I have always considered myself as a “liberal”, not in political terms, but in terms of maintaining and sustaining a very open mindset towards receiving and assimilating contrarian views. Occasionally I have veered towards conservative or rightist opinions, because I thought the thought process behind those opinions were valid and resonated with my own thinking.
But on most issues, I have been a liberal – very open, not toeing the majority line, building my own logic for arguing the strengths of my case, and always receptive to other peoples’ opinions – whether they are conservative, liberal, right wing or left wing. I always thought that the charm of a liberal thinker is his or her ability to keep an open mind at all times.
However, I found that I could be severely challenged in the midst of a group of close friends, it happened recently to me when all their guns were individually and jointly trained on me. Initially, I took it in my own way – not very seriously, raising points of contention and questioning their rationale. As the noise increased incessantly over WhatsApp, I had to keep pressing my points, because I believed strongly in my views on humanity.
The issue on hand was Kashmir. I have no problem with India trying to integrate Kashmir finally in its own fold firmly – I think it is the right thing to do after 70 years of vacillation. Kashmir people will get access to investments, job opportunities and increased tourism. And, many other benefits that Indian citizens are entitled to.
However, I believe firmly that violence and retaliation to violence both should fully stop. Military deployment by India should not lead to completely avoidable things such as pellet shooting at protesters and even at common people going about their daily tasks. The counter-argument of my influential group of friends is simple: terrorists do not deserve any sympathy and must be dealt with even by brutal means, and collateral damage is unavoidable when dealing mostly with Kashmiri terrorists.
There are 7M Kashmiris living in Jammu & Kashmir State. Most of them are just normal folks like us. If the idea of integration with India is to bring these people into an Indian warm embrace, where is the need to treat all of them as violent terrorists?
I sent out the media coverage on Kashmir from WSJ, CNN, BBC, etc., and my friends pooh-poohed all the global media publications – slandering them as anti-India. So far, I have not seen negative media coverage by the Indian mainstream media, with the exception of few online publications. I agree that CNN is mostly anti-India and somewhat pro-Pakistan. But the others are generally well balanced, though upset with India’s total lockdown of Kashmir.
In a nutshell, here are my two cents: Kashmiris are surely going to protest loss of their freedom, and need to be strongly persuaded on India’s rationale for the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A. This cannot be done with machine guns and bayonettes, and requires finesse with big heart and big commitments from Indian Government. Kashmiris should be made to feel like they are fully Indian citizens.
My friends would not buy this approach, and I know it. For them, appeasement of any minority community is totally unacceptable. According to them, it is the failed policies of the previous many Congress governments that resulted in the current chaos. But the difference is stark: Kashmir is a border state with two adversaries staring at India – Pakistan and China. Pakistan trained terrorists keep sneaking into Kashmir to create chaos. With what India has done now, it is not difficult to fathom the mind of the average Kashmiri.
Pakistan and China are hard at work trying to internationalize the Kashmir problem. India is ignoring them, and that is the right approach. India’s challenge is all internal – it has to convince Kashmiris of its genuine good intentions and fully integrate them into India. It is not going to be easy at all, and in the meantime, Pakistan is bound to create all kinds of problems for India. As emotions appear to be high, there may be attacks by Pakistan along the Line of Control in Kashmir.
Given the current political support for the Indian government’s actions, it is unlikely that India will accommodate any views contrary to its actions and plans that it will further implement. So it is a dead end for either party, and Pakistan should not expect anything positive as it has unilaterally downgraded relations, ejected the Indian Ambassador, compared Mr. Modi to Nazis, and so on and so forth. India will not show the hand of friendship to Imran Khan.
So, coming back to the idea of this blog post, “liberal” views are not “separatist” views, as one of my close friends hinted. Liberals are not siding with “anti-national” forces. Liberals are just expressing their views with their own logic, and I am no different. Unnecessary killings, blinding and maiming of ordinary citizens – even those who have sympathetic views on separatist efforts – have to be completely avoided at all costs, thereby eliminating potential global concerns on police atrocities. By this statement, I do not mean that India should keep its hands tied when encountering terrorism.
Let us see how the Kashmir situation unfolds in the coming days and weeks. I do hope it will turn out positive for both ordinary Kashmiris and India as a whole.
17th August 2019