PM Narendra Modi’s Speech and the Apologetic Hindu

By Ankit Sharma and Smita Mukerji

Let us begin by giving credit where it is due! Modi Government 2.0 has taken a significant step towards fulfilling its promise of undoing historic wrongs and done justice to the emphatic mandate of May 23, 2019 in its favour. Acting decisively by rendering ineffectual the insertions Article 370 and Article 35 in the Indian Constitution that granted special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has shown the right intent and the political will to act in national interest which had been conspicuously lacking in the previous dispensations.

The government has shown that while it believes in taking incremental and surefooted steps towards poverty alleviation and benefit realization aimed at those standing on the margins of the society, it also is not afraid of taking giant leaps on issues of national importance. It cares for micro as well as macro aspects. That ‘Sabka Vishwas’ does not exclude the aspirations of those who have an eye on matters that concern our civilization. At least it seemed so…

As people around us go delirious with joy, many are yet reticent in going in celebratory mode, because they would rather wait for the day when a safe environment has been created for Kashmiri Hindus to voluntarily return to the land of their ancestors and the rest of Indians actually have free access to the land, not just for tourism but also for jobs and entrepreneurial ventures. That would be the litmus test of the success of this move. But as far as the sincerity of purpose and manner of execution is concerned, the government must be congratulated that it has in great measure vindicated itself before disappointed naysayers who heaped criticism on it for not adequately addressing essential civilisational matters. (Or are they perchance justified? We are yet to find-out…)

As the United States withdraws from Afghanistan and it is set to plunge into dark ages again, Kashmir is going to see some very tough times ahead. This step was direly needed and the government did not dither… this once.

The possibility that the opposition—unscrupulous to the extent of acting against national interest and betraying it to its sworn enemies—gangs up and knocks the doors of the Supreme Court to scuttle the government’s move, is quite real. Though the provisions of Article 370 itself specify that it can be repealed by a simple Presidential notification, the government would not like a direct confrontation in courts on this issue, given especially India’s compromised Judiciary with its predilection towards the previous political dispensation, that together form but an extension of the preceding colonial rule adverse to the interests of the natives.

But for now, the government must be lauded for its bold and smoothly executed move. By the end of the current term of Modi 2.0, enough time would have passed for us to make a considered judgment on the government’s success on the Kashmir front. All Indians can do for now is hope that things turn around for better for Kashmir, India and its people.

It was therefore with anticipation that the Prime Minister’s address on August 8, regarding its recent move on Article 370 was awaited. But for the Hindus damp squibs from BJP seem to have become fait accompli!

The speech aimed at allaying the fears of the people of Jammu and Kashmir (read: Muslims of Kashmir only) turned out to be an ignoble exercise of apologia which was crushing for the spirit of the long wronged Indian nation. The speech was worded as if a step towards safeguarding our national interests must be cushioned with appealing gestures towards recalcitrant elements who owe nothing to India’s integrity. It was the most defeatist statement that a top leader of a nation could have made! It underlines the deeply diffident character of the Hindu who feels compelled to apologise, to those sworn ideologically to annihilate him, for existing! For adopting measures of defending himself against those aggressing on his rights and eating away at it day by day he begs their favour!

The speech itself appeared to have been made under duress—at least it seemed so to us as many others. That PM was at pains to assure the Muslims in Kashmir and was trying his best to assuage their hurt egos was all too obvious. The stress on the temporary nature of UT status betrays a lack of confidence in government regarding its own decisions. Scarce anyone would see a problem with Jammu and Kashmir getting back full statehood in future. But the mention at the very outset at the scrapping of the hitherto effective special provisions is like telling an errant school kid that his expulsion from school is reversible and hence not to be taken seriously!

Union Home Minister, Mr. Amit Shah, during discussions in the parliament on the scrapping of the Articles 370 and 35A (Source: One India)

The government hastened with hints of domicile rights for purchase of land protecting rights of locals (considering the past this effectively disqualifies non-Kashmiri Indians from settling there and founding entrepreneurial ventures there) and retention of its special status regarding central funds. These neutralise any real gain for Indians from the scrapping of the articles except on paper. A dismaying dilution of the step announced amid loud posturing (as is BJP’s wont) reducing it to little substance and more air. Given the BJP’s penchant towards appeasment of minorties, the gains for sulking Muslims of Kashmir will be far more than that for rest of Indians.

Present political situation of the Jammu and Kashmir region (Source: Economist)

It is essential for a state to preserve an authoritative stature. Under no circumstance can its prerogatives be made secondary to the aims of interest groups contending with it. But this is exactly what PM Modi’s speech effectively conveyed. Instead of an uncompromising and no-nonsense stance of a strong state which acts with deliberate power to safeguard its integrity, the PM’s message as also premature moves at conciliation like deputing the National Security Advisor compromised these, in making ill-timed and unnecessary appeasing overtures towards Muslims alone (not the Hindus of Jammu, not the Buddhists of Ladakh, and least to the Kashmiri Pandits who were turned out from their ancient homeland) betray only too starkly a fundamental lack of resolve and mettle of the Hindu leadership.

Raghunath temple complex, Jammu, Jammu and Kashmir state, India (Source: Michael Petersen)

More than anything the PM’s speech proves yet again the weak-willed, confused character of the Indian state and utter spinelessness of its political class, incapable of acting forcefully with conviction on any issue. This has become almost our national character, to exist in inertia, at the mercy of external impulses, responding to forces acting on us. In the absence of sound foundation or deeper thought about ourselves we are incapable of assuming charge of our destiny, and consequently ever ready to preserve negotiating space even on unnegotiable issues! There is no clear-sighted, hard-headed, farsighted policy at all on the uncompromisable elements of Indian nationhood.

Social media has been abuzz again with fervid defence of the speech by die-hard supporters PM Narendra Modi defending his choice of words in yesterday’s speech on Kashmir, most the appalling omission of any mention to Kashmiri Pandits, the worst victims of Islamism which is at the root of the ‘Kashmir problem’, the dominant agenda and the motivation behind all acts in speech and deed of Muslims of Kashmir who are its main actors. It is their pan-Islamic aims that underlay the formulation of the provisions 370 and 35A in 1954 and the demand for retention, not professed ‘kashmiriyat’.

These gestures aimed only at the Muslims give credence to Islamists claim over Kashmir and undermines the Indian nation’s claim over its historical land over millennia owing to change of religious demography. If this claim of Indians is weakened, entire India stands pretty much compromised today and any portion of it can be claimed by predatory ideologies. Is it really too much to expect that the topmost leader of the country has this in his perspective?

Conflict in Kashmir is of religious nature and those driven by religious zeal are made of sterner stuff than what the Indian government assumes. (Mr. Modi may ask his good friend Trump and Barack about their experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq.) India does not have the economic or military heft of the US and hence any conciliatory signals at the very beginning of a strategic war are going to be counter-productive.

Coming from a person who speaks with caution, is obsessed with details and knows the significance of symbolism, nothing in yesterday’s speech was accidental. It was very much deliberate and hence cannot be pointed out as mere whataboutery. PM Modi also went on to tweet a message, ostensibly meant for the Kashmiris, but clearly aimed at pleasing Muslims in the valley alone, since it was in Urdu language and scripted in Arabic! What ‘Kashmiriyat’ could this message possibly address, except strengthen the claim of Islamists over Kashmir?

But Modi fans would still want us to believe that he doesn’t engage in appeasement and that he must remain beyond any criticism as parents for children. This is infantile to say the least, not to mention surrender of the power of public opinion—the right and duty(!)—at the centre of any thriving democracy.

The true test of whether the Modi government is successful in its Kashmir policy is not whether Eid can be celebrated in Srinagar without fear, but whether a 1000 plus gathering of Kashmiri Pandits can celebrate Diwali in Srinagar without fear. Where we stand now, it looks like a very farfetched idea.

The problem with Hindus is their belief in saviours. For a good thousand years we have been attacked, looted, raped, kill, deprived of our own land and resources and relegated to second class status in our ancestral land and hence we are so totally bereft of confidence and invested in larger-than-life heros, that any strong politician appearing on Hindutva horizon is quickly considered as the eleventh reincarnation of Vishnu, and even genuine, well-meaning and wise criticism is dismissed with the zeal of bigots.

The bottom line is,
– Mr. Modi knows best what is good for Hindus, and by implication, Hindus are not capable of thinking on their own.
– Stop acting like kids clamouring for candies, for he has a plan up his sleeves, that will be revealed on the judgment day.
– By and large, Hindus have been ‘ungrateful’ to criticize him. He has done much more than what he was supposed to do or obliged to do.

Many of us would have erred in the past in estimating Mr. Modi’s calibre and political acumen, but we would do better to engage in cautious criticism rather than blind belief in someone who is not even ready to give verbal assurance on key issues to his primary constituency. As much as we must eschew sweeping generalizations and attaching labels to people without caring for nuance, but today looking at reactions to even valid criticism, one such label looks more justified than ever……We all know in our minds what that is… #Bhakts 🙂

Cover picture:
Headlines in Hindustan Times October 25, 1947 reporting accession of Jammu and Kashmir to the Union of India


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