Today, August 5, marks the first anniversary of the annexation of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) by New Delhi. Coincidentally or perhaps by design, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has decided to lay the foundation of Ram Temple in Ayodhya on the same day that Kashmiris will be staging a protest against the annexation of their land and identity.
The Ram Temple case was decided by the India Supreme Court last November, allowing the Hindu community to build a temple on the place where Babri Mosque was built while offering Muslims another site for a mosque. So the BJP headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is all set to go for the grand ceremony of laying the foundation of Ram Temple in Ayodhya by airing it live on television.
So on a day when Muslims already feel betrayed by the annexation of Kashmir, Modi instead of trying to overcome the growing mistrust between Muslims and the government is trying to send a clear message to the minorities living in India and to the entire world that India has changed and it is no longer a secular country with space for everyone and where the state is not supposed to intervene in the religious affairs of its citizens.
In fact, sharing a stage with the chief (Mohan Bhagwat) of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an extremist Hindu nationalist outfit, Modi for sure is laying the foundation of an India that in essence will be a theological state striving for Hindutva supremacy.
We recently have seen events where Muslims have been beaten in public by mobs in different parts of India, while the plight of Kashmiris is still unheard. And from the exodus of Hindu Pundits in Jammu to the killings of innocent Kashmiris and not allowing the Internet to remain open there, every atrocity in Kashmir has been ignored by the world.
New Delhi enjoys cordial relations with the superpowers and because of its big consumer market, it is almost impossible for the capitalist democratic leaders to highlight the atrocities in Kashmir perpetrated by the BJP-led Indian government.
Pakistan, on the other hand, because of its own political and economic turmoil and vague and static foreign policy, has not only failed to garner international support for Kashmir but has failed even to realize that by treating Kashmir as a bilateral issue between New Delhi and Islamabad, it has destroyed any ray of hope for a plebiscite for the Kashmiris to decide their own fate.
Pakistan is observing August 5 as Youm-e-Istehsal (The Day of Exploitation), with the government calling for one minute of silence nationwide to show solidarity with Kashmiris.
Meanwhile, the government led by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has released a new political map on which both Jammu and Kashmir and the state of Junagarh, a territory on the Indian side, have been shown as part of Pakistan. One wonders what difference it will make to bring to a stop the sufferings of the Kashmiris.
Maps do not change realities, and a country only has control of those areas under its administration. Everything else is dreaming, perhaps for the consumption of respective audiences.
In Islamabad’s case, it is the Kashmir dispute that justifies billions of dollars of investment on defense, whereas in New Delhi’s case it is Islamophobia and the supremacy of Hindutva that allows it to spend enormously on defense. So in a nutshell, both countries have their own strategic goals, but the price is high, as not only can such heavy spending on weapons trigger a war at any time, but the human cost of Kashmiri suffering is way too high.
According to The Print, in the year since India abrogated Article 370 of the constitution, the Kashmir Valley excluding the Jammu area has suffered an economic loss of 400 billion Indian rupees (US$5.3 billion), largely due to Internet restrictions and the Covid-19 lockdown, while around half a million people have lost their jobs in different sectors.
Internet services were banned after New Delhi annexed J&K, and although in January the Supreme Court of India directed the authorities to relax the ban, only second-generation services were restored. Thus Kashmiris cannot plead their case through the Internet, as 2G services are not good enough to upload videos of a few minutes’ duration.
However, this is not the end for Kashmiris, as gradually they will rise, for no community remains quiet forever on the theft of their identity. For New Delhi, the Kartarpura Corridor initiative by Pakistan was an opportunity to revive the dialogue with Islamabad, but unfortunately Modi went the other way.
So Modi might be gaining popularity among the right-wing vote bank for decisions like annexing J&K, and then laying the foundation stone of Ajodiya Mandar on the same date on which he repealed Article 370, but this wave of popularity is not going to benefit India in the long run. India’s strength has always been a pluralistic society where in spite of the communal violence between Muslims and Hindus the saner voices always came forward to save the day.
However, under Modi the mainstream Indian media, especially the TV channels, have been absorbed into right-wing and jingoistic ideologies. Thus the common man has to face the problems of everyday life like getting an education for his kids or sustaining health-care and other expenses on his own while his government’s focus remains on using the rhetoric of religious supremacy and nationalism to fuel hatred toward Pakistan.
Thus more generations in India will be brainwashed without being aware that their Pakistani counterparts are also struggling to solve the same everyday problems, and eventually, they will treat Kashmiris as infidels and the human-rights abuses will mostly go unheard by the large chunk of Indian society.
In Pakistan, brainwashing every generation has only resulted in the destruction of the social fabric and intellectual demise, resulting in a society that is devoid of critical thinking and happy to be fed with the rhetoric of conquering Kashmir or India. Now, under Modi, the same kind of society is gradually being built, and this will only result in more hatred between the neighbors. Such hatred has no limit, and the only result can be bringing them to destruction.
The only way forward for both New Delhi and Islamabad is to maintain peaceful ties, and neither should become a proxy to the global powers for their vested interests. New Delhi has to show a big heart and should restore the previous status of Kashmir as a semi-autonomous state. After all, there is no point in holding an entire population by force when it has no trust for New Delhi and its youth becomes more and more frustrated.
If New Delhi does not restore the status of J&K that it renounced exactly a year ago, it will only invite more trouble, as not only will mistrust grow among the Kashmiri people but a secular India will be gone, and with it the pluralistic essence of the social fabric of society.
Imad Zafar is a journalist and columnist/commentator for newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, and political, policy and media related think-tanks.