While India has remained ruthless and incessant in perusing her policy on Occupied Kashmir, international opinion has gradually turned against her. Indian domestic opinion has remained divided and partite. The contrast is clearly visible between the Godi(Saffron) media outlets and liberal voices. The Godi media dominated by RSS ideologues and their vociferous cabal got encouraged after BJP’s astounding victory that swept away the Cow Belt and its periphery, and has assumed the role of agent of Hindutva agenda. This cabal includes opinion makers, academicians, retired bureaucrats and military officers, corporate big wigs, political leaders and even stars of Bollywood. The RSS orchestra is poisonous and loud and operates 24/7 to inject its divisive docket to keep the masses bewildered and dumbfounded.
The Post truth environment in India has added fuel to fire and the ensuing tribalism has converted a semi secular public into frenzied Cow vigilantes and lynch mobs. Unfortunately the liberal voices have been snubbed and cornered and any one disagreeing with the RSS policy is labelled as anti- India and Pakistani stooge.
However; the liberals are trying to stem the tide of insanity and absurdity through an intellectual discourse and keep reminding the RSS cabal that India has to change course, before it slides down into Olduvai Gorge of hate and anathema.
One such liberal flag bearer and activist is Yogendra Yadav, who despite threats and intimidation by RSS goons has stood his ground. His recent article with the title “Public opinion in Kashmir has now been pushed away from India’ was published by the Print on 20 November.
This article is a personal reflection of his interaction with common Kashmiris against the backdrop of abrogation of article 370 and 35A and the 110 days long lock down by Indian establishment. We have tried to paraphrase and annotate gist of his article so that the reflections of an Indian with conscience is truly presented to the readers.
One of the young Kashmiris who met Yogendra Yadav during his short visit to Occupied Kashmir described abrogation of article 370 as Afsos mithai and said, “For us Kashmiris, Article 370 was like afsos mithai. Lovely appearance, but you regret (afsos) as soon as you find out how little it contains.”
Yadav was in Kashmir for three days, mainly to listen to apple-growers and to assess the damage to their crops. But Kashmiris won’t limit themselves to discussing apples. Not after 5 August this year.
Using afsos mithai as a metaphor for Article 370 does not mean that ordinary Kashmiris don’t mind its de-facto nullification or that Kashmiris love the post-370 “integration”. Quite the contrary,Yadav did not come across even one coherent voice that supported the central government’s move. He asked a group of friends if they knew of any Kashmiri living in the Valley who supported the new policy. Pat came the reply, “Koi gadha bhi support nahin karega (Not even a donkey supports this policy)”.
Modi and Amit Shah came up with the idea of ‘growth and integration’, when defending abrogation of aticles 370 and 35A; Yogendra Yadav did not find any taker for the official rationale that nullification of Article 370 was the harbinger of development in Jammu and Kashmir. The business community feels that there is no scope for development, the shutdown of internet and business has forced them to pay salaries to their employees and interest to banks, loan recoveries are going on. They are not even consulted on part of any conversation about the economy and don’t see the economy growing in the next 20 years.
Far from achieving a closer bond, it has resulted in a deeper, perhaps unbridgeable, emotional chasm. The entire spectrum of public opinion in the Kashmir Valley has been pushed away from India towards Pakistan, from politics of moderation to support for separatism, from Kashmiri identity to stronger Islamic identity. Far from furthering national integration, the new Kashmir doctrine may have caused irreparable damage to India’s national interests.
Yadav also feels that the Middle ground has disappeared; earlier the public opinion within the Valley ranged between moderates and separatists. Mainstream politicians from the Abdullah family occupied the moderate end that was pro-India. Mehbooba Mufti stood to their right, occasionally airing resentment against the Indian state, but well short of separatism. On the right extreme was the Hurriyat with its pro-Azadi and pro-Pakistan stance.
The most visible effect of 5 August in the Valley is that the spectrum of opinion represented by Abdullahs and Muftis has been wiped out. Anyone who sets up a relationship with Delhi – someone who contested and won BDC elections, for example – earns the title of a ‘stooge’. Almost overnight, the middle ground – neither separatist nor assimilationist – has disappeared.
There is also a wider discussion of contrast between Amit Shah and Imran Khan. Kashmiris don’t talk much about Narendra Modi now. Amit Shah is the new face of the Indian state. For many young Kashmiris, the equation is Amit Shah versus Imran Khan. In this face-off, the Pakistani PM has gained in popularity. The video of his UN General Assembly speech with extensive references to Hindutva and Kashmir has gone viral among young Kashmiris. Since there is no internet, it is spreading through pen-drives and Bluetooth.
This pain has brought the Kashmiri Muslims close to Muslims in the rest of India for the first time. Earlier, their relationship was marked by mutual ignorance, indifference and even contempt. But now the Kashmiri Muslims believe that they are being persecuted not just because they are Kashmiris, but also because they are Muslims.
Common Kashmiris feel that 5 August has shattered the myth of India’s liberal democracy. No one cares about 370 or 35A anymore. Now the narrative has shifted from Azadi to Pakistan.”
Yogendra Yadav concludes that Kashmiri mind is ticking away furiously. What could be the outcome, he asked a Kashmiri friend, the answer was sharp, “When there is a death in the family and someone close does not cry, that is a sign of deeper trouble. That is Kashmir after 5th August. This silence spells doom, wait till the end of the winter”.
From the limited reports posted by international media outlets working under restrictions in Occupied Kashmir and some Indians with conscience, we feel that Indian oppression of Kashmiris cannot go on forever, the powder keg is simmering and it’s a matter of time when it will explode with a big bang.
The authors are freelance journalists.