Advani and Kashmir: Old habits die hard…

By Shehzad Poonawalla,

The sign of a good politician is always his/her readiness to adapt to the changing political scenario and his/her ability to mould one’s political discourse. Stagnation of political thought, on the other hand, always leads one to a solitary path of political insignificance (which for most political animals is a fatality far worse than death itself). And as I watch the quintessential torch bearer of right-winged politics in India struggle to shed his old political skin for a new one, I fear that Mr. Advani, much to his dismay, will always be remembered as the “eternal prime minister in waiting”.

Mr. Advani is a seasoned politician who has spent enough time in public life to realise that there are limits to how many times you can sell old wine in a new bottle to the masses (an unfulfilled promise to build a Bhavya Ram Mandir has surely past its expiry date) . Yet his latest blog “Two missed opportunities, Six disastrous consequences” which focuses its attention on Kashmir demonstrates Mr. Advani’s refusal to trade in his saffron blinkers for the pragmatic kaleidoscope with which one needs to view the political realities in the valley. Whether it is political expediency or the brutal reality check he was given by the RSS when he termed Jinnah as “secular” in 2005, it seems that Mr. Advani lacks the statesman-like courage without which he finds himself standing at the edge of the shore yet too afraid to take a leap into the ocean of political opportunities where the temporary floats of caste-based and communal politics eventually make way for the steady sails of inclusive politics.

L. K. Advani

Although Mr. Advani has discovered a new mode of communication namely “blogging”, the content seems to be pretty much a copy-paste job from the original, worn-out handbook of the “Jan Sangh” circa 1951. Much like his predecessors in the 1950’s (or would it be more appropriate to refer to them as his contemporaries of 1950’s who he outlived?) Mr. Advani purely focuses on “Kashmir” (referring to it 23 times in a single blog) yet he manages to refer to the “Kashmiri” just once and that too as a prefix for the Pandits from J&K! (Leave it to you to draw conclusions on why he does so!) This overemphasis on a piece of land rather than people (of all hues and religious faiths) who live there and a myopic policy to view J&K as a territorial dispute rather than a tragedy inflicted upon the collective consciousness of a people, our people, is what I would characterize as the “special gift” of the Jan Sangh to this nation.

My simple question to Mr. Advani is that if he views secessionist forces in the valley playing a pro-active role (at the behest of the Pakistani establishment) in preventing J&K from being fully integrated into the Indian Union then at whose doorstep would the blame be laid when ABVP activists who resort to the politics of intimidation in Madhya Pradesh to shut the doors of educational institutions across MP for deserving Kashmiri students who have been deprived of comparable educational opportunities in their own state? And what would he say about the role of the administration in Karnataka (where his party is in power) as far as his pet theme of integration of Kashmir is concerned, when they took into custody, an under-22 cricketer Pervez Rasool from Anantnag (which falls in the Indian-Kashmir**), who happens to be a rising star with an aspiration to play for Team India on the basis of frivolous suspicion? And perhaps as one of the senior most politicians in the country did he not consider it to be appropriate to reach out to this youngster in order to ensure that this feeling of alienation is not exploited? Would it then be wrong to say that the hard-line approach adopted by the right wing emboldens secessionists to carry on and even legitimize their anti-India tirade?

On the one hand we have a bunch of politically motivated separatists who have tried to brainwash Kashmiris that India is not their homeland and on the other hand we have organizations like the ABVP which leave no stone unturned to paint every Kashmiri as an “anti-national element” including those who want to educate themselves and participate in the mainstream. The bitter truth is that both these groupings have fed off each other’s hatred and have systematically ensured that the average Kashmiri feels alienated. Even as far as the “Kashmiri Pandits”, who Mr. Advani views as the only affected party in Kashmir (perhaps choosing not to see pain of others in the valley who lost their lives, limbs and property to militancy, for reasons that you may be able to decipher on your own) I only ask Mr. Advani why did he not take a single step as Home Minister to ensure the return of the Kashmiri Pandits to their homeland or at the very least provide better facilities to those who stay in inhospitable refugee camps across Delhi, when his government was in power at the Centre or in Delhi?

Moreover, if Mr. Advani genuinely believes that Article 370 is the sole cause for the alienation of J&K, then why did he not make any attempts at garnering the requisite support for abrogating this Article by means of a Constitutional Amendment when the NDA was in power? Why does he still broker an alliance with parties like Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal(U) which takes a view contrary to that of the BJP’s so called “patriotic and nationalistic” stance on Article 370? Also, why does Mr. Advani choose to be silent on the other “Temporary, Transitional and Special Provisions” under Article 371 which deal with different states like Nagaland, Sikkim, Manipur, etc including the Vidharbha region of Maharashtra and Kutch region of Gujarat?

Mr. Advani also fails to explain why he did not object to the then External Affairs Minister Mr. Jaswant Singh accompanying hardcore terrorists namely Maulana Masood Azhar, Mushtaq Ahmad Zargar and Ahmed Umar Syed Sheikh to Kandahar (who later on continued with their terror activities costing many more Indian lives including the attack on Parliament)? Firstly, his government negotiated with terrorists and thereafter sent a Union Minister to handover the fugitives! Is it the lack of this “hard stance on terrorism” Mr. Advani seems to be lamenting about in his blog? And this happened after Mr. Advani’s government undertook a huge diplomatic exercise in the form of the “Lahore Bus Yatra”. Why did his government then invite Mr. Musharraf to Agra in 2001 when his role (as the Army Chief of Pakistan) in exporting terrorism to India and orchestrating the hostilities in Kargil were known by one and all? So after factoring these “minor details” in the context of India-Pakistan-Kashmir, which Mr. Advani seems to have forgotten to mention in his blog, would he then be candid enough to characterize the handling of this entire situation as a “big opportunity fritted away”?

Finally, I’d like to ask Mr. Advani if he genuinely believes (as he seems to represent in his blog) that all it takes to integrate a nation is mere territorial occupation or an amendment to the Constitution. The truth is that armies do not build nations, leaders do – by uniting people not at the altar of religion, sect, caste or class but through the unseen threads of shared hopes and common destinies. But then does Mr. Advani’s archaic politics allow him to choose the Kashmiri over Kashmir?

(DISCLAIMER: **Indian-Kashmir- The term is not open to being construed as legitimization of Pakistani occupation of Kashmir)

(The author is law graduate from Pune’s Indian Law Society and political activist)