Waving the Flag, Pulling a Stunt
Kashmir is biding its time. Its streets are frozen. People hibernating. Winter is for lying low and drawing comfort from the kangri, a local warming device. During the summer months, angry, young Kashmiris will be seeking heat on edgy streets, taunting policemen with bricks again.
Seen from Delhi, the uprisings have appeared to be usual flare-ups of a familiar, old ailment. But last summer, when Kashmir was caught in months of violent protests, over 100 died, signaling more than just an eruption.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the nationalist opposition party, has come up with a rash plan. Its workers are heading for Lal Chowk, the flashpoint in downtown Srinagar, to hoist the Indian flag.
The irony about the BJP is that it tends to act more rationally and pragmatically when in power than when it is outside government. Its longest tenure at government saw most of its polarizing agendas relegated backwards.
Its prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had famously promised Kashmiris to “do all that is possible within humanitarian limits”. Now, the party is behaving like belligerent adolescents, who often exactly do what others forbid.
Whatever happened to the BJP’s much-vaunted brainy strategists? Even my five-year-old daughter would handle sensitive problems better. The other day, she asked me to be careful with a cut on her hand, so that it heals.
Kashmir isn’t going to heal anytime soon but ill-conceived plans to score political points certainly don’t help. The flag-hoisting mission is being viewed as fraught with risks of triggering another bout of flare-up. First, ordinary Kashmiris may see it as a needless attempt to scratch their backs. Two, Kashmir’s secessionists have called for a counter-march on the same day.
Following last summer’s cycles of violence, the government has made some political gestures. After an all-party delegation — which included the BJP — visited Kashmir in September 2010, the government sent a team of interlocutors in October to prepare a series of reports after consulting all sides in the conflict.
The idea apparently is to seize the opportunity of the winter lull to start fresh dialogue and announce soothing recommendations towards the summer.
Clashes in Kashmir only serve to draw international attention to it, which India is left struggling to deflect. Kashmir is increasingly being compared to Palestine, riling the government, which likes to describe it as an “internal issue”.
A recent article in The Economist magazine said protestors in Kashmir had “aped Palestinian methods”. During uprisings, helicopters buzz overhead. Police batter stone-throwing youngsters. Walls are scribbled with anti-India graffiti. Soldiers are yelled at. Troublemakers are put under detention without trial, sometimes summarily executed, according to the Human Rights International.
The BJP certainly does not need to be reminded that every one of those flare-ups provide fresh fodder to rebellious hardliners to flag off Kashmir to the international community.
At this point, waiving the flag does not serve Kashmir in any way, but the BJP’s own agenda of boosting its profile.
In the context of Kashmir, the BJP’s argument is juvenile: that hoisting the Tricolor, the Indian flag, is the right of every Indian. To an outsider, it gives the impression that the national flag is a proscribed article in Kashmir. In reality, the national flutters at all key government buildings – from the courts to the State Assembly – on all days.
But patriotism could sometimes be about not hoisting the national flag and doing something rather more constructive.
To begin with, the BJP could concentrate on opening the locks on its offices in the state. That’s a far better plan for itself and the country. That’s how national parties can deepen their stake in the region, not by pulling off political stunts.
As for the flag, Kashmir’s chief minister Omar Abdullah – who moves from one crisis to another — is going to anyway hoist one in Srinagar on Republic Day.