In Delhi, the attitude of politicians, policy-makers, journalists and activists towards Pakistan has historically veered between extreme trust and extreme distrust. There are those who take candles to the Wagah border every August 14-15, insisting that we are one people with the same culture, separated by Partition and malign governments (both ours and theirs). There are others who see Pakistan (and Pakistanis) as implacable enemies, who divided the motherland in 1947 and now want to break up what remains of India into many parts. The first kind of Dilliwallah demands “uninterrupted and uninterruptible” dialogue with Pakistan, the second kind demands that we isolate Pakistan internationally, squeeze it economically, and, if required, attack it militarily.
Living outside Delhi, I find this obsession with Pakistan unhelpful to our short as well as long-term interests. For one thing, it makes us a mirror image of them. From Jinnah onwards, the Pakistani establishment has been consumed by hatred of India. Since the 1971 war and the loss of what was East Pakistan, the Pakistani army has been driven by the desire to get even with India. So have the religious clergy, the other dominant force in Pakistan today. The self-definition of the Pakistani elite is: We are not, and we are against, India.
That the Pakistani state is complicit in and promotes acts of terror aimed at India and Indians should no longer be in dispute. The boycott of the forthcoming SAARC conference is therefore a sensible move. Less sensible, perhaps, is talk of retributive attacks across the Line of Control; or of the unilateral modification of the Indus Water Treaty.
The Indian government needs to be hardheaded when dealing with its always unpredictable and occasionally malevolent neighbour. But realism must not be overtaken by hysteria. For, to see Indian nationalism as merely defined by antagonism to Pakistan is to deeply diminish it. And it is to divert attention from the other (and sometimes more serious) problems that confront us as a society and a nation.
Such as the ongoing crisis in Kashmir. Unlike the Wagah candle-lighters, I believe that Pakistan has no locus standi in the Kashmir Valley. By their attempts to foment war through infiltration in 1947, 1965 and 1999, and their financial and military support to jihadis both Kashmiri and foreign, Pakistan have forfeited any claim they once had to be a party to the dispute. But even if Pakistan was to keep out or be kept out of Kashmir, this would not result in everlasting peace in the Valley. Down the decades, the government of India has committed a series of grievous errors in Kashmir: The jailing of popular leaders, the rigging of elections, and the excessive use of force. Since the BJP became a major national party in the 1990s, there has been the threat to revoke Article 370, bring in settlers from outside, and ban the consumption of beef. Most recently, there has been the conspicuous failure to provide proper relief after the floods of 2014. These accumulated grievances provide the essential backdrop to the current uprising in Kashmir.
To be sure, Kashmiris fighting for greater rights have not always behaved honourably either. The ethnic cleansing of the Pandits in 1989-90 is something the Hurriyat have denied or underplayed, but as long as they do so, even reasonable, liberal, non-Hindutvawadi Indians shall distrust them. Again, it is unquestionably the case that there is an increasingly Islamist cast to the struggle in Kashmir. This can perhaps be explained as a reaction to the rise of Hindu fundamentalism in the rest of India. But it cannot be defended. Making a single religion central to a democratic movement gravely undermines it.
However, in the larger scheme of things, the crimes of the Indian state are far greater than those of the radicals in the Valley. The ideals of the Indian Constitution have too often, and for too long, been dishonoured by the government in Kashmir. Unfortunately, in the wake of the terror attack in Uri, the Indian state has altogether forgotten about its own responsibility towards Kashmir and Kashmiris.
I write this from Hyderabad, where, last night, I met an officer of the Naandi Foundation, who told me of a fascinating project they run in the Valley, which provides skills to young Kashmiri men and women who then go on to obtain well-paying jobs elsewhere in India. Fourteen hundred students have so far graduated from this programme, 70 per cent of whom work outside Kashmir, in Pune, Bengaluru, and other cities, in the IT, BPO, and hospitality sectors. These dedicated attempts of civil society groups must be furthered by our government, which alone has the capacity to reach out politically to the Kashmiris, and, by its actions more than its intentions, make them feel that they can become equal citizens of India.
And Kashmir is not the only major problem that requires the focused attention of the government and the media. There is the deepening crisis in Indian agriculture, the growing conflicts over water, the continuing attacks on women and Dalits, the continuing degradation of government schools and hospitals and (not least) of the criminal justice system. Surely, attending to these is far more important than screaming at Pakistan, day in and day out. We must not allow the debate about what it means to be an Indian, about how to construct a better India, be held hostage to the jingoists and the bigots, or to those who would rather have their TRPs rise than bring peace and justice to the land.
In his recent speech at the BJP conclave in Kozhikode, the prime minister invited Pakistan to a competition on, among other things, infant and maternal mortality. May I remind him, and ourselves, that this is a competition we may win with Pakistan, but are currently losing with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. In any case, the only competition the government of India should engage in is vis-à-vis the ideals of the Constitution. And it is Indians, not Pakistanis, who are responsible for the wide chasm that presently exists between those ideals and everyday life in our republic.