Identity Crisis in Kashmir: If nationalism isn't fetishized, Kashmiris may see advantages to the idea of being India

Palash Krishna Mehrotra
Palash Krishna MehrotraAug 13, 2019 | 11:58

Identity Crisis in Kashmir: If nationalism isn't fetishized, Kashmiris may see advantages to the idea of being India

Kashmiris today need to make a tough choice while living in very tough circumstances. But while Hindutva may repel, there are advantages as well to willfully joining the Indian mainland.

The grinning, applauding laddoo-eaters celebrating the ‘integration’ of Kashmir into the ‘mainland’ forget what Indians often forget — for at least three generations, we’ve taken peacetime for granted.

If you’ve never lived in a war zone — there are 6,00,000 troops on the ground at the moment — if you’ve never been fired upon, if you’ve never been humiliated by an ‘occupying force’ and made to rub your nose on the ground, then you have no right to celebrate someone else’s ‘liberation’ —  or rather, to my mind, the clamping of chains.


Have you ever lived in a war zone? It beats reality TV. (Photo: Reuters) 

India might not be a rich country, but in large swathes of it, people have gone about their daily business like clockwork automatons for decades — job, marriage, kids, a roof above one’s head. Peacetime offers the lucky millions a luxury not afforded to those in areas of conflict — the privilege of being bored, of being exhausted by the mundanities of everyday life.

Films will come to theatres, ATMs will dispense cash (demonetisation was the closest experience to a war-like situation for most of us), chemists will be well-stocked, veggies and fruits will eternally make their way from farm to fork. The mundanities of a war zone are different, more like pathological boredom. You want to get out and make your space in the world, do your thing. But you cannot. The moment you step out, you will be in the crosshairs of a gun, blinded in the eyes, maimed, killed.

The BJP was supposed to be the harbinger of big-bang economic reforms that would unleash ‘animal spirits’. Instead, it has unleashed the ‘plant spirit’ — plant animosity, plant saffron, plant hate.


Narendra Modi nipped the 'suit-boot ki sarkar' or the pro-big business jibe in the bud. If there is one Congress PM he secretly admires, it’s clearly Indira Gandhi, the strong woman. From her, he took the ‘garibi hatao’ line and rebranded himself as a messiah of the poor.Simultaneously, Project Bharat was put on fast track. This is where the big-bang reforms are taking place — the NRC in Assam, Yogi in UP, fighter jets crossing into Pakistani territory, revoking Article 370.

The alarm bells ringing in the automobile industry have been put on snooze.

Employment is an issue but it’s not as important as it’s made out to be. It doesn’t sway voters anymore.

Amit Shah and Modi have the uncanny knack of the soothsayer. Nobody reads the public mood better than them — just look at the celebrations. Critics will argue that the two don’t read the mood as much as assemble and manufacture it from thin air.

Modi has elevated the discourse for the common man, the little Indian. He’s injected it with a moral impulse whose motherlode is nationalism. Nationalism is one of the oldest yarns in the book, but Modi spins it on a different charkha.


'What unemployment?' Modi has elevated the nationalist discourse for the common man. (Photo: Reuters)

He uses it to persuade the little Indian to rise above the insolvables of their daily lives: Price rise, jobs, rapes, leaking roofs, potholes, creaking buses, e-rickshaws, garbage, dengue. The pettifogging Indian is offered an opportunity to be part of a grand narrative. He is endowed with a transcendental moral purpose.

Why think of earthly lack when you can imagine India on the moon, India in a fighter jet, India expanding into the land of fair women, beautiful landscapes and cheap plots.

Modi has a way with words, from crusader to avuncular. Modi, the storyteller, borrows the technique of magic realism from Latin American novelists and applies it to the terra firma of Indian politics.

Protests have already erupted in Kashmir — teargas and pellet guns are back in action. But even if Kashmir explodes, or if there are retaliatory terrorist strikes in other parts of the country, Modi still wins at the ballot box. The Indian voter will see it as the Kashmiri’s fault — Modi (and India) did his best, a genuine offer was made. Like with demonetisation, it will be proof that his heart is in the right place, the intention’s genuine.

In many ways, there are no surprises here. The BJP-RSS idea of an Akhand Bharat has been in the public domain for the longest time. The BJP in its second term is only executing this idea, on the double, and to loud cheering. What we are witnessing are the ripples of a muscular fantasy.

The broad brushstrokes of history are not a pretty sight to behold. Overnight, equations change, status quos perish, there is bloodshed. With the passage of time, equations are reset again. Mao, Stalin and Hitler all rose and fell. In our times, we have seen militancy, followed by peace, in Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka and Punjab. It might not sound like much of an insight, but when the combined power of the state is brought to bear on you, there is little room for manoeuvre.

It’s ironic that Amit Shah, who calls Muslim immigrants ‘termites’, now hopes to solve the Kashmir problem with immigration from mainland India.

Amit Shah, who calls Muslim immigrants ‘termites’, now hopes to solve the Kashmir problem with immigration. (Photo: Reuters)

It’s what China did in Tibet and Israel in the West Bank.

My point is this: Whatever the motivations of Hindutva might be, this deed is now done. Insurgencies die a natural death only when the people get tired of it. The desire to be a part of the mainstream and reap its benefits, unremarkable as they might be, is a resilient undercurrent. The initial sense of anger will make way for a sense of resignation, which in turn might just translate into a sense of ‘getting on with it’.

This is what the BJP is banking on.

Life is short and most young people around the world want the same things: The freedom to make love and money, the freedom to practice one’s religion or not, and to reap the fruits of modernity: Movies and streaming videos, mobile phones, coffee shops, American street fashion, rap music, films, automobiles. The Instagramable life is now a universal ideal.

Till there's nothing left to break: Insurgencies die a natural death when the people get tired of them. (Photo: Reuters) 

I once attended a talk and a reading given by the Tibetan poet and activist Tenzin Tsundue. He said that while he knows that a free Tibet is a country that will never concretise, it’s important to keep the idea alive. I’ll add to this: Keep the idea alive but non-violently so.

Good things can emerge from bad ideas. We shouldn’t rule out that possibility, fight the liberal tendency to sink into an apocalyptic despondency, to compose awful aphorisms in the Twittersphere.

The Kashmiris can treat this as an ‘opportunity’, forsake violence and grab it with both hands. Perhaps I’m being an optimist but history also has a way of disposing of old ideas and ringing in the new. Hindutva might be here today and gone in forty years. To keep one’s hopes alive, one has to think the long haul.

To willingly be a part of a larger cosmopolitan, Indian identity is not a bad thing in itself — it might even have its temptations. National identity can provide a framework within which we can transcend our differences. In the long run, integration can work wonders, even as the Hindutva era gradually fades away. All ideologies lose their pull eventually. The lifecycle runs itself out.

Even saints turn to dust.

Last updated: August 13, 2019 | 11:58
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