Tricolour Tirade

Where are Pseudo-Nationalists?

Raman Swamy

Mehbooba Mufti has been doing a lot of talking over the last few days. She has waxed eloquent at party rallies, press conferences, seminars and through written statements.

Some of the things she has said have been rather provocative, especially the aggressive manner in which she talked about the Indian tricolour. This has got her BJP coalition partner all riled up.

Some of her references are intriguing. Despite knowing full well that Congress Prime Ministers of the past are strictly "non-persons'' under the Modi dispensation (of which she is a part), she said: "To me, India is Indira Gandhi. When I was growing up, she represented India for me. Maybe some people won't like it but for me Indira was the real India".

She could not have said anything more certain to rub the entire Sangh Parivar the wrong way. Nothing could have sounded more gracing and jarring to the ears of the Prime Minister and the BJP president.

At the top of the Modi-Shah agenda is to establish a "Congress-mukt Bharat" and to convince the citizens of the country that under Nehru, Indira, Rajiv and Manmohan, India was a festering failure on all fronts and a septic tank of corruption and nepotism; and that it is only because of the incredibly good governance during the last three years that India has become the fastest growing economy and the envy of the world.

But Mehbooba must have known this. Which is probably why she took care to make soothing noises too. She described Narendra Modi as the "man of the moment", a "man of history'" who has the leadership qualities to "take Kashmir out of the present mess".

That's what politicians do best—they issue veiled threats, they balance it by currying favour, they play to the gallery and simultaneously play the victim card, they sound defiant and then come out with emotional appeals and placatory noises.

Rightly has it been said that all politicians speak with a forked tongue. What they say can be taken in two or three or four different ways. They say what their followers want to hear and at the same time send coded signals to their friends, foes and fund-givers.

That is what Mehbooba has tried to do—without quite succeeding. The truth is that the daughter of Mufti Mohd Sayeed is nowhere near being the practised politician with a silky tongue that her late father was.

Mufti Sayeed was skilled in the art of sounding sincere even while making diabolical moves. She is clearly not.

Mufti-saab knew how to hunt with the hounds and run with the hares with effortless ease. She is already out of breath and all at sea with the bizarre marriage of convenience between her party, the PDP, and Narendra Modi's BJP.

Much to her mortification it has consistently been her powerful alliance partner—by virtue of being in power at the Centre—which is calling all the shots in the strife-torn valley.

Literally calling all the shots—because much of the cause of her deep despair and acute discomfiture are the gun-wielding soldiers of the central forces sent to restore peace in the Valley but ending up blinding hundreds of youthful protesters with pellet guns, killing insanely iconic rebels like Burhan Wani with deadly live bullets, intruding into women's privacy in village homes in search of militants and using innocent citizens tied on army jeeps to act as human shields.

Modi and his Kashmir advisors consider all such actions as neither unwarranted nor inhuman. The ends justify the means. Anyone who disagrees is a Pak sympathizer and therefore anti-national.

It is a different matter that it is by no means clear what the Centre's assessment, strategy and objectives are—Is the Valley being viewed as a warzone? Has Vajpayee's 'Insaniyat, Kashmiriyat and Jamhooriyat' approach been abandoned?

Nobody really knows for sure. There seem to be multiple goals and manifold game-plans. Setting up an incongruous PDP-BJP coalition government was the first of them. It doesn't appear to have yielded the hoped-for dividends. On the contrary it sparked off street protests in which even PDP workers participated.

Then came to death of Burhan Wani, a 22-year-old educated youth who became a popular militant leader. In the 13 months since he was gunned down in a police encounter on July 8, 2016, the Centre has come to realise that Burhan Wani dead is more dangerous than Burhan Wani alive.

During this time, BJP ministers in the state government and RSS leaders frequently visiting Srinagar and Jammu have been largely pursuing their own ideological agenda. For them Muslim majority Kashmir is anathema. It is an aberration that needs to be set right to pave the way for genuine Hindutva.

The fact that J&K enjoys Special Status within the Indian Union, the unresolved issue that Kashmir itself is a divided territory of which large tracts are occupied by a hostile neighbour like Pakistan, the porous line that provides access to cross-border terrorists and the upsurge in separatist activities within State—are all decades-old dilemmas.

But, judging by the approach over the past three years, the RSS and BJP view the present circumstances as a historic opportunity. Not only are they in power at the Centre, they share power in the State. The message of Hindutva must be asserted, whatever the consequences may be.

In such a scenario, Mehbobba Mufti finds herself virtually paralysed. Her own PDP party leaders, workers and voters lean towards the popular mood of dissent and unrest. Her coalition partners are vociferous in treating the common citizens of the Valley as militant sympathisers.

The chief minister finds herself in an unenviable predicament. It would be politically suicidal for her to ignore the people's mood and meekly endorse the BJP line. Already there are signs that she and her party have lost considerable political ground in the State.

But she lacks the stature and the strength to stand up to the Centre. Hemmed in from all sides, a captive of her own strident speeches of the past and yet tempted to cling to power and pelf, Mehbooba is on the horns of a dilemma, unable to take a clear stand even on the recent arrests of Hurriyat functionaries on charges of being on the payroll of Pakistan.

t is against this backdrop that Mehbooba Mufti has been speaking in many voices over the past few days. But some of her utterances have ruffled the BJP leadership's feathers much more than she might have intended.

She said she was saddened to see 'the Idea of India' projected in a way that "widens the gap between Kashmir and the rest of the country''. Referring to the "hyper-ventilating" by BJP leaders and supporters about pseudo nationalist symbols like compulsory singing of Vande Mataram and ban on beef eating, she said: 'This is not the India I know". It was at this point that she invoked the memory of Indira Gandhi and her personal admiration for the iconic Congress Prime Minister who ruled the country for over a decade.

What has aroused even more anger in the BJP-RSS camp is her strong words opposing to any move to revoke Kashmir's special constitutional status. She said: "Some people are talking about our State flag and about Article 370; and Article 35-A. These are very dear to the people of Kashmir and they help preserve the state's unique identity".

Mehbooba did not stop there. She elaborated on this theme and said: Who is doing it? Why are they doing it? Why are they challenging Article 35A? Let me tell you, my party and other parties have been holding aloft the National Flag also, despite all risks. But let me warn you that if Article 35A is tinkered with, I have no doubt in saying that "there will be no one in Kashmir to hold even the corpse of the National Tricolor".

Inevitably, this has caused uproar in the ranks of the diehard nationalists of the Sangh Parivar. Self-proclaimed patriots belonging to the BJP are livid. BJP spokespersons have expressed shock and outrage. There is nothing sacrosanct, they say, about Article 35A and Article 370—they were incorporated in the Indian Constitution only as a "temporary provision". "It is not a sacred cow that cannot be touched".

Here lies the hypocrisy. A mere statement by party spokespersons expressing outrage is not the norm of the Modi government. Anyone who speaks against the Tiranga or chants a slogan about Freedom or criticizes the Prime Minister faces the full wrath of the State machinery. Even young students have had charges of treason and sedition slapped against them and have been arrested and dragged to prison. The brutal treatment meted out to Kanhaiya Kumar of JNU is still fresh in public memory and even after 18 months he continues to be hounded by ABVP and BJP activists wherever he goes apart from being threatened with fresh charges by the police—latest being on July 29.

The question that needs to be addressed by the Prime Minister and his government is—Why is the Chief Minister of J&K not being arrested for treason? Making "insulting" and "derogatory" remarks about the Indian National Flag is obviously an anti-national act of the highest order.

If an ordinary citizen saying no to mandatory singing of Vande Mataram can be labeled an agent of Pakistan, then why not a chief minister? When students in college campuses can be arrested merely for chanting slogans of "azadi", then why should Mehbooba Mufti not be immediately dismissed from office and put behind bars on charges of sedition?

But neither the Home Minister nor the Prime Minister are likely to answer these questions. Double standards, double-speak and double-think are second nature for political leaders of all hues—especially those seeking to distort Indian history in order to justify their political and elastic ethics.

Vol. 50, No.8, Aug 27 - Sep 2, 2017