It hasn't been difficult for New Delhi to toss back the barbs from Pakistan and China over Kashmir, where there has been a communications blackout since August 5. These are not nationsthat have distinguished themselves for their human rights record. But the United States is an entirely different matter.
The Narendra Modi government has been trying to cultivate it as an all-weather friend, especially after Prime Minister Narendra Modi held aloft President Donald Trump's hand at the “Howdy, Modi!” event last month. The message to America is that India would buy weapons from it, let US goods enter the Indian market on better terms, and give US investment a red-carpet welcome. The strenuous Indian effort was also a part of the search for locating a strategic ballast in the face of a harrumphing China.
But policymaking in America is a many-splendoured thing. The US can do business with anyone. China and Pakistan too have been objects of its affection. But the country's political system can ask questions regarding democracy and human rights in order to keep an ally in check, and to keep the record straight. Indeed, it made its feelings on Kashmir known in no uncertain terms.
While the Modi government has stiffly argued worldwide that the subject of J&K is “internal” to India and foreign inquisitiveness is not appreciated, US senators and members of the House of Representatives appear far from impressed.
Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, both in the running for the Democratic ticket in the 2020 presidential election, have demanded that the rights of Kashmiris be respected and restored. The US House Foreign Affairs Committee, at its hearings on human rights in South Asia, has spoken of the “devastating impact” of the communications blackout on the lives of people, and said Kashmir’s people must get the same rights as other Indian citizens. The US Senate has also flagged “the current humanitarian crisis” in Kashmir.
Recent announcements from the J&K governor’s office suggest New Delhi is keen not to fall foul of the Americans. Tourists and religious pilgrims (Amarnath yatris) had been made to leave Kashmir in a hurry before the crackdown, but earlier this week the government decided to invite tourists back. In light of the discouraging reports emerging from Kashmir, it is unclear if tourists would flock to Srinagar, but the government seems to be doing what it can to give the impression of normality. It should thus cause no surprise if mobile telephony is restored very soon.
Three low-level political workers, among the hundreds detained under the dreaded Public Safety Act, have been released. Even if they appear to be a sham, the block development council elections were announced, even if the BJP may be the only party taking part. The thousands of people who have been jailed must be freed unconditionally if the government beckons even a modicum of normality.