Ajit Doval's Media Briefing on Kashmir Was Full of Holes

If, as the NSA claims, Kashmiris "totally support the abrogation of Article 370” why does the government fear the prospect of leaders addressing large gatherings?

National security advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval reportedly held a ‘media briefing’ over the weekend on the situation in Kashmir at the Prime Minister’s office.

It is unlikely that the ‘briefing’ was tantamount to a media interaction since news reports on the event do not specify what questions, if any, were asked, or who asked them.

Among other things, the NSA reiterated that the Centre’s decisions in the state of Jammu and Kashmir were an “internal arrangement.”

It has not gone unnoticed that the briefing came on the heels of a US state department statement expressing concern over “widespread detentions” in Kashmir. The statement also “urged” the Indian government to “respect human rights.”

Why the Indian government was anxious, inferentially, to clarify its position in the wake of the statement from the state department – given its claim that the situation in Kashmir is an “internal” matter – bears asking.

Another oxymoron that seems to inform the government’s contention about the situation in Kashmir being an “internal arrangement” concerns the chief burden of the NSA’s briefing: his contention that the situation in Kashmir, and its future course, is wholly dependent on Pakistan’s “behaviour.”

The question may be asked: How do the government’s bold claims of having isolated and emaciated Pakistan square with the decisive role, that the government of India itself still assigns to Pakistan, in determining the situation in Kashmir?

The NSA has asserted that “a majority of Kashmiris totally support the reading down of Article 370.” What then explains the detention of hundreds of political leaders and workers over such a prolonged period, without any charges? If Kashmiris are “totally” with the government, why fear the prospect of these leaders addressing large gatherings? “We cannot allow politicians to address gatherings of large crowds,” the NSA was quoted as saying.

It is not understandable why “such a situation can be used by militants”, given that a “majority of Kashmiris support” the reading down of Article 370.  Nor can it be claimed that this would be the first time that militants attempted to interfere in the state.

The NSA has further averred that the “Kashmiri people have been deprived of their democratic rights for 70 years”. Its rather mindboggling that the proclaimed restoration of Kashmiris’ “democratic rights” should be inaugurated by the wholesale incarceration of Kashmiri politicians, political workers and businessmen, given that a “majority of Kashmiris support”  the measures that the Government of India has taken.

Also read: Biryani With Locals: What Ajit Doval’s Visuals From Kashmir Tell Us

Nor does it seem anything but odd that the government’s claim of commanding “majority support” amongst Kashmiris for the revocation of Article 370 should be so fragile to merit protection from the “unrest, provocation”, “ intimidation” and “threat” that Pakistan may initiate if the clampdown was to be lifted and human rights restored.

The NSA has clarified that “public order and safety of residents are of greater importance”. One must then wonder how that policy posture squares with the restoration of  Kashmiris’ “democratic rights” after 70 years of denial or with the often asserted claims of a diminished status of Pakistan – both in terms of its capacity to challenge India or to influence world opinion.

If anything, the weight of the NSA’s media briefing seems to have been to underscore the claim that India faces a greater challenge from Pakistan than ever before – to a point where the government’s Kashmir policy is wholly dependent on Pakistan’s good “behaviour”.

The unprecedented lockdown in the state, in fact, contradicts the NSA’s conviction about Kashmiri solidarity with the governmental measure. Indeed, nothing would be a greater rebuff to Pakistan’s contentions vis-à-vis Kashmir than to let the people and political leaders come out in large numbers to freely and unequivocally express their support for the dilution of Article 370.

Security personnel stand guard over a foot-over-bridge during restrictions in Srinagar on September 10, 2019. Photo: PTI

That would also help shame Pakistan for meddling with a transparent and democratic force – an occurrence that would go a long way to allay the apprehensions voiced by the US state department and leaders of the European Union who, despite conceding that Kashmir is a “bilateral” matter, have nonetheless expressed concern over the human rights dimension to the Indian approach of handling its “internal” situation.

Overall, the NSA’s briefing seemed replete with unanswered internal contradictions, and may not have been the remedy he had hoped it to be.

Doval has contended that the situation will “stabilise” soon. However, what situation need be “stabilised” if the people indeed do support the dilution of Article 370, as claimed by the NSA? Furthermore, if Pakistan alone is the culprit, how soon can the Indian government expect to rid this difficult neighbour of its villainy so that Kashmiris may be finally safe from its depredations?

Locking up the Valley for peoples’ safety is somewhat akin to the old idea of locking up all the women in town because a nasty invader was on the way.

Also read: Amid Communication Blockade, Kashmiris Robbed of the Right to Mourn Their Dead

It is highly doubtful that the people of Kashmir – who have had no say in the changes that the Centre has wrought upon them, their self-esteem and their faith in the covenant granted to them in the wake of the accession of the state to the Union of India – view the matter in the colonial-patriarchal light in which the protective Indian state poses the matter.

Like most women, Kashmiris would much rather be free to exercise their  “democratic” and intellectual rights rather than be locked away in safe-keeping.

As the Indian economy heads for a slowdown, if not a recession – remarkably, it is as if the GDP was waiting for the grand policy target of a $5 trillion economy to sink to a corresponding 5% low – the government of the day may find it difficult to maintain a bold face on problems such as Kashmir for too long.

Kashmir may be an “internal arrangement” and a “bilateral” issue, but the world is watching and is not likely to be coddled into approval by demonstrative gestures of the likes of a photo-op.

Badri Raina taught at Delhi University.