Kanhaiya Kumar and Kashmir: Is democracy dying in Modi’s India?

By Ameen Izzadeen
It is becoming increasingly evident that India is not keeping to its credentials as the world’s largest democracy with Prime Minister Narendra Modi turning a blind eye to the bigotry with which his ardent supporters deal with dissent.
While members of Rashtriya Swamsevak Sangh (RSS) and similar groups take the law into their hands to attack beef eaters, artistes and academics, and forcibly reconvert Christians to Hinduism, Modi, by placing greater emphasis on economic development, tries to distract the public from the rot beneath – the harm his supporters are causing to India’s secular order.
Wednesday’s attack on a student leader of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) is just another example of how India’s hallowed democratic fabric is being desecrated by unholy extremists who, in the name of Hindutva nationalism, suppress the freedom of expression.
That student leader Kanhaiya Kumar was attacked by lawyers, no less, and that too in a room in the court complex in New Delhi, shows the extent to which India’s democratic tradition has degenerated under Modi.
Kumar was arrested for organising a rally to mark the anniversary of the 2013 hanging of Mohammed Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri separatist. Though Guru was executed for his alleged complicity in the 2001 attack on India’s parliament complex, the controversy over his arrest, the court trial and the execution, is not over.
Kumar did not espouse freedom for Kashmir. But some television channels showed doctored footage and claimed he was calling for Kashmir’s independence. In fact, Kumar was calling for freedom from poverty, casteism and other social injustices. Yet what he said was enough to provoke Hindutva brigands. Kumar, hailing from a poor working class family, accused the RSS extremists of violating India’s constitution. His speech could easily be hailed as an Indian version of the United States’ Bill of Rights. Here is an extract:
“Forget Pakistan and Bangladesh, we say that the whole world’s poor should unite, workers should unite. We salute the humanity of the world, the humanity of India. We have today identified the group that stands against this humanity. This is the most serious issue before us today. We must not forget this identification. That face of casteism, that face of Manuvad, that face of the alliance between Brahmanwad and capitalism. We have to expose these faces. Real democracy, real freedom, everyone’s freedom is what we want to establish in this country.”
In a real democracy, a speech of this nature would be seen as constructive criticism, warranting remedial measures. But this is Modi’s India, where democracy is defined and determined by the Sangh Parivars and other Hindutva extremists. So there was little surprise when Kumar was arrested on sedition charges. As students in major universities across the country denounce the arrest and the attack on Kumar, BJP leaders see the JNU, which has a tradition of voicing opinions in support of justice, as a hot-bed of anti-national sentiment, and accuse its students of promoting Kashmiri separatism.
But what is heartening to note is that the students’ anger and the public outcry, however small it may seem in the ocean of Modi-backed extremism, has stirred a nationwide debate on free speech and the Kashmiri issue.
One of the reasons why Kashmir is still burning without a solution acceptable to the people of Kashmir is that the facts are hidden from the public. The troubled region is still a no-go zone for the world’s media and human rights groups. That Kashmir is not making international headlines does not mean that everything is hunky dory in this region which was once described as paradise on earth but now as the world’s most highly militarised region with more than half a million Indian troops deployed to silence a population of 12.5 million, a majority of whom are Muslims.
Today many Indians do not know the background of the Kashmiri dispute. With an unofficial policy of denying access to Kashmir documents and files, most Indian academics and journalists see only one side of the story.
Amid the suppression of truth, statements made by Arundhati Roy and a few others stand as bulwarks against the disinformation campaign. Roy, who also faces charges of waging war against the state for her comments on Kashmir and social justice issues, says if the state wants to punish her for telling the truth, let it also file similar charges, posthumously, against India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru for speaking in support of the Kashmiri people’s right to freedom.
She compiled a document containing statements by Nehru who, recognised the political rights of the Kashmiri people. Here are few extracts:
In his telegram to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nehru said, “… Our view which we have repeatedly made public is that the question of accession in any disputed territory or state must be decided in accordance with wishes of people and we adhere to this view.” (Telegram 402 Primin-2227 dated 27th October, 1947 to PM of Pakistan repeating telegram addressed to PM of UK).
In his broadcast to the nation over All India Radio on November 2, 1947, Nehru said, “And let me make it clear that it has been our policy that where there is a dispute about the accession of a state to either Dominion, the accession must be made by the people of that state. It is in accordance with this policy that we have added a proviso to the Instrument of Accession of Kashmir.”
In his statement in the Lok Sabha on March 31st, 1955 as published in Hindustan Times New Delhi on April 1, 1955, Nehru said, “Kashmir is perhaps the most difficult of all these problems between India and Pakistan. We should also remember that Kashmir is not a thing to be bandied between India and Pakistan but it has a soul of its own and an individuality of its own. Nothing can be done without the goodwill and consent of the people of Kashmir.”
But what people like Kanhaiya Kumar and Arundhati Roy say gets little coverage in the corporate media which together with Corporate India created the Modi brand — giving the man who was tainted by the 2002 Gujarat ethnic violence the image of a saviour. It may be too early to judge whether Modi has lived up to the faith the people had in him when they elected him in May 2014. But he can emerge as a statesman if he can free himself from his Hindutva shackles and hold a plebiscite in Kashmir to strengthen democracy and bring peace to Kashmir, as recommended in the 1948 United Nations Security Council Resolution. This will also usher in peace to South Asia and pave the way for India and Pakistan to join in an economic partnership in the light of China’s One-Belt-One-Road project which passes through Pakistan-administered Kashmir and extends from China’s Xinjiang province to the Middle East, Central Asia and Europe.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
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