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Sunday, April 30, 2017

LBJ, Kashmir, and Indian liberals

Lyndon Johnson, towards the end of his presidency had been reduced to a figure of universal scorn and derision for escalating the Vietnam War to the point of no extrication and which became a defining human tragedy of twentieth century. It was war fought on pretexts that did not exist.  The slur “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” became an anthem of protestors that forced him to forgo running for his second term in 1968.  Those protesting against the war and those who eventually forced Lyndon Johnson from the office were Americans who had overcome with images of atrocities and wanton civilian deaths in that mindless war. The Vietnam War was far from an exception and since its end scenes of wanton brutality and mindless killings world over can be catalogued into heavy volumes with preface filled with introduction to vileness of human species, only one to scheme annihilation of its own for artificial creations that have no sanction in the natural world.  

Those deliberate false premises have gone far too long in perpetuating the brutality and subjugation in Kashmir. Those treacherous assumptions careened into perception have Indians demanding even sterner actions than the Indian security forces have not already employed. One wonders what could be sterner than the blinding of people including under-aged children through indiscriminate and unprecedented use of pellet guns. For years Indians have been ingrained with an image of a country on a map that an average fruit seller or an industrialist or a mentally and morally bankrupt bureaucrat or a duplicitous politician have all come to treat as their backyard. Ironically, Kashmir due to the very intransigence of the Indian establishment might be once again fast hurtling towards or in many ways it is already at a precipice with the local population under an ever-increased repression. In the process, India finds itself, straddling a moral abyss, which in the process exposes the hollowness of a section of the society that prides in calling itself progressive. The progressives in India refurbish their credentials by being vocal against rabidly rightwing government of Narendra Modi; curiously on the issue of Kashmir and atrocities of Indian forces in Kashmir or for that matter on any discussion about the outstanding legal status of the state, that ingrained Indian maps forces those very progressives to become alter egos of hardcore rightwing parties.

The situation in Kashmir remains what it has been for more than two decades and a half, glittered with Indian mendacity and deliberate sabotages. The place, forced through a violent insurgency in late 1980s through 1990s, remains axiomatically unchanged in it demands and aspirations even after transition from an armed insurrection to an unarmed struggle. What else has remained unchanged is the response of Indian establishment and its violent vehemence.  Even when the politicians in power, until the present Modi dispensation in Delhi, professed deliberations to deal with the reality of Kashmir, the things on the ground instead of moving forward only worsened over the time. Over reliance and misplaced faith on discredited electoral process without addressing the fundamental disputed status of Kashmir vis-a-vis Indian Union further deteriorated an already dire situation. Amidst all kerfuffle, one basic matter that falls through the wide crevices of sparse minds of Indian establishment and so-called progressives, concerns the dehumanizing siege under which the entire population of Kashmir has been held since the start of the uprising or even before.
Parading of Farooq Ahmad Dar, bound to front bumper of a jeep, by army through nine villages with a piece of paper tied to his chest, warning others of a similar fate was hardly an isolated incident except the widespread circulation of that image in world media. Without taking into consideration the documented egregiously criminal cases of murders, rapes and forced disappearance over two-decades, any people would rise in rebellion against everyday humiliations that people have had to endure at the hand of security personnel through identity checkpoints, frisking, identity parades and senseless harassments. That image of hapless Farooq Ahmad Dar did evoke genuine outrage in some sections in India, but largely, there was glee and expounding of justifications and demand for even stringent actions against dilettante population mostly by liberals who otherwise had been outraged at the lynching of Akhlaq and Pehlu Khan by vigilantes of Hinduvta.

What is that evokes such reactions against population in Kashmir amongst liberals? Is that imaginary map of greater India so chiseled in brains that thought of any tinkering leads to complete irrationality? Perhaps that is where some introspective reading of history, not only of Kashmir but entire world, sometimes can help to dispel in built prejudices. The circumstances of the accession of Kashmir with India were not only dubious but it was done with a contingency of a plebiscite that India had willed never to follow through and one leader after another played dubious roles in suppressing the aspirations of population in Kashmir. There was always an unbridgeable chasm between professing and practice; the integral part mantra was always meant for, then as now, for land, the people never became anything more than colonial subjects for India as Indians had been for the British. And as did Britain, India always found local collaborators to indulge in meaningless electoral process, which over the time got so discredited that a recent poll attracted 7 percent voters and 8 deaths.

Lyndon Johnson ended his presidency completely discredited with Vietnam fiasco but he is still considered among the greatest presidents the United States. After assuming presidency after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Johnson went on to achieve something that eluded all American presidents since Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery. Johnson’s achievements of civil and voting right act that abolished racial segregation and allowed backs to vote throughout the country remain unmatched stellar accomplishments. Ironically, immediately after the passage of voting rights acts there were widespread riots by blacks in different cities. Johnson could understand the irony as he famously said, “What did you expect? I don’t know why we’re so surprised. When you put your foot on a man’s neck and hold him down for three hundred years, and then you let him up, what’s he going to do? He’s going to knock your block off.”

Will Kashmir be ever solved? Only if there were leaders with Johnson like grit and altruistic determination to acknowledge the problem in the first place. No solution will come from Modi, given his avid hatred of Muslims in general. To clear doubts on that issue one just has to play those recordings from the time of Gujarat riots of 2002 when he was profuse in taunting hapless victims of gory macabre under his watch. In reality, the doomed coalition between his party and local familial enterprise of Muftis under the garb of Peoples Democratic Party has made that ever existing chasm even wider than ever and sullied Indian image more than ever, at home and abroad. Paradoxically, that may also hasten the complete rupture between Kashmir and India. 

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