Newspaper Article 22/01/2023
In a few days, India will be observing its 76th Republic Day. The country has always boasted its credentials as the world’s largest secular democracy. While India has always been a Hindu state, its founding fathers consciously decided to keep the country secular. At least the Indian constitution says so. Articles 25 to 28 of the constitution state that every citizen has the freedom of conscience, the right to profess any religion of their choice, and the right to practice any religion and propagate any religion. However, with the RSS-led Hindutva dispensation, the “secular” façade that Indian leaders and diplomats flaunted at international forums has crumbled. Prime Minister Narendra Modi represents the Hindutva mindset, which thrives on hate-mongering against minorities, particularly Muslims.
As for the world’s largest democracy, the RSS has exposed its chauvinistic facet thriving on casteism within the Hindu society (Samaj) and hatred against non-Hindus to deprive them of equal status as citizens of India. Consequently, over 500 million Indian citizens (both Muslims and ‘untouchable’ Hindus) have been deprived of equal status in Indian society.
The Hindutva mindset manifests itself in full force when it comes to Pakistan. Earlier governments may not have taken serious measures in resolving the core issues between the two countries, but they were mindful of the sensitivities involved and avoided disturbing the status quo on the Kashmir dispute. However, with the ascension of Mr Modi, the pent-up hatred against Pakistan has come into full force.
Modi government’s August 5, 2019, actions of revoking Articles 370 and 35A of the constitution, which allowed special status to Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, has created a dangerous situation between the two nuclear powers. Adding insult to injury, the Modi government bifurcated the occupied state into two union territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. The reign of terror unleashed by the Indian state has been the worst since Kashmiris rose against Indian rule in the early 90s.
Thus, the RSS-led Hindutva dispensation has set a dangerous precedent in South Asia by illegally swallowing the Jammu and Kashmir state without a reference to the United Nations. By changing the demography of the occupied state, the Modi government may feel elated and, perhaps, gain more votes. Still, it will only add fuel to the fire in the illegally occupied state, the people in Azad Jammu, Kashmir, and Pakistan. More importantly, it is a sheer violation of the Simla Agreement, which maintained a modicum of normalcy between the two neighbours.
The situation has been deteriorating ever since Modi came into power in 2014. Not only that, Modi tried to create a “new normal” by attacking Balakot in sheer violation of Pakistan’s territory. Although reciprocated within 24 hours, with the capture of Indian pilot Abhinandan, Pakistan exercised restraint.
The Modi-led government has been single-mindedly pursuing the agenda of isolating Pakistan. It sabotaged the SAARC summit slated for Pakistan in 2016. To replace SAARC, India has tried to activate the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC,) comprising Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. Five of the SAARC member states are now part of BIMSTEC. In private conversations, the Indian diplomats describe SAARC as a dead horse. Therefore, Pakistan should have no illusions about the integration of South Asia.
Where will the ongoing stalemate lead both India and Pakistan? India’s economy and defence spending has grown 10 times that of Pakistan’s. If Modi’s government is trying to browbeat Pakistan because of the size of its economy or defence budget, then the hardliners in Pakistan would be too happy to challenge the Indians in their own game. Already a substantive section of hardliners in the government and the populace are battle-hardened due to Afghan Jihad.
By instigating Baloch militancy and providing financial and material support to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), India seems to have forgotten that over a dozen insurgencies in India will be lucrative targets for Pakistani agencies should the latter decide to play the mischief. If by stoking unrest in Pakistan, the Indian objective is to put pressure on Pakistan to go soft on Kashmir then India is playing a dangerous game with severe consequences. Jammu and Kashmir is an international dispute registered with the UN Security Council. Almost 11 resolutions on Kashmir call for holding a UN-supervised plebiscite in the disputed state. Suppose India tries to equate Jammu and Kashmir dispute with Pakistan’s provinces. In that case, no one can stop the Pakistan-India showdown on a massive scale leading only to death and destruction.
One wonders what purpose the ceasefire on the Line of Control (LoC) has served when there is no forward movement between the two countries in addressing the core issues. There seems to be little appreciation in India that Pakistan agreed to the ceasefire at LoC when tensions between China and India were at their peak. Instead of taking advantage of the Indo-China tensions, Pakistan showed accommodation with the hope that such a gesture would break the ice. However, Indian intransigence grew and went all out to malign Pakistan through its “epicentre of terrorism” mantra. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) was another front where India left no opportunity to harm Pakistan. Luckily, Pakistan’s remedial measures relieved the country of the hook, much to the Indian chagrin.
Indeed, the world powers have their priorities on international disputes. Right now, the Ukrainian crisis is the number one agenda item in the western capitals, whose leaders are busy cobbling together an anti-Russia and anti-China alliance. In such a scenario, expecting a resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute would be a tall order. After the revocation of the special status of the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019, China tried to convene a session of the UN Security Council. However, this debate was pre-empted by France as the latter was in the advanced stages of selling the Rafale aircraft to India. Hence, money played a major role in obfuscating justice for the Kashmiri people.
If the Kashmiris continue to suffer Indian state terrorism, the government in Pakistan might come under pressure to do something. Islamabad policy circles are already repenting on the “peace offensive” launched by the then government in Islamabad when it forbade the Kashmiris from the Pakistani side to rush to the LoC. Secondly, the government at the time failed to heat the LoC to a level that would force the UN Security Council to take cognisance of the deteriorating situation. However, such a status quo on Pakistan’s part may not stay forever. If India has the RSS-led Hindutva zealots, Pakistan has its share of extremists who would be too happy to challenge the Indian state terrorism head-on.
The above prognosis may sound hawkish, but a realistic appraisal of the evolving situation should ring alarm bells amongst the saner elements in both countries. Without a result-oriented solution to the Kashmir dispute, peace between India and Pakistan will remain elusive.
Note: This article appeared in BOL, dated 22 January 2023.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.