I sometimes wonder whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi looks back at his university years. He claims to have an MA from Gujarat University and I sometimes wonder whether he thinks about the quality of education he received through distance learning. Listening to him speak about Kashmir and the Doklam situation, one wonders if he ponders about his use of concepts. It reminds me about something economist John Maynard Keynes had once said decades ago. Keynes, who had a legendary sense of the history of ideas, once remarked that dictators are often the last to understand that their tyrannical ideas belong to some long-forgotten philosopher. Keynes was hinting subtly that the threat to our constitutions may come from politicians peddling an outdated syllabus. Mr Modi seems to fit the Keynesian formula, as he was a product of the shakha and was a political science student in the 1970s. The shakha is a creature of 19th century imagination, that is imitative of Garibaldi and Mazzini, and our political science courses have been outdated for years. We are a country ruled by tyrants with outdated syllabus, who peddle old-fashioned ideas with disastrous consequences. One senses this in the way Mr Modi uses the idea of the nation state, security and development. It is almost as if the academic controversies of the past few decades did not exist.
One is particularly troubled over the manner in which he uses the word “security”. Security, in the Modi era, is a term perpetually in uniform. It is official and has been conscripted by the State, and made to stick to outdated definitions. It is used as an official stick to beat people who are not in line. Even worse, as a leading soldier pointed out, “it is more absorbed with retaining territory, rather than protecting people”. It does not protect so much as threaten civil society, invoking second-hand myths and third-grade history. The tragedy of Kashmir is tied to the way we use their lenses of security to view it. The idea of security in India, to use Union home minister Rajnath Singh’s words, has been more a symptom of “muscular politics” than an enabling idea of democracy. It is also obvious in the way he attacked Congress leader P. Chidambaram’s recent statement on Kashmir. Mr Chidambaram is no freshly-plucked politician. He has been India’s home minister. He has written about these issues in his newspaper columns. At a book release at the Nehru Museum, both he and former J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah confessed that if they had been under less pressure from the Army, the AFSPA would have been a distant entity today. These are thoughtful people and must be treated thoughtfully. Probably triggered by election fever, Mr Modi attacked Mr Chidamb-aram and the Congress for “shamelessly raising the voice of autonomy in Kash-mir”. His argument is interesting.
He does not speak of the violence in Kashmir but does a one-side accounting of martyrs in India, totally forgetting the brutality the Army has inflicted on Kashmir, and especially on women and children. Mr Modi claims the Con-gress can’t face the families of martyrs. He also accuses the Congress of speaking the language of the separatists, of advocating autonomy for Kashmir. Mr Modi’s conceptual distinctions, if he was aware of them at all, are problematic. To ask for autonomy, as Omar Abdullah emphasises, is not to secede but to ask for decency, dignity and plurality within the Indian Constitution. India has to understand it for Kashmir is talking to the rest of India, and Mr Modi is ensuring that India remains deaf. Probably election fever has got to him, triggering a need for unnecessary brownie points, but autonomy is a more inclusive word than “azaadi”. In fact, Mr Chidambaram says that many Kashmiris use the two words synonymously. Mr Modi’s jingoism at this phase of the Kashmir crisis is worrying and illiterate. Mr Modi lashes out at Mr Chidambaram saying that he would not “compromise the security of India” in the land of Sardar Patel. Sadly, Patel is one of Kashmir’s casualties. In its bid to appropriate him from the Congress, the BJP has overemphasised the Bismarckian rather than the Gandhian aspects of Patel, confusing the Sardar’s struggle for unity with a draconian idea of security. The sad part is that historians and the Congress are letting them get away with it. In doing violence to the past, Mr Modi is violating the future, and the truly sad thing is that all of it is being done in the name of Sardar Patel.
One senses this once again, at a different level, in the appointment of former Intelligence Bureau director Dineshwar Sharma as the Centre’s interlocutor in J&K. To appoint a security official to head the negotiation already closes options in the imagination. What we can expect is a clinical, short-run exercise which does not rock the security boat. Mr Sharma’s earlier comments comparing Kashmir with Syria seem farfetched. Only a securitarian mindset would ignore the contingencies of history to pair the two situations together. What one is startled by is the failure of imagination. Instead of exploring alternatives, one gets more corseted with the mindsets of a national security state. It is time for Mr Modi and the nation to break free from the procrustean ideas of security, more endangered now by national security adviser Ajit Doval and others, consolidating internal and external security seamlessly. Reform and rethinking necessitates that the ruling establishment goes back to school and invents through practice a new generation of life-giving and healing concepts. It is time for the idea of security to be immersed in a more hopeful ecology of the democratic imagination.