Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.
So said 18th Century British writer Samuel Johnson. And how else would you explain the misguided patriotism displayed by India’s main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Republic Day last week, when it attempted to unfurl the national flag at the historic Lal Chowk in Srinagar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir?
Not that long ago, the Kashmir valley was in turmoil, and it took the deaths of more than 100 people before gradual efforts were made to restore calm in the region. More recently, though, most of the separatist groups and civil society across the states in the region have been responding positively to the decision by the Indian government to appoint a three-member panel of interlocutors. The interlocutors have been engaging different sectors of civic society in order to try to find a way to bring about a lasting solution for the strife-torn region.
Yet the ‘Ekta,’ or ‘Unity March’ carried out on January 26 by the BJP has again divided the people—not only in the valley, but all over India. The work of the panel, which was trying to reach the people and help heal their emotional wounds, has been partly undone. The painful memories of the families who lost their loved ones in conflict have returned.
Meanwhile the separatists, always on the lookout for an excuse to start up their nefarious activities, have become active again, at least if the arrests of some of their leaders are any indication.
TV footage of the BJP march that started in Kolkata looked like a medieval army plodding forward to capture foreign territory and wanting to raise a victory flag. It’s just this sort of interference that has been a major bone of contention between the people of Kashmir and the Indian government.
But the BJP seems more concerned about winning the territory than the hearts of the people there who we forged a special bond with 60 years ago. What’s needed now in Kashmir isn’t the Indian flag but Indian empathy—empathy for the people’s suffering, their needs and their political demands. Yet we fail to demonstrate such empathy each time the need arises.
Take, for our example, when our security forces killed dozens of young people during recent unrest. Most of our mainstream political parties remained silent, while the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Obdullah, waited until after 100 people had died before he even paid a visit to the local hospital.
The nation’s main opposition party also remained silent while our own young people were being killed. No local or national BJP leaders had the courage to condemn the killing of innocent people in the valley. But now, with things settling down, the BJP has stepped up to try to create unrest in the name of nationalism and patriotism.
The separatists, who seemed divided following recent claims of internal strife, are said to be regrouping again, and foreign forces and terrorists who look for opportunities created by such unrest are also said to be growing active.
In some of the states in the north-east, Indian flags have been fluttering high for the last 60 years. But there are also areas where people are no longer willing to abide by the Indian Constitution and flag. And the reason for this is the betrayal on the part of Indian leadership and disillusionment with a system that promised to help meet their needs.
Yet if the BJP’s patriotic spirit is so strong, then why hasn’t its own government been able to implement the rule of law in significant parts of Chhattisgarh state, which it controls? And why hasn’t its Hindutva leadership dared to go to the Dantewada district in the state and hoist its national flag there?
Just repeating ad nauseam that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India doesn’t make it ours. The region requires special consideration and benevolence, both of which we’ve so far failed to show it. If we keep on treating Kashmir as if it’s only value is as strategic territory, then the notion of a united India will never bloom in the valley.
The BJP, reeling under its own political inertia and inanity, has again resorted to divisive politics to reinvent its moribund organization. Sadly, such politics once paid dividends. But I like to think that the country has moved on, and that the India of 2011 isn’t the India of the 1980s or 1990s.
When history gave an opportunity to The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent organization of the BJP, to show its true patriotism during the freedom struggle, the so-called ‘sons of the soil’ instead chose to become stooges for the British government. Yet these days when the RSS and its Hindutva affiliates find themselves embroiled in terrorist problems in some Muslim-dominated areas, such as happened in 2007 and 2008, they play the nationalism card.
Johnson was right. Patriotism really is the last refuge of the scoundrel, in Indian politics at least.