Prime Minister Narendra Modi will not be touching on the Kashmir issue when he addresses the UN General Assembly later this week, no matter how scathing his Pakistan counterpart may get. As India’s representative at the UN put it, the lower they stoop, the higher we soar. Mr Modi will be statesmanlike, not unlike his predecessors. He will refer only to the larger questions of international life. Presumably, if Pakistan’s fire has to be returned, it will be done by officials lower down the administrative rungs as India exercises the right of reply.
Heads we win, tails you lose, is the plan. The strategy seems perfect — except that the ordinary people of Kashmir will have few genuine spokesmen at the world forum, not counting Pakistan, which may be expected to shed crocodile tears for effect.
The PM has set the stage for the action. He received a delegation of the Kashmiri Pandit community in Houston on Sunday hours before the scheduled “Howdy Modi” event, choreographed with meticulous care — as other diaspora programmes have been — by Sangh Parivar outfits overseas.
The Pandits, settled in America, made the predictable pitch for the return of the Hindu community to the Valley, as though they are raring to go, sacrificing their hearths and homes and comfortable positions in the US.
The PM has not met any Kashmiri Muslims and perhaps does not plan to. The watershed announcements of August 5 were, after all, intended — above all — to impress upon the majority community in the country that there is at last a government that means business. Decoded, roughly, that means cracking down hard on the people in the Valley, to teach them a lesson as it were, presumably for being anti-national or insufficiently patriotic.
Thus, nearly 50 days on, the clampdown continues. Some 4,000 small and big politicians, professionals, traders, or just stray individuals, are in jail, with some having been sent to prisons in other states. In the J&K high court, 253 writs of habeas corpus have been filed. No one quite knows when those will be heard. The other day, the Chief Justice of India announced his intention to visit the high court, if need be. But his enthusiasm has waned. He has accepted the assurance of the HC that all is well.
However, the human rights of ordinary people remain abridged. They remain confined to their homes, unable to communicate with the outside world. Torture has been whispered and is hard to verify. Back-alley shops, dispensing daily necessities, open and shut quickly in the mornings. The main bazars remain closed, though the government now would like shops to open so that a sense of normality may be conveyed to the world.
It’s a piquant situation. First the state wanted the shops shut so that the security forces could take position unhindered. Now the state is desperate to project normality but extremists have warned people to stay indoors so as to deny the government that satisfaction, and they are being listened to. Is the UN listening? The rest of India isn’t.