani statements, rather than providing a needed corrective. The way in which it has become generally accepted that India is a Hindu country with non-Hindu minorities, rather than a secular state of many faiths, is another example of the BJP effect. For a while there was an unhappy symmetry, with Pakistan and India veering toward their own forms of fundamentalism.
Aijaz Ahmad suggests that it is worth remembering, as the outside world takes a new interest in the sub-continent's problems, that it is Parvez Musharraf of Pakistan who broke that pattern. At least let it be understood that India bears more ultimate responsibility for the Kashmir troubles than Pakistan, and that the confrontation between India and Pakistan would be a far less dangerous thing had it not been for the BJP's communal thrust at home and its attempt to turn India into a nuclear great power abroad.
Hindu Fundamentalism Index