Is India fast turning its creative paradoxes into destructive contradictions? A look across our landscape fills one with fear that this may exactly be what is happening to the most wonderful experiment on earth in human diversity. In political terms, that diversity translates into a secular democracy and to be sure, for all technical, legal and constitutional purposes, we remain a strong secular democracy. But are we? The answer to this question is no longer easy. There was a time among the worst of times — like 1984 for example – when the country fell into a communal cauldron only to recover its sanity soon. And that party that salvaged India’s reputation as a tolerant democracy was – hold your breath! — the BJP. The way this party defied Congress attempts to turn the country into a playground for dangerous “Hindu Backlash” in the penultimate decade of the 20th century stands in the dock today for doing a Congress on India in the second decade of the 21st century.
India, it seems, is no longer apologetic about being called a Hindu-majority nation. Voices among the Hindus themselves which have generally remained strong against such indigenous Talibanisation of the country are sounding weaker and weaker and the stridently aggressive Indian in colours of saffron appears to have grabbed the entire national stage. Nowhere is this Talibanisation more pronounced than in our approach to Kashmir. No one in this country has any doubts about the shared destiny of Kashmir and also there are no two opinions about where our national interests lie. But there is a huge difference in approach to the kind of Kashmir we want as an integral part of the country. And that because there is an equally huge difference about what truly constitutes India’s strength.
To look at how we continue to make a mess of our own causes, one must turn to the way we have been handling the critical issue of Kashmir. Let’s face a few uncomfortable facts about the state. Morally, Kashmir is already lost to India. Militarily, it’s never likely to be lost. Politically, a serious option has not even been exercised so far with any degree of honesty. We continue to call Kashmir an internal problem of India but no internal problem has ever solved the way we are trying to solve Kashmir. The problem with Kashmir is not what Pakistan wants it to be; a bigger problem is what we in India want India to be. Kashmir will only reflect our success or failure with our own experiments with our destiny. Our sole claim on Kashmir is that India is a secular country and does not subscribe to communal partititions. For that, India’s own secularism must look sufficiently healthy. Does it?
And Kashmir’s tragedy is that there is no morally upright party to the dispute there. There are those who speak their favourite versions of Kashmir. No one speaks of Kashmir saddled with its impossibilities. Do the Kashmiris seriously believe they can be happier in Pakistan or even alone – even provided that such situation can ever arise? Do they seriously think that an Azad Kashmir will be anything more than a pawn to be sold out by the greatest opportunist to the biggest buyer in a super-power game of chess? Only some in Pakistan still believe in selling a fake and illegitimate dream to Kashmiris in the Indian half that boundaries in the sub-continent can still be changed despite the region being so heavily nuclearised. Are Kashmiris on either side of the LoC willing to buy a dream in which Pakistan will ever risk a nuclear war with India to set Kashmiris free? The Pak establishment is more likely to use the nuclear option to quell rebellions in their own half, including the one covering Kashmir under their boots.
These are only some of the questions which Kashmiris don’t want to face, Pakistan doesn’t want them to and Indian stupidities don’t allow them to face. without being gained by Pakistan. If India have lost the plot morally, that is hardly a consolation to Pakistan because they have far too many Kashmirs of their own already in their backyard to deal with — and I am not even referring yet to what their romantic hypocrisy allows them to describe as Azad Kashmir . Little do those in the Pakistan government realize that if Kashmir were really Azad, no one would really need to address it with that name. Have you ever heard of Azad Pakistan or Azad Bharat or Azad Nepal. Those who are independent do not need or like these adjectives before their names. But of course, army generals do not need to lose sleep over such refinements.
And apart from their immoral need to call the mountains under their army boots as “Azad Kashmir”, Pakistan also have Kashmirs almost all over Pakistan — except perhaps in their half of Punjab. They have no clue to what they need to call Balochistan or Pakhtoonistan or Sind. In one sense or the other, these provinces are less of Pakistan than the Pakistan which identifies itself with West Punjab. Every Pak intellectual, every Pak soldier and now perhaps every Pakistani in the streets of Karachi, Islamabad or Lahore knows they lost East Pakistan precisely because it was not Punjab but Bengal — exactly as any Muslim who is not a Sunni is not a really a Muslim in Pakistan. The Punjabi pride west of the international border simply would not accept anyone from outside Punjab as an “equal Pakistani. Thus the East Pakistanis were trashed and humiliated as “those cheap and filthy Bangalis”. Its quite another matter now that those “filthy Bengalis” have suddenly arisen as more prosperous Bangla Deshi than they would ever have been allowed to become propseprous East Pakistani.
It is to the dubious glory of Pakistanis that they enthusiastically welcomed as “savoiur of the quom” the very orator whose stubborn ego had actually led to “quom’s” dismemberment in 1971 Its no secret to anyone anywhere that if only Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had allowed the popular mandate of the people of Pakistan to be implemented, East and West Pakistan would perhaps still be one country — minus Bhutto as its executive head. That honour would have gone to Mujib Ul Rehman, but then, Mujib would be the first non-Punjabi to be an elected ruler of the entire Pakistan.
And how did Pakistanis punish Bhutto for his intransigence that was the single biggest reason for the humiliation which that country suffered at the hands of the Indian army and political class? They chose him to preside over what remained of Pakistan. This is the only known instance in world history of someone being popular in a country which he had destroyed and actually torn asunder. It did not bother Bhutto’s conscience that the country he was being invited to preside over was the one whose body he had actually subjected to a bloody dismemberment.
The paradoxes that haunt India haunt Pakistan no less, and Kashmir even more. The paradox of Kashmir occupied by Pakistan is that it has to suffer the ultimate insult of being called ‘Azad’ by the very forces that enslave it: the Pakistani establishment. India at least has never heaped this insult on Kashmir on their side of the LoC. All this is true. Yet these are facts that are best remembered by Pakistanis and best forgotten by India. But what India must not forget are the lessons that these facts of history throw up.
I brought up Pakistan and the issue of Kashmir not for their own sake but only in so far as this discussion reflects on the health of our secular democracy. The other day, I posed a few questions on Facebook. Is the sane liberal Indian losing ground, yielding place to the angry fundamentalist of extreme right? And if so, what does it mean for the future of the spirit of democracy in India? Has “unity in diversity” lost its meaning even as mere slogan, giving way to “imposed uniformity, not diversity” as our national philosophy? And should these questions worry those who love the idea of India as symbol of richness of human diversity? If yes, what is the suggested response to the challenge?
The greatest irony today is that suddenly the country seems to have become too intolerant even to debate these questions. It is if the country has begun to regard its greatest strength — open-ness — as its greatest weakness. A solution to the Kashmir tangle rests on what happens not in Kashmir but outside — in the rest of India. And paradoxically again, for us in India, it is important to find a just and humane democratic solution to the Kashmir issue not for the sake of Kashmir problem itself, but to strengthen the moral argument in favour of the secular democratic experiment called India. In that regard, a solution to the Kashmir ulcer lies not merely in what we do in Kashmir but in what we do with the rest of our body politic.
I discuss Kashmir here only in so far as it reflects on all that India has rightly symbolised so far. Unfortunately, all that symbolism is being brought into question by a new creature — the angry Indian. An angry person is an insecure person, as we all know, there is nothing in India for any Indian to feel insecure about — except these new insecurities and the resultant anger itself.