January 7, 2014

Yesterday, Delhi Chief Minister and Common Man-in-Chief of the AAP [Aam Aadmi Party – Common Man’s / Person’s Party], Arvind Kejriwal, declared that “We don’t agree with what Prashant Bhushan said about Kashmir, it’s his personal view. Whatever the Army wants to do regarding the deployment, there is no question of a referendum on it. We do not support Prashant Bhushan’s statement.”

Bhushan’s comments, made on NDTV’s ‘We The People’ show, which, in a matter of happy coincidence happens to be the Constitutional term for Aam Aadmi, was simply this: wishes of the people of Kashmir be taken into account while determining whether the Army was needed for internal security or not. Unreasonably, and with shattering common sense, Bhushan had argued that if the Armed Forces deployed within Kashmir (as opposed to the border areas) were meant to protect the general Kashmiri population, might it not be a good idea to ask that population whether they wanted the protection or not.

The answer, obviously, is “No, of course not! Who the hell are Kashmiris to decide whether they get protection or not. It is a matter of National Interest. We cannot compromise with National Security.” This is an axiom, a truism, a self evident truth with no scope for interrogation. To question this is to question your mother’s sexual fidelity and suggest that your Brahmin father eats cow meat on every night of Navaratri. No can do. You cannot possibly speak about the right of Kashmiris to anything without immediately and irrevocably violating National Interest. In all likelihood it is against National Interest to allow Kashmiris to eat rajma chawal without express written permission from the Army Chief.

If you think I am trying to be funny you are gravely mistaken (not to mention, against national interest). In his blogpost decrying Bhushant’s anti-national comments, BJP leader Arun Jaitley wrote:

The BJP is committed to Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s declaration that all issues would be resolved within the framework of ‘Insaniyat’.  It is this philosophy  which entails elimination of terrorism, dismantling of terrorist infrastructure, comfort, peace and a high quality of life  to the people of Jammu & Kashmir.  The de-militarisation of the valley can take place only after this object is achieved.  The army presence till then is necessary to protect both the territory and the people of Jammu & Kashmir.

How marvelous. Like the bleached billboards strewn around on Kashmir’s roads and highways depicting soldiers offering yellow flowers to pretty little Kashmiri children with the words ‘Jawan aur Awaam/Aman hai mukaam’, Jaitley too conjures up a vision that is not only patently untrue and deceptive but is also cruel in its irony. Imagine having lost a child to the brutalities of the Indian Army, or having been raped or killed or maimed – all in National Interest, remember – you now also have to contend with being forced to have Jawaan brand of Aman and Yellow Flowers in your life. The idea that “Insaniyat” necessarily must involve the deployment of more than half a million armed men in the midst of a civilian population of six million who must not be asked what they think of such an arrangement is an assault on all ideas and ideals of what humanity means and stands for. For flavour of what such Insaniyat feels and tastes like, you only have to browse through the ALLEGED PERPETRATORS report written by the good people at the J&K Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) and devastatingly summarised here by filmmaker Sanjay Kak for the Caravan Magazine.

As the AAP has ridden the popular wave of electoral victory, Kejriwal has astutely avoided any disambiguation between the Aam Aadmi and the Aam Aadmi Party, encouraging a seamless, if simplified, convergence between these two entities. What the common man thinks, the Party thinks; the Party cannot risk having a mind of its own. And so, Kejriwal’s announcement today is wholly consistent with the professed make-up and character of the party he has built.

All this we know. The question I am interested in is, can it be different? Can we possibly create a language where to say anything about Kashmir – even something as blindingly obvious as what Prashant Bhushan said – isn’t to be immediately set upon by a band of BJP brigands and put on the highly inflammable gas burner of National Security and National Interest.

To answer this  – and of course there isn’t any whole answer, only a rubble of ideas where we must scavenge – we need to start by reframing the Kashmir issue.

The Kashmir Issue

To me, the Kashmir Issue isn’t about Kashmir at all. It is about India. As someone who has written intermittently on the place, I am often asked by friends – well meaning but ill-informed friends – ‘so what do you think, what’s the solution, what should we do in Kashmir’. In the beginning, I used to get irritable. How was I supposed to answer something as intractable as that between the refill of my martini. It annoyed me no end that ‘the Kashmir issue’, to these friends – again, I must emphasise, good of heart people, the kind who oppose corruption and rape and donate to the AAP – was an exotic subject in the league of ‘so what’s this whole 377 deal yaar? It was the kind of issue that seems important, but doesn’t affect ‘them’ directly, so in absence of their own personal engagement with the issue, they look for cues from others. A regular case of ‘If you want my opinion, give it to me’.

In time I developed a standard position statement: “the reason why Kashmir is an issue is because only Indians get asked what they think about Kashmir, never the Kashmiri, who’s issue it is”. It is only half an answer but I would get away on most occasions (they would lose interest pretty quickly). Yet, it gave me the opportunity to reframe my own engagement with Kashmir.

As a privileged Indian who has actually partaken of the much derided ‘Shining India’ what business did I have to go poking my nose in the open wounds of Kashmir. I had bijli, pani and vodka, what more could I want. My interest was secured. And yet.

In a way, Kashmir is indeed a matter of national interest. I think it should greatly be of interest to my nation as to how we conduct ourselves with respect to fellow human beings. It is unarguably in the national interest to determine what values we are willing to stand up for, stand by, and defend. Just as we have, albeit with great difficulty, shifted the national debate of women’s safety from an interrogation of the behaviour of the victim (what she wears, where she goes, if she drinks, if she likes to have sex by choice) to that of the nature of men, constructs of patriarchy, institutional safeguards and judicial processes, we need to shift the conversation about Kashmir from being about Kashmir to being about what sort of an identity we wish to bear. Yes National Security is something to hang on to, but what about National Identity. Do we want to be a nation or a mob? Is our collective conscience only aroused in the interest of seeing a man dead or can that collective conscience be pricked when seeing injustice. Forget about Kashmir, let Kashmiris figure out what the solution is; can we, Indians, We the Aam Aadmi, focus on asking questions and making sure no one is making a chutiya of us. Can we ask why plebiscite or a referendum is a bad idea? Can we ask why it is against national interest to listen to our own citizens?

In a country where so many people go hungry everyday, so many die of disease, and so many bear the worst privations, it is meaningless to talk of human rights and justice. It means nothing to the common man. But if we talked of his freedom, showed him how his freedom was held ransom by this duplicitous chicanery of national interest, would he be interested?

In her essay ‘AZADI’, Arundhati Roy wrote:

The unimaginable sums of public money that are needed to keep the military occupation of Kashmir going, is money that ought to be spent on schools and hospitals and food for an impoverished, malnutrition population in India. What kind of government can possibly believe that it has the right to spend it on more weapons, more concertina wire and more prisons in Kashmir.

Just as the nation is lining up behind Kejriwal to demand the audit of power companies, can there be not a case for an audit of the government’s own books, an account demanded of every paisa that is going to for “internal security”. If the Indian is inherently selfish of character, then let us all stand up and ask why our money going to protect the Kashmiris. Leave them alone, let them be, I want my money back, my street light fixed, my hospital fully equipped. If Kejriwal and Co. wants to give subsidies and is running short of money, how convenient for them to find a pot of money sitting there, ready for the taking. IF. Surely, that is in national interest?

AZADI for the Aam Aadmi

The AAP is a force greater than anything anyone ever imagined, including I would argue, the people who founded it. It is a radical force precisely because it is not a single ideology. Here, for only the second time since Independence, is emotion in politics. In the desert dry cynical landscape of scumbag politicians, we have real people who say real things based on their own life experiences. Till now the party has understood the power of this emotion, ridden on its crest. It has had the gall to say ‘we don’t care whether we win or lose, we will do the right thing’. It is this show of defiance in the face of established logic that has transformed them into heroes and a giant slayer.

Kejriwal says there will be no referendum on the way the Army operates in Kashmir. But in fact they have already clocked in the results of the referendum. The decision to contradict Prashant Bhushan is a calculated, psephological projection of popular opinion (manufactured yes, but popular nevertheless). In other words, the Aam Aadmi has just behaved as a political party. It is a betrayal.

The sooner Kejriwal realises that ignoring what is true on ground, relying on fabricated concepts and trying to ‘play it’ is inimical to what the Aam Aadmi stands for (and stands by), the sooner he can fulfill his promise of ‘Swaraj’ in way that actually means something. If he doesn’t, he will join the ranks of all those other parties and their leaders who are the real enemies of national interest.

[This is an edited version of an article posted on Abhijit Dutta’s blog: http://babelbabblebubble.blogspot.sg/2014/01/national-interest-and-aam-aadmi.html ]

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