In Pulwama, Narendra Modi Has Found the Trigger He Needed Before 2019 Elections

It is difficult not to conclude that the prime minister is trying to repeat history.

The death of more than 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawans in the single deadliest attack on security forces in 30 years of militancy in Kashmir is not only a national but a human tragedy.

The shock it has given to the country is understandable. What is not understandable, nor forgivable, is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s refusal to ask the country to stay calm, to ask state governments to prevent revenge attacks on Kashmiris, and to warn the cohorts of his own party against avoid inflaming communal passion. Instead he has immediately accused Pakistan of masterminding the attack, launched an international campaign to isolate it, and virtually committed the Indian security forces to a retaliatory attack on Pakistan at a time and place of their choosing.

Not content with that, he has turned the Sangh parivar’s internet trolls on anyone who has dared to criticise his actions. So torrid is the animosity they have succeeded in fanning that Sony TV has been forced to throw Punjab cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, one of the most charismatic personalities on Indian television, unceremoniously off the Kapil Sharma show because he has dared to say what others have not had the courage to – that “entire nations cannot be held responsible for the dastardly acts of terrorists”.

The Modi government’s silence on maintaining peace across the country has had consequences. The cohorts of the Sangh parivar attacked Kashmiri traders and students in Jammu. A mob entered a Gujjar colony in Jammu city and burnt 15 cars. Many Kashmiri students in Haryana were reportedly thrown out of their rented accommodation within hours of the news of the attack coming on TV. A mob surrounded Kashmiri women students at a university hostel in Dehradun and forced them to lock themselves in. On social media, messages from Kashmiris began to fly to their relatives across the length and breadth of the country, to stay out of sight and do nothing to draw attention to themselves.

Was Modi’s reaction on Friday evening born of shock or theatrics? Could the chief minister who presided over the Gujarat riots in 2002, really not have known what his intemperate and inflammatory remarks would trigger? Only those with extremely short memories will believe this. For even in 2002, no person in the entire government of Gujarat knew better what he was doing.

Also read: Am I not a ‘True Patriot’ If I’m Against Using Violence to Avenge Pulwama?

Throughout that fateful morning of February 27, 2002, when bogey S-6 of the Sabarmati Express caught fire and killed 59 people, Jayanti Ravi, the collector of Godhra, had gone on radio and television every hour to persuade people that it was an accident and to keep calm. But soon after arriving in Godhra in the early afternoon, Modi ordered that all the charred corpses be taken to Ahmedabad. Ravi protested vigorously, described how she had maintained peace in Godhra and urged Modi to treat the conflagration as an accident. But Modi overruled her and sent the corpses to a hospital in Ahmedabad where Jaideep Patel, the deputy chief of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, was waiting with his cadres to take the corpses in a procession around the city. The rest is history.

Thanks to Ravi’s efforts, Godhra was the one city in Gujarat that remained calm. But instead of recommending her for a Padma Bhushan, which she richly deserved, Modi rewarded her by transferring her to an insignificant post a few weeks later. He then went on to use the Ahmedabad riots to advance the next assembly elections and win them by a landslide.

Today, with another far more crucial election only weeks away and his party on the skids, it is difficult not to conclude that Modi is trying to repeat history. His verbal assault on Pakistan, his threats of retaliation at a time and place of the army’s choosing and his withdrawal of all security protection from Hurriyat leaders are designed to harden Kashmiri alienation and raise tensions with Pakistan to fever pitch. And as he has been doing ever since he came to power in 2014, he has been using his silences to send the message to the vigilantes of the Sangh parivar – the gau rakshaks, the ‘Vahinis’, the Sanghs and the Dals – that the time has come to bait Muslims into acts of retaliation that will arouse fear and animosity in the Hindu majority and win the BJP the next election.

What is far more difficult to understand is the uncritical support that the opposition parties have given to Modi. Is their collective memory so short that they have forgotten how Modi sends his signals to the Sangh parivar’s shock troopers through calibrated silences? Have they forgotten his silences over the ‘ghar wapsi’, ‘love jihad’ and ‘gau raksha’ vigilante programmes? Have they forgotten his silence after the brutal killing of Mohammad Akhlaq, of Junaid, of Pehlu Khan, of Rakbar Khan, not to mention the dozens of other Muslims who have been murdered in the past five years by the cohorts of the RSS?

Modi, Mohan Bhagwat, Amit Shah, Ram Madhav and the five million others whom the RSS has recruited over the years consider themselves to be the defenders of the Hindu faith. Could they tell us where Hinduism condones, let alone celebrates, the taking of human life?

Also read: Pulwama Attacker ‘Never Showed Inclination to Join Militancy,’ Says Family

There was never any question of condoning an act of terrorism of such a magnitude. But should the opposition not have refrained from joining Modi’s chorus and asked why a Kashmiri youth should have decided to become a suicide bomber? Should it not have remembered that in the entire 30-year history of insurgency in Kashmir, there has been only one other Kashmiri suicide bomber, and he detonated himself outside the gates of the Badami Bagh cantonment 19 years ago?
Why had there been no more Kashmiri suicide bombers in the intervening 18 years? It is because ever since 2002, when Mufti Sayeed and the People’s Democratic Party came to power in Kashmir, and 2003 when Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee extended his hand of friendship to Pakistan from Srinagar, Kashmiris had begun to believe, a little more every year, that peace was finally around the corner.

Modi reversed this within weeks of coming to power. He first publicly humiliated the Hurriyat by forcibly stopping its executive committee members from meeting the Pakistan high commissioner in Delhi, a practice that neither Vajpayee nor Manmohan Singh had prevented. He then started a ’10 for 1’ retaliation programme of firing across the Line of Control in Kashmir, that killed hundreds of civilians in Pakistan-occupied Kashmi and destroyed thousands of homes.

He then went to Srinagar, publicly trashed his Agenda for Alliance with the PDP, humiliated Mufti Sayeed and destroyed the credibility of his party before a hundred thousand Kashmiris. He also closed the door on negotiation by giving a veiled warning to the youth that if they did not stop playing politics and return to their studies, there would be worse things to come.

Also read: After Pulwama Attack, the Core Issue in Kashmir Is Being Ignored – Again

Since then he has followed a single-track policy of repression without dialogue. As a result, from believing that peace was only an arms length away, Kashmiris have crashed into an endless night of violence with no dawn at its end. That is the seed from which suicide bombing has been reborn.

If Rahul Gandhi does not know all this then he has been very poorly briefed. But in any case, he should have remembered that the Congress party has a special responsibility towards Kashmir, for it is the party that persuaded Maharaja Hari Singh to accede to India. It is a party that prides itself on its staunch adherence to the ideals of tolerance and pluralism for which Mahatma Gandhi gave his life. It is the party whose prime minister, Manmohan Singh, came within a hair’s breadth of making peace with Pakistan and ending the conflict in Kashmir.

But instead, as he did after Modi’s attack on Mani Shankar Aiyar in the last days of the Gujarat state assembly elections last year, Gandhi has once again bent like a willow before a storm, described the outrage as “an attack on India’s soul”. He has taken it upon himself to announce that not only the Congress but the entire opposition fully supports the government and the security forces in its actions. To Kashmiris both inside and outside the Valley, this has sent one chilling message: when the chips are down, no one will stand up for them.

Prem Shankar Jha is a Delhi-based journalist and writer.