Kashmir policy, at cross-purposes

India has reversed its long-held and multiparty position that Kashmir not be internationalised and that the world be kept out of our internal affairs. This much is clear and visible, given the triggering of global interest in condemning our recent actions. What is unclear is whether this is deliberate and thought through. We will examine that another time.

First, let’s consider in what ways the issues of Kashmir and of citizenship stand internationalised.  On December 6, a US Congresswoman of Indian origin, Pramila Jayapal, moved resolution 745 in the House of Representatives. It was titled “Urging the Republic of India to end the restrictions on communications and mass detentions in Jammu and Kashmir as swiftly as possible and preserve religious freedom for all residents.” The resolution summarises the history of violence in Kashmir and acknowledges that the government of India faces challenges in countering terrorist violence. However, it asks that India: (a) lift restrictions on communication and restore internet access; (b) refrain from the use of threats and excessive force against detained people and peaceful protesters; (c) swiftly release arbitrarily detained people in Jammu and Kashmir; (d) refrain from conditioning the release of detained people on their willingness to sign bonds prohibiting any political activities and speeches; (e) allow international human rights observers and journalists to access Jammu and Kashmir and operate freely throughout India, without threats; (f) condemn, at the highest levels, all religiously motivated violence, including that violence which targets religious minorities.

It could hardly be more damning because it accurately nails all of India’s atrocities in Kashmir. On December 20, days after Jayapal moved this resolution, India’s Foreign Minister S Jaishankar cancelled a meeting he had with the top leadership of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee because he didn’t want to face Jayapal. 

For decades, India has fought hard for our issues and especially for Kashmir to never come up in international fora. Now we are not only encouraging that it happens with our actions, but we are avoiding those who are raising the issue, which is astonishing. Diplomats are paid to defend India (as the saying goes, they “lie abroad for the country”), not to run away from problems. 

India’s view on this resolution is that it is not binding on us and so we can ignore it. The first part is true, the second is not. 

On December 6, the resolution had two backers (the other one was a Republican from Kansas). By the time Jaishankar had decided to run away from his meeting it had 25. Today, it has 54, meaning more than 10 per cent of the total strength of the House of Representatives. The backers include Adam Schiff of California (prominent in the impeachment of Donald Trump) and Maxine Waters. India has had no response to this other than to wheel out the Howdy Modi lobby of mostly Gujarati Americans to unsuccessfully tell their representatives that this is “India’s internal matter.” 

Illustration: Binay Sinha

This week, the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to oppose the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and asked that India repeal the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Of course, this is not binding and we may not care what the city, which is home to Microsoft, thinks. But the fact is that this is what internationalisation means — other countries, other people, in different fora, talking about our laws and our practices negatively.

Last week, the members of Europe’s Parliament tabled a resolution to condemn the Citizenship Act. The joint motion of five different coalitions of MEPs said that “NRC marks a dangerous shift in the way citizenship will be determined in India, and may create a large-scale statelessness crisis and cause immense human suffering.” It “condemns the violence and brutality that broke out in different regions of India following the adoption of the CAA; recalls the special responsibility of law enforcement services to show restraint and allow peaceful protest; calls for a prompt and impartial investigation into the events; calls on the Indian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release the protesters and human rights defenders currently held under arrest; it condemns the decision of the Indian authorities to shut down internet access to global networks”. The vote on the resolution was delayed by six weeks, leading India to declare a great victory, but more trouble lies ahead.

We can call it our internal issue but the fact is that the CAA violates not just India’s constitution, especially Article 14 (‘The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth”) and Article 21 on the deprivation of life and liberty to all persons (not just citizens). It also violates two charters we have signed. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. Again, here India’s position is that we may have signed these but nobody can enforce them if we choose to deliberately violate them. Is that the sort of thing we want the world to think about India?

Also, in the same period, Malaysia’s prime minister criticised India’s actions in Kashmir and on citizenship. India’s response was to issue an official fatwa to its importers not to buy palm oil from Malaysia (we purchase a little over $1 billion worth a year) and instead to choose other nations, raising the price for Indian consumers. This is not mature behaviour and we will regret conducting foreign affairs in this sort of knee-jerk and petulant manner. 

It is the reflection of the way our politics is run today — that our diplomacy has been sucked in. But as events in the US, Europe and elsewhere show, what India has done and is doing will have long-term repercussions and ramifications. And it is difficult to look at them and see them as being good or beneficial for India.


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