Gautam Gambhir, the newly-elected Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member of parliament, is clearly a man in some hurry to stamp his authority on the political pitch of the republic.
In response to a tweet by Mehbooba Mufti critiquing the efficacy of “brute” strong-arm tactics in resolving the imbroglio in the Valley, Gambhir has noted that whereas he is in favour of a “talk-based solution” to the Kashmir problem, “if oppression ensures security for my people, then so be it.”
While I am all for a talk-based solution to Kashmir problem but for @mehboobamufti to term Shri @AmitShah’s process as “brute” is “ridiculously naive”. History has been witness to our patience and endurance. But if oppression ensures security for my people, then so be it.
— Gautam Gambhir (@GautamGambhir) June 3, 2019
The enormity of the sentiment Gambhir expressed is strong proof that one needs much more than a few days in the political nets to learn how to do politics with an acceptable constitutional and democratic bat.
For starters, the Indian constitution does not allow the state to inflict any sort of ‘oppression’ on ‘we the people’. Insofar as elected governments represent – with whatever caveat – the will of the people and govern on their behalf and for their good, ‘oppression’ must be ruled out as a legitimate government strategy.
Who exactly does Gambhir have in mind when he says “ensures security of my people?” Clearly, he does not mean the people of Kashmir, because the overwhelming civic sentiment in the Valley does not quite tally with that description.
Far from “ensuring” the security of Kashmiris, it is their view – one they express through all sorts of means at their disposal – that their “security” is every day put in jeopardy by resorting to strong-arm methods of quelling popular resentment against the powers that be.
In endorsing “oppression” as a tactic, Gambhir plays rather directly into the complaint that what obtains in Kashmir is essentially in the nature of a ‘colonial occupation’ rather than a constitutional-democratic rule.
And, if in speaking of “my people” Gambhir means not the Kashmiris but others, the distinction must seem even more unfortunate and problematic. What could be a more emphatic enunciation of the alienation Kashmiris feel in being treated not as Indians on an equal footing with the rest of the country but as essentially dangerous “others,” whose concerns must be seen as inimical to national priorities, and whose voice must be quelled rather than heard.
There is, of course, the question of whether what Gambhir has said represents the viewpoint of the ruling establishment and whether this view will receive an open and full endorsement from those charged with dealing with Kashmir and Kashmiris. Will Gambhir’s approval of “oppression” become state policy in the coming days and months, or will a repudiation of his words be forthcoming?
Should such repudiation not happen, then Gambhir must be understood to not just be affecting a neophyte bravado but making an ominous declaration of what to expect.
Is there a suggestion here that if the government’s intention to abrogate Article 370 and rescind Article 35A draws popular resistance, then “oppression” will follow with greater vigour? One does not know; but for a ruling party member of parliament to have couched the zeitgeist in the words he has, the worst must be expected.
What is a piquant irony is that Gambhir’s tweet should have come as a riposte to one by Mehbooba – someone who expected the stable, strong, Hindutva right-wing government at the Centre to have been best placed to effect a modus vivendi in Jammu and Kashmir, and thus one who took the plunge to enter the state government in a coalition with them.
The Gambhir speak is far too pregnant with attitude and implication to be allowed to pass by as just another gaffe by a precipitate “nationalist”. Its ill-informed arrogance has a sniff of Dyer and Jallianwala Bagh and seems calculated to keep the empire and shoot the people.
Badri Raina taught at Delhi University.