by Shahid Alam (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 45, No. 8, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1437)
Narendra Modi loves publicity but aware that he may face tough questions about Kashmir that he would not be able answer, he decided to stay at home.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is obsessed with hogging publicity. He loves to rub shoulders with the high and mighty. To be seen shaking hands and photographed with the likes of US President Barack Obama or UN Secretary General Ban Ki moon he believes would enhance his stature in the eyes of his people. To be important is very important in caste-ridden India.
Modi is a low-caste Hindu (he is not a Brahmin, the top tier of the caste pyramid) and thus does not cut it on the caste totem pole in class-conscious India. He has to make up for his low caste status by other means.
So why did he miss this year’s opening of the UN General Assembly session that all leaders love to attend because it provides them free publicity on the international stage? Instead, he sent Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj to the UN. The answer in one word is: Kashmir, the part under Indian occupation. Indian politicians and media outlets have gone hoarse trying to put the blame for the latest uprising on Pakistan, but few are buying into this canard. Even if the suffering of the Kashmiri people has not received the attention it deserves from the Western media and governments for economic reasons, the fact is they know India is brutalizing the Kashmiris.
After all, the latest uprising erupted in the immediate aftermath of the brutal killing of Burhan Wani, the young charismatic Kashmiri freedom fighter who was gunned down by Indian occupation forces on the night of July 8. Two of his colleagues were also murdered in the Indian attack. Next day, more than 200,000 poured into the streets for his funeral in defiance of the curfew the Indian occupation forces had imposed. Since then, more than 100 Kashmiris have been murdered and at least 10,000 injured.
Had Modi come to the UN, he would have had to face questions about Indian brutalities in Kashmir. Modi and indeed successive Indian governments before have tried to peddle the lie that Kashmir is an “internal” matter. Few are willing to buy this line. After all, the Kashmiris have shown with their feet and cries that they want azadi (freedom) from the brutal Indian occupation. And Pakistan has a vital stake in this. Despite not giving much coverage to the Kashmiri cause, the world knows its reality.
Even the attack on the Uri military camp in Southern Kashmir on September 18 cannot distract from the fact that horrific crimes are being perpetrated against the Kashmiris. Modi is not very articulate; in fact, he cannot speak English properly. One need not hold this against him but to cut a sorry figure when confronted by tough questions is what bothers him and his handlers. This became painfully obvious on his visit to Britain soon after he was elected prime minister in 2014.
At a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron in London, Modi was unable to respond to most of the questions posed by the British journalists. Cameron had to rescue him from further embarrassment by ending the press conference quickly. Modi’s pathetic performance in London raised a storm of protest in India where commentators blasted his handlers for not briefing him properly.
The questions raised in London had related to his role in the slaughter of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 when Modi was chief minister of the state. More than 1,000 Muslims were murdered, many hacked to death in their homes. Muslim women were raped and then bayoneted to death. Even pregnant women were not spared. Had he come to New York for the UN session, it is almost certain that he would have faced even tougher questions over Kashmir. There is a strong Kashmiri diaspora in the US that has managed to mobilize some public support including placing opinion pieces in the New York Times about Kashmir.
Perhaps Modi thought discretion was the better part of valor. After all, being embarrassed in front of the world’s media to be seen on television back home would hardly have enhanced his stature. But if he thought skipping New York and missing the opportunity to be seen in the company of important world leaders would somehow save his thick hide, he had better think again. Kashmir is not going away; the people of Kashmir are not giving up and no matter how much Modi may try to smear Pakistan from every dung heap in India, the world knows the grim reality of what is underway in Kashmir. It is Indian troops that are killing Kashmir’s stone throwing youth; Pakistan has little or no role in this.
Modi even tried to interject Balochistan into the issue by trying to equate it with Kashmir. And he has insisted that Kashmir is an “integral” part of India. Nobody has bought this self-serving nonsense, not even the US that wants to cultivate close ties with India for two principal reasons: one, because it is seen as a huge market for Western goods, and two, the US wants to use India against China.
Regarding Balochistan, the US State Department spokesman John Kirby said Washington supported Pakistan’s territorial integrity. And on Kashmir, he urged both India and Pakistan to resolve it through dialogue, again, pouring cold water over Indian claims of its being an “integral” part. “What we have said — nothing is changed about our view that we want to see India and Pakistan work this out bilaterally,” said Kirby.
And then there was the statement from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra‘d al-Hussein who declared that an international probe into the killings in Kashmir was imperative now. Speaking at the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva on September 13, al-Hussein said that he had received a letter from the Government of Pakistan on September 9 formally inviting a team from his office to visit Azad Kashmir. He added, however, that Pakistan wanted this only in tandem with a mission to the Indian side. The Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman, Nafees Zakaria had stated that while the UN mission was welcome to visit Azad Kashmir, the killings were taking place in Indian-occupied Kashmir. That is where the UN mission needed to focus its attention.
“I have yet to receive a formal letter from the government of India. I therefore request here and publicly, from the two governments, access that is unconditional to both sides of the Line of Control,” the UN rights chief al-Hussein said in Geneva. Amnesty International has similarly asked India to let its representatives visit the valley to assess the situation. Instead, minions of the Modi regime lodged sedition charges against the rights group in an Indian court. So much for the largest democracy in the world!
The question that must be asked is: what is next? Pakistan has repeatedly called for meaningful dialogue over Kashmir, an offer India has dismissed. India under Modi is painting itself into a corner. If 70 years of brutality has not dampened the spirit of the Kashmiri people, why should India succeed now, especially when a new generation of Kashmiri youth has emerged that has known nothing but occupation. This generation has lost the fear of the gun-toting soldiers. It is amazing to see young boys throwing stones at heavily armed soldiers, knowing full well that they could be shot and killed, as many have.
Each killing has intensified their hatred of the occupiers and strengthened their resolve to continue the struggle. Such determination cannot be defeated. After all, it is not the gun but the man behind the gun that determines the outcome of any struggle. It is revealing that the police and other paramilitary forces have abandoned much of southern Kashmir. Further, some 40,000 Indian troops have fled their posts for fear of getting killed. Even senior military officers have expressed concern that India’s current policy is not sustainable. There is a new dynamic at play in Kashmir today.
While the Kashmiris will not get their desire for a referendum fulfilled in the immediate future, given the manner in which they have sustained their struggle and the courage they have displayed are truly remarkable developments. These will sustain them in the long run. Even many pro-Indian Kashmiri politicians have realized that the tide is turning. On September 15, Tariq Hameed Kara of the People’s Democratic Party in Kashmir resigned his seat in the Indian parliament in protest over the oppression and killing of Kashmiris. He follows Iftikhar Misgar of the National Conference who had resigned earlier over the killings.