Belligerent Leaders Using Nationalist and Religious Rhetoric to Mask Geopolitics Aims

The people of Kashmir have tried, time and again, to translate themselves from passive recipients of violence, legitimated by legislations of the physically and psychologically removed parliaments of India and Pakistan, into subjects who recognize that they can exercise agency and take control of their destinies. They march forward with a refusal to allow history to be imposed on them, and attempt to take charge of their own social and political destinies. The confluence of religious nationalism, secular nationalism and ethnic nationalism create the complexity of the Kashmir issue.

Over the years, successive Congress governments of the Indian Union may have made attempts to highlight the purported illegitimacy of Article 370, but they have taken no serious measures to revoke it from the Constitution of India. Surprisingly, even the Hindu right-wing BJP, when it assumed power in New Delhi in the late 90s, avoided succumbing to the pressure put on it by its more fanatical cohorts to eradicate the special status enjoyed by the Muslim-dominated state of J& K. Of course, the Narendra Modi-led BJP is a different story. India’s policy vis-à-vis Kashmir was influenced by other variables. Pakistan’s formal political alignment with the United States of America motivated the Soviet Union, in the 1950s, to overtly support the Indian stance towards Kashmir. The Soviet premier Khrushchev made explicit his government’s pro-India position on Kashmir in 1955, when he belligerently declared in Srinagar, the heartland of the Kashmir Valley.

The insurgency in J & K, which has extracted an enormous price from the people of the state, was generated by the systemic erosion of democratic and human rights, discrimination against the Muslims of the Valley, socioeconomic marginalization, relegation of the right to self-determination to the background, etc. While the rebellion may have been incited by India’s political, social and economic tactlessness, it has been sustained by military, political, and economic support from Pakistan. Proponents of the independence of the state of J & K are just as stridently opposed to Pakistan’s administration of “Azad” Kashmir as they are to India’s administration of J & K.

The current protests in Kashmir are being led by a generation that has known only conflict, political turmoil, and politicoeconomic instability. There is a lot of anger and resentment in this generation because no serious attempt has been made by the Government of India to mitigate the conflict while recognizing the constitutional and legal rights of the people of Kashmir. The complacency of the federal government in times of relative calm is culpable. Given the militarization and rabid fragmentation of Kashmiri society, it is necessary for the Government of India necessary to evoke pluralism in the face of divisive politics, instead of pushing people to the wall by the imposition of a monolithic nationalism, defined by the Hindutva agenda of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. The unfinished business of the powers to be on both sides of the Line of Control (India and Pakistan) to ride roughshod over the history of Kashmiri nationalism and the evolution of a political consciousness in Kashmir, which began much before 1989, cannot continue unabated. It also becomes necessary for federal countries to reassess and reevaluate their policies vis-à-vis border states. The restoration of the autonomous status of J & K would be a viable beginning and would resuscitate rule of law and political self-determination.

Instead of deterring the growth of democracy and depoliticizing the people, the goal should be to empower the populace of Jammu and Kashmir sufficiently to induce satisfaction with the Kashmir constituency’s role within current geopolitical realities such that a dis-empowered populace does not succumb to ministrations of destructive political ideologies. In addition to addressing the political aspect of democracy, it is important to take cognizance of its economic aspect as well. I have brought up this idea in my presentation at a couple of conferences, and I reinforce that perhaps it is time to seriously consider a new regional order which would be capable of producing cross-economic, political, and cultural interests among the people of the region. I believe that people in civic associations and in government should lead the way toward a peaceful pluralistic democracy and support international negotiations for a sustainable peace in the region. All these opinions, by the way, were formed during the course of my research which, at times, entailed painful reappraisals.

The purportedly autonomous status of J & K has always provoked the ire of the Hindutva nationalist parties, which sought the unequivocal integration of the state into the Indian Union.

The unitary concept of nationalism that the BJP and the RSS subscribe to challenge the basic principle that the nation was founded on, namely, democracy. In such a nationalist project, one of the forms that the nullification of past and present histories takes is the subjection of religious minorities to a centralized and authoritarian state buttressed by nostalgia of a “glorious past.” The unequivocal aim of the supporters of the integration of J & K into the Indian Union was to expunge the political autonomy endowed on the state by India’s constitutional provisions. According to the unitary discourse of sovereignty disseminated by Hindutva nationalists, J & K was not entitled to the signifiers of statehood – a prime minister, flag and constitution. The concept of nationalism constructed by the BJP and the RSS breeds relentless violence and the delusions of militant nationalisms. The militarization of the region, ecological and economic plunder, negation of legal procedures, and lack of infrastructure has fuelled the hitherto restrained resentment and anger in the state. The use of pellet guns to disperse dissident crowds is particularly condemnable, especially when innocent civilians get caught in the line of fire.

The atmosphere of paranoia and mistrust is exacerbated by the frightening attempts of Hindu fundamentalist groups to rewrite Indian history and the recasting of Pakistani history by Islamist organizations: efforts to radically redefine Indian and Pakistani societies in the light of ritualistic Hinduism and Islam, respectively. Writing about this anti-historical attitude, Kai Friese reported in the New York Times that in November 2002, the National Council of  Education Research and Training, which is the central government organization in India that finalizes the national curriculum and supervises education of high school students, circulated a new textbook for the social sciences and history. The textbook conveniently overlooks the embarrassing fact that the architect of Indian independence, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist in 1948, a year after the proclamation of independence. Friese also points out that Indian history has been embellished with some interesting fabrications, one of which is the erasure of the Indus Valley civilization and the conjuring up of a mythical “Indus–Saraswati” civilization in its stead. This is a strategic maneuver to transform a historical civilization into a mythical one. The chapter on the Vedic civilization in the history textbook lacks important dates and is inundated with uncorroborated “facts,” such as: “India itself was the original home of the Aryans. The Aryans were an indigenous race and the creators of the Vedas” (Friese 2002). Similarly, mainstream Pakistani history portrays the movement for the creation of the nation-state of Pakistan as a movement for an Islamic state, the carving out of which became a historic inevitability with the first Muslim invasion of the subcontinent. This version of Pakistani history establishes the Islamic clergy as the protagonists of the movement for the creation of a theocratic state (Hoodbhoy and Nayyar 1985: 164–77). Such propaganda to further narrow agendas makes it impossible to hold informed debates on issues of political and religious import. Jingoistic textbooks and biased interpretations negate the possibility of reaching a national consensus regarding Kashmir.

Nyla Ali Khan is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan has also served as an guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. She can be reached at