Now, govt's Kashmir rhetoric is directed at international audience

Having turned life upside down for the people of the Kashmir Valley, under siege for more than six weeks, what exactly did Prime Minister Narendra Modi mean when he said we will have to hug every Kashmiri? It rings even hollower than his “goli se nahin gale se” speech on Independence Day in 2017 when he first enunciated a policy of embracing Kashmiris rather than subduing them with bullets.

This time Modi’s public rhetoric may not be directed at Kashmir or even the rest of India. The public relations exercise could be to counter the accusations against Modi of being a Hindu supremacist. There may be some urgency to refurbish his international image before his address to the UN General Assembly.

The New York Times has carried an article by Imran Khan which refers to Modi as Hitler. It follows a series of tweets and speeches where Khan recalled the condition of the Jewish community in Nazi Germany and accused Modi’s government of emulating the Fascists in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). 

The Indian Ambassador to the US who was fielded to rebut Khan in the NYT claimed that Kashmir was on the road to progress and prosperity, and rather lamely pointed to “the irony of seeing Islamabad refusing to recognize the legitimacy of Israel and tolerating anti-Semitic sentiment, but now invoking images of European fascism.”

Clearly the Fascism barb has hit where it hurts.

It has taken more than 15 years for Prime Minister Modi to live down his uninspiring role as Chief Minister during the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat. It has taken innumerable photo ops hugging world leaders to position himself as a statesman strutting the world stage. It is to conserve those gains that he is forced to declare that Kashmiris need a hug.

There are other clues that international diplomacy has been mobilised to counter the charge of Fascism.

The Express Tribune of Pakistan reported that Islamabad had been approached on September 3 by diplomatic emissaries of two Arab states, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, to facilitate back channel diplomacy with Delhi. The condition for dialogue, however, was that Imran Khan should stop comparing his Indian counterpart to Hitler!

The Express Tribune also claimed that the Indian prime minister in conversation with US President Donald Trump had “complained” about PM Khan’s verbal attacks. Indian media also reported the conversation with Trump conveying that Khan’s “extreme rhetoric” was not conducive to peace in the region.

It is not the prime minister alone who is accused of Fascism.

Imran Khan accused the ideological fountainhead of the BJP: “One only has to Google to understand the link between the Nazi ideology and ethnic cleansing and genocidal ideology of the RSS-BJP founding fathers (sic).” He also shared an article from Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, headlined “Hitler’s Hindus: The rise and rise of India’s Nazi-loving nationalists.”

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat it seems hopes to “set the record straight” by addressing almost 70 foreign correspondents in Delhi on September 24. An Indian news report quotes an RSS insider, “There is a lot of stereo-typing of the RSS as a Hindu militia organisation, which it is not….A section of foreign publications presented the RSS as ‘Nazi outfit’. It was decided that the RSS will meet foreign journalists to counter this narrative.”

Bhagwat has apparently held such discussions with Indian journalists in the past but this would be the first time he will address foreign media. A wag remarked that that he will have to explain why Fascism in India fails the Duck test –i.e. even if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it still is not a duck.

Public controversy over the RSS started when German Ambassador Walter Linder visited the RSS Headquarters at Nagpur in July this year. It has however picked up speed after revocation of the special status of J&K on August 5.

President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi walk around NRG Stadium waving to the crowd during the "Howdy Modi: Shared Dreams, Bright Futures" event, Sunday. Photo: AP/PTI

It is not difficult to see how J&K developments fit the template of Hindu supremacism. J&K was a Muslim majority province which enjoyed special status – entitling it in principle to far greater autonomy from the central government than other Indian states, even allowing it to have a separate flag and constitution. A strong separatist movement since 1988 in the Muslim-majority state bordering Pakistan has led many to suspect the loyalty of its majority population. The exodus of the Hindu Kashmiri Pandits in 1990, further reinforced the threat that a regional religious majority could pose to the country’s Hindu majority and to the RSS idea of a culturally defined nationalism. In the RSS’s narrative, J&K was not just a security threat but a cancerous growth on the body politic.

RSS ideology is obsessed with the decline of Hindus, their historic humiliation by invaders from outsiders (read, Muslims) and of Hindu victimhood. It seeks to compensate for the historically imagined misery of the Hindus through an agenda of cultural uniformity, hatred of those responsible for Hindu ‘humiliation’ and redemptive violence. Prime Minister Modi himself is deeply steeped in this narrative having been a full-time functionary or pracharak (proselytiser) of the RSS for the better part of his life.

Given their ideological narrative, it is not surprising that Pakistan has been able to fashion an effective campaign in the Western media against PM Modi and the RSS. They have been accused of promoting ethnic nationalism, being anti-Muslim, running a “Hindu-nationalist government” and pursuing the “Modi Project” of fashioning India as a Hindu nation.

Pakistan and the western media in this way is able to recall the horrors of European Fascism to establish a moral platform from where it can justify the resistance in Kashmir to Hindu majoritarian rule. Already attempts in Assam to make thousands of Muslim residents “stateless” has drawn international criticism.

It would seem that epithets of Hindu majoritarianism and fascism have found their intended target. They will hurt for a long time.


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