State of Play

Kashmir: It’s Been a Month

Human beings probably best reveal themselves in how they regard fellow humans. In pronouncing upon the other, by word or by deed, they often pronounce upon themselves. A fortnight before I watched the lockdown shroud descend on Kashmir on the night of August 4-5, I happened to be crossing the Valley on another assignment — a remembrance, part personal, of 20 years since the war over Kargil.

The Amarnath Yatra was in bustle, protected convoys were whistling up and down the road from Srinagar to Baltal, the preferred base camp to the holy cave. For a while, I journeyed lodged in the belly of one such column; the road is narrow and often only permits single-file traffic. An hour out north of Srinagar, between Ganderbal and Wayil, the pilgrim carriers came to a halt. It was a hamlet called Nunner. Habitation hugged the road close on either side; in a recess stood a copse-like opening shaded over by robust summer foliage; some village folk hung about outdoors, mostly idling. Presently, men began to leap off their buses, as if to a common trigger, and lined up along the wayside.

They dropped their pyjamas and trousers — those wearing shorts were swifter on the draw — and began to relieve themselves on the village walls, someone’s home, someone’s shopfront, someone’s little lumber depot. Some among the impromptu party chortled, their delight not entirely on account of the unburdening of bladders; their delight, clearly, also a sensation of achievement. Others wiggled their pelvises and scored abstract patterns with their discharge. Yet others called out to mates to participate in the collective and wanton violation; many declined, but some were willing.

No native of Nunner motioned them off their property, much less utter a word in reproach. The pilgrims had the company of armed jawans, in buses fore and aft. This was a secure desecration. I should state I tried to reason with their wrongdoing and suggested a more open space, just a little down the road, near Wayil perhaps, where Sindh nullah flows. I was shown a middle finger by one who wasn’t yet done fastening his drawstring. Another said, as if to spit on me: “Tuu bhi inhi mein se hai kya? (Are you also one of them?)”

The Indian male is notoriously unmindful and indiscreet about letting off pressure below his belly-button, but this was no lone-ranger act of furtive opportunism. This was a mindful, methodical dose of abuse, of which I was only a collateral recipient. That man had the bully’s post-barbarism cheer to his tone. Nunner — or Nunner by any other name — was always going to be their chosen place for defilement; there was, to the whole passing spectacle, a retributive triumphalism — here, this is what we will do to you, take it.

Nunner’s scars were already beginning to evaporate as the buses departed; the pilgrims had revealed a few indelible things about themselves.

Our book of revelations has proceeded infamously apace since that brag, brazenly made, in the summer of 2014 by one of our elected eminences — it can now be said that it is possible to have a majority government in this country without the support of… (read India’s largest religious minority; also read Majoritarianism). What did that reveal to us of the dispensation that governs us?

What do we reveal of ourselves when we ascend the high pulpit and brandish the rhetoric of paanch-pachees and shamshan-kabristan? What do we reveal of ourselves when we motion compatriots to banishment in Pakistan? What do we reveal of ourselves when we slaughter a youngster for the headgear he sports? What do we reveal of ourselves when we lynch because someone reads another book, follows another faith, eats another meal? What do we reveal of ourselves when we make a celebration of that lynching? What do we reveal of ourselves when we endorse the devilish marauders of a little girl? What do we reveal of ourselves when we make common cause to obstruct justice for the parents of that little girl? What do we reveal of ourselves when we cheer the assassin of the man we still call the Father of the Indian Nation? What do we reveal of ourselves when we collaborate to deliver landslide mandates to each and all of such unabashed purveyors of bigotry? What do we reveal of ourselves in turning lusty champions of hatred? What have we revealed of ourselves in Kashmir?

We have revealed that we can weaponize the prejudices of the party that profaned Nunner. We have revealed, too, that we can do to a whole people what Major Leetul Gogoi did to that young shawl-weaver called Farooq Dar. Only, Dar was far more fortunate. He was trussed up with ropes and was sent on one round astride the bonnet of an army jeep. Kashmir is trussed up in concertina wires, and it has been a month. Kashmir has not been allowed to speak, and it has been a month. Kashmir has not been allowed its say, and it has been a month. Kashmir is no longer Kashmir, and it has been a month. It was stripped and demoted through the mechanics of a diabolical subterfuge, and it has been a month. Kashmir’s supreme will came to reside in a governor who, until the dawn of the night of long knives, was professing he knew nothing of what the fuss was all about, and it has been a month. Kashmiris pronounced that will, through their governor, with their voices muzzled and often interned, their conversations abrogated, their movement frozen, their neighbourhoods sealed, their aspirations and anger tear-gassed, their protests pelleted, their prayers quartered. They make the biggest jailhouse of this democracy, nearly eight million inmates. It has been a month. It’s a patent lie that Kashmir is normal; to label reports of a populace seething and stifled propaganda is the most pernicious propaganda.

Kashmir is a hard and complicated place, no less because it also lies infiltrated and instigated by rogue instruments across the cantankerous fence. It is also a rending place because its soul was inconsolably cauterized by the gun-point hounding out of Kashmiri Pandits in 1989-90. Governments can be hard and complicated and rending in their ways too.

Our governments have been no exception; they’ve been serially hard on our people. In the Northeast, in Punjab, in West Bengal, in the troubled jungle geographies of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and Jharkhand, all across this sovereignty during the Emergency. In the “defence of the realm”, governments have employed unspeakable excesses. But seldom has the celebration of such excesses been so wide and so untrammelled and unashamed. Let Kashmiris cry. Lock them up, starve them, be done with them, we care that they should be dealt with, now or never. Let them suffer. Let them be maimed. Let them die. It’s all well and just if Kashmir can be vacated of the Kashmiris who inhabit Kashmir. Kashmir is the paradise of our lusting, Kashmiris are the parasites that need extinguishing to make way for us. It’s what we have revealed of ourselves, one human to another, this past month. You must brush your teeth before you smell the coffee each morning; one morning, look yourself up in the mirror. It’s been a month, a fair time to reveal yourself to yourself.

State of Play

An unchallenged overlordship has come to reign, even within the government

For the thief in watchman’s clothing All eyes out, O you people, ho! On your vigil be unstinting What do they say_ Yes, Jaagte Raho! (4).png

A low shot should no longer be a thing of surprise or unease; applause for a low shot should be. Ravichandran Ashwin has been justly knocked for his unfortunate choice of manner to send Jos Buttler off the field. But then that’s cricket. What’s at play for the trophy of 2019 patently isn’t. So when the prime minister, Narendra Modi, makes a cheap crack, such as the shoddy and desperately conjured “sarab” (when, in fact, he was meaning sharaab) acronym for the challenger alliance of the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Lok Dal and the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh, it becomes occasion for applause and admiration. Or, when he twisted a student’s question on dyslexia to poke fun at Rahul Gandhi, he drew unseemly peals of laughter. Or, when his tandem mate and Bharatiya Janata Party president, Amit Shah, describes the Opposition as a collective of rodents, reptiles, insects and sundry other species other than human, it passes as if a just standard of political discourse had been set. Continue reading “An unchallenged overlordship has come to reign, even within the government”

2018, Column, State of Play, Telegraph Calcutta

A Splitting Headache

Kashmir is the campaign that New Delhi has lost in key places

 

Just a few hours before Sameer Bhat, better known as Sameer Tiger, a most wanted Hizbul Mujahideen commander, was killed in a gun battle in Drabgam in South Kashmir this week, he had pushed online a short video of a local youngster being interrogated by him on suspicion of being an informer. Towards the end of the clip, Sameer Tiger pronounces a warning on an army officer that he surely meant for a much larger audience: “(Major) Shukla ko kehna sher ne shikar karna kya chhora, tujhe laga jungle hamara hai? (Tell Major Shukla just because the tiger had stopped hunting, you thought the jungle was yours?)” Major Shukla would take a hit in pursuit of Sameer Tiger soon after, his assault party would hunt Sameer Tiger down, but Tiger’s dire dare rings on: it’s a vicious survivor’s skirmish, Kashmir, and it’s often tough to tell hunter from hunted, one day’s trophy chasers can become another day’s trophies. Continue reading “A Splitting Headache”

2018, Column, State of Play, Telegraph Calcutta

A Scorpion Curled

The threat to a free media in India is never far away

 

One of the appointed margdarshaks of the Narendra Modi dispensation, L.K. Advani, was, at one time, minister for information and broadcasting. He ascended the job writing copiously on the derangements of the Indira-Sanjay Emergency regime (1975-1977) and issuing a rap on the media that still resounds as reminder of what must not be repeated: “When the Press was asked to bend, it crawled.”

A lead act of the same dispensation, the finance minister, Arun Jaitley, himself a victim of Emergency-era excesses, seldom misses an opportunity to recall the menace and darkness of those 19 months, or to champion enshrined constitutional freedoms. In his Foreword to The Emergency, an essential memoir of the era by the journalist, Coomi Kapoor, Jaitley wrote: “Political developments during this period were all aimed in the direction of suppressing democracy and turning India into a totalitarian state. Fundamental rights under Articles 14, 19, 21 and 22 were suspended… The newspapers quickly began to toe the government line… The most alarming aspect of the Emergency, as this book so vividly narrates, was that Indira Gandhi managed to demonstrate how easy it was to misuse the Constitution and convert democracy into a constitutional dictatorship. In this journey, she seemed to have picked up some clues from Adolf Hitler…”

Continue reading “A Scorpion Curled”

2018, Column, State of Play, Telegraph Calcutta

The master of spin

Ripples of the Modi marketing tide have already begun to roll

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Those who noticed will already know that Graeme Smith, the former South Africa cricket captain, has flagged off the Narendra Modi campaign for 2019. For those that did not, here is how it happened. May 27, the first day of the last year of Modi’s term. A pulsating corner of the Wankhede arena, where the final game of the Indian Premier League was about to get under way. Smith stood kitted out in traditional regalia – rust kurta (Sunil Gavaskar would follow sporting saffron and oblige with his own pitch, but not yet), linen mantilla streaming down his neck to the knees, churidars and kolhapuris to boot. The pre-match show had warmed up just right when the big question was popped to Smith. It wasn’t who’d take the IPL trophy but what he thought of the “prime minister’s great fitness initiative” which had by then already been promoted to viral-grade. Off went Smith and his interlocutor from the screens, and all of the Wankhede green along with them, and in floated Modi in padmasana, hands folded – ” Mere pyare bhaiyon, behnon, deshwasiyon” and so on. By the time the clip ended and Smith came back on camera, he was shedding petals of adulation like a tree shaken in fall – great, stupendous, fantastic, so inspiring, I mean what can one say… The prime minister and his fitness footage would recur many times over that evening, many great cricketing trees would line up to be shaken, then fawn and foam with all manner of blandishment as contribution to a cunning work of propaganda. The closing fixture of IPL 2018 had become Modi’s opening gambit for the Indian premier league of 2019. Continue reading “The master of spin”

2018, Column, State of Play, Telegraph Calcutta

Shadowy Victimhood — Each of the attributes of Emergency Indira finds reflection in Narendra Modi

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Just a footnote, if you will, to the annual rite of fuming and frothing over the Emergency, now that it is beginning to ebb and settle: there were many more that suffered and refused to submit than those that each year parade the stage, brandishing medallions of victimhood and rekindling rage. The drumbeaters and town criers of the sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party would have you somehow believe by their sheer orchestration of decibels that the Emergency was an atrocity intentioned at their creed and leadership; the truth is it was an offensive against the Indian nation, and it was the Indian collective that eventually shook it off. Some of the most stirring and resonant opposition to Indira Gandhi’s 19-month tyranny came in fact from those that are no longer around to claim ownership of those voices, much less trumpet them.

Rashtrakavi Ramdhari Singh Dinkar and his laconic challenge that was to become a popular cry: Singhaasan khaali karo, ki janata aati hai (Vacate the throne, for here come the people). Dushyant Kumar and his cutting turn of verse: “Woh kehti hain humse cooperate keejiyechaaku ki pasliyon se guzaarish toh dekhiye (She says cooperate with me, such is the entreaty of the knife to the ribs)”. Nagarjun and his easy sarcasm: ” Induji Induji kya hua aapkosatta ki masti mein bhool gayeen baap ko (What happened to you Indu ji, just what; in your lust for power, you forgot your father)”.

Perhaps only a war could do what the Emergency also did – put together a coalition of diverse and disparate sets – socialists and communists, republicans and conservatives, writers, painters, journalists, students, teachers, rights activists, minorities and majoritarians – a multitude of the ordinary Indian who rallied in unprecedented ways and, when the opportunity arrived, effected a popular and peaceful putsch against the spell of dictatorship; only a few of them were votaries of the sangh or the Jana Sangh as the predecessor entity of the BJP was known. Yes, there were among the select victims such names as Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Lal Krishna Advani, Balasaheb Deoras, Subramanian Swamy, Narendra Modi and Arun Jaitley.

But there were others – many others -who were subjects of excesses and who fought back – Morarji Desai, George Fernandes, Charan Singh, Karpoori Thakur, Parkash Singh Badal, E.M.S. Namboodiripad and A.K. Gopalan, Devi Lal and Sharad Yadav, Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar, Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury. And, later, Jagjivan Ram and Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna. Among them was also a man called Chandra Shekhar, whose death anniversary falls this weekend. And they all rallied around the frail risen finger of an ageing warrior called Jayaprakash Narayan, or JP – Congressman, socialist, rebel.

But then, the sangh‘s appropriations committee is a hungry, though unthinking, beast; it will grab at anything within sight to feed its appetite for grandeur that it has never deserved with astounding far-fetchedness. It has tried, for instance, copy-pasting Bhagat Singh to its rather poorly gallery of icons – a professed left-wing atheist snatched away and planted as motif of the sectarian, majoritarian, exclusionist Right. Not very dissimilar is the sangh‘s effort to appropriate Emergency victimhood. Its Emergency record is, at best, chequered and, very often, dubious. Its leading lights wrote missives to the Indira regime pleading submission and often support; they begged out of jail pledging “good behaviour” and abstention from participation in any manner of politics. Some of that pusillanimity led Subramanian Swamy to remark once that the sangh‘s claims to Emergency valour were “ludicrous”.

It is essential to remember the Emergency – as something that should never be allowed to happen again, as something the citizenry should forever be vigilant against. It was an alarming decree by an insecure leader whose legitimacy to remain in office had been bluntly vacated. Indira Gandhi and her coterie of extra-constitutional factotums resorted to blatant abuse and subversion to not merely cling on to power but to chain, gag and torture the nation with them. Surely there would have been sneaking approval in sanghi quarters of some of Sanjay Gandhi’s roughneck tyrannies, especially his shotgun sterilization campaigns, his bulldozer run at Turkman Gate. And where, pray, are Sanjay Gandhi’s legatees today, Maneka and Varun Gandhi? In the BJP. A case can fairly be made that with all its reputed Hitler-love, the sangh would have been rather enamoured of the Emergency Indira – authoritarian, cultish, absolute, demanding deference to outlined purposes of the nation which were actually the purposes of her own hold over power – Indira is India, India is Indira. That, in fact, is a power profile that sits remarkably, and alarmingly, well on the Narendra Modi scheme. Each of the attributes of the Emergency Indira finds reflection in Modi whose essential manner is of a hectoring command creature that would brook nothing less than compliance, not merely from his party and government but at large. He seeks, just like Indira Gandhi during the Emergency, a “committed” bureaucracy and judiciary; his tableau of the faithful raucously and unabashedly conflates party, government and nation, and Modi’s own interest as the supreme national interest. If Indira was compared to Durga, Modi has famously and repeatedly been labelled avatar of god, not merely god’s gift to India but god incarnate.

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For all that sameness, though, we are not in an Emergency. No. At least not yet. If it helps perspective, here are a few things that did not happen during the Emergency.

Mobs didn’t tie up Dalits, they didn’t whip them and they didn’t film that whipping. A Hindu woman marrying a Muslim man was not called a victim of love jihad. She was not sought to be separated from her spouse. She was not asked why she has not changed her name, or why she should be granted a passport. Prime investigating agencies were not assigned to probe inter-faith marriages. Elected representatives did not issue sectarian calls to kill. They were not, then, celebrated for what they had done. Nobody was asked to go to Pakistan. Governors did not sit in Raj Bhavans and spend their time trying to excel at bigotry. Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin was not openly and defiantly propitiated. Maharana Pratap did not defeat Akbar in battle, and myth was not daily dished out as history. Journalists were jailed, yes, but later released; they were not shot at their doorstep. Nor were they routinely labelled presstitutes and anti-nationals. Mobs did not go chasing after cattle-traders and beat and lynch them. Mobs did not burst into someone’s home, sniffing at offence, following the scent of meat and killing the ‘offender’. Rumour was not a lynch mill. A young man was not tied to the front of a jeep and made a shoddy example of. Such atrocity was not thereafter officially commended. Senior ministers of government were not subjected to a hail of abusive trolling and threatening. They were not left to fend for themselves. They did not have to feel that the hounding was an insider job, that the hounds were at work under proactive encouragement from the master.

All of this, and worse, are happening now. Lest we forget.

TT Link

2018, Column, State of Play, Telegraph Calcutta

A puppet in torment

Shakespearean tragedy has a canny kinship with Kashmir

When you’ve decided to dig in, it might be advisable to ensure you don’t burrow so deep that scrambling out is no longer an option. The Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, is darting, helplessly but consciously, towards making a political grave of her power dugout. Her serial capitulations to the provincial shenanigans and the national worldview of her chosen partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party, are as astonishing as they are unsurprising.

Unsurprising because a dark, and yet unstated though frightfully abject, compromise was written into her decision to fall in step with the BJP after prolonged prevarication. Astonishing because no Kashmiri chief minister in living memory has been so sublime in submitting to routine rebuff and remonstration at the hands of an ally – the kind of heckling and humiliation that cannot be going down terribly well with the constituency she so painstakingly built over the years.

The latest of many snubs that Mehbooba has taken is her government’s declaration, doubtless extracted by some backroom arm-twisting, to the Supreme Court that Major Aditya Kumar of the 10th Garhwal Rifles was not named in an FIR by her police as one of those responsible for opening fire on a mob near Shopian that resulted in the deaths of two civilians in late January. If this isn’t a patent lie, it most certainly is a deferent volte-face few will fail to notice, not least her unquiet south Kashmiri citizenry. Mehbooba’s police and her party – the Peoples Democratic Party – had openly rowed with the army over the incident; Major Kumar’s father, himself a serving army officer, had gone to the Supreme Court protesting that his son was sought to be unfairly prosecuted. But Mehbooba sounded firm about addressing the killings, “Anguished over the tragic loss of lives in Shopian,” she had tweeted soon after the incident, “… have ordered a magisterial probe into the unfortunate incident and asked the enquiry to be completed within 20 days… We will take the probe to its logical conclusion. Justice and peace are two sides of the same coin.” Her counsel’s submission to the Supreme Court on Monday – my lords we have not named a Major Aditya Kumar – clarified to us yet again that Mehbooba is allowed neither magistracy over a probe she’s ordered nor her promised logical conclusions.

Continue reading “A puppet in torment”