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New Delhi can't really preach to our problematic neighbours after hanging Afzal Guru and further alienating the people of the Kashmir Valley, says Ajaz Ashraf.
The decision of the UPA government to surreptitiously hang Afzal Guru, in order to blunt the divisive Hindutva offensive of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), will portray India as hypocritical and richly deserving of the sneers this act is bound to evoke in the neighbourhood. The hanging has effectively hollowed out New Delhi's claims of high morality in its dealings with countries which comprise the troubled arc of South Asia.
Forget whether or not Afzal Guru was guilty of facilitating the attack on Parliament in 2001. For a moment, assume he was guilty and ask the question: was it in India's interest to send to the gallows a man whose fate, willy-nilly, had become a barometer to judge whether New Delhi cared for a people who had suffered immeasurably? The government, quite obviously, knew the answer. Why else would it have clamped curfew on large parts of the Valley as jail wardens marched Guru to his death?
No doubt, the government's adamancy in not commuting to life imprisonment the death penalty awarded to Guru will reek of hypocrisy to its neighbours. This is the government which has never tired of lecturing Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa on the need to cobble a political settlement with the alienated Tamil population, whose demand for creating an independent state of their own was squashed at the vanquishing of its most militant proponent, the LTTE. Its cadres were subsequently killed in cold blood, triggering an outcry of accusations of war crimes against the Lankan army.
The Indian government - of which Pranab Mukherjee was a key player and who as President rejected Guru's mercy petition earlier this month - chose to remain silent, quite rightly realising it can scarcely be seen to be interceding in favour of a militant outfit spearheading a secessionist movement. Secession and terrorism have been India's bane as well, prompting it to counter the twin menace through tactics which are at times in gross violation of human rights.
Yet, to appease its allies from Tamil Nadu, the UPA government mounted pressure on Rajapaksa to devolve power to the North and East, once the bastion of the LTTE, for addressing the alienation of the Tamil population from the Lankan state. Rajapaksa belied New Delhi's expectation, calculating that he didn't have to compromise at the time he had stymied the separatist tendencies of the Tamil population. It provoked the UPA government into voting against Sri Lanka in the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in March last year.
No doubt, India's Kashmir and Lanka's Tamil problems differ both in their provenance and nature. Both, however, share two similarities - alienation from the state and armed uprisings. This is why the hanging of Guru would prompt Rajapaksa to harp on New Delhi's propensity to lecture others on the virtues of reconciliation and political settlement without pursuing these policies in its own dealings with alienated groups fighting the Indian state. Kashmir is experiencing tenuous peace after two decades of bloody feuding, not least because support from Pakistan for terror groups is tapering for various reasons, there has been a lingering hope of New Delhi initiating a credible reconciliation process with disaffected groups in the state.
But not only has New Delhi interpreted the lull in Kashmir as vindication of its policies - much in the way a smug Rajapaksa has in the rooting out of the LTTE - India has now cavalierly roiled the emotions of Kashmiris. It is still too early to tell what their reaction to the hanging would be, literally locked as they are inside their homes because of the curfew. Yet J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's remark - "Generations of Kashmiris will identify with Afzal Guru" - is an indication of what awaits us. Guru's death, so to speak, will become the symbol of New Delhi's colonial attitude towards the Kashmir Valley. Should there be an outbreak of street-protests, be sure Rajapaksa is bound to snigger at New Delhi's hypocritical righteousness.
You wonder what the political parties of Nepal have to say on India mounting pressure on them to recognise the aspirations of Madhesis, the people inhabiting the Terai region. Opposed to identitybased federalism, which the Madhesis support, the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist ) have often heard India harangue them into accepting the idea which they believe is inimical to their country.
Perhaps they too would want India to accommodate the aspirations of Kashmiris in the Valley, or, for that matter, some of our North-East states, before it nudges the Nepali leaders to tread what New Delhi thinks is the path of sagacity.
Clearly, the Congress and the BJP feel Kashmir and its people are subservient to their goal of winning the 2014 general election. Anxious at the outcome of the BJP's likely projection of Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate, the Congress had little compunction in sacrificing a Kashmiri, Afzal Guru, whose hanging the BJP had been demanding for long. As for its repercussions on the Valley, well, the Kashmiris can always be fired upon and silenced. Their vote against the Congress or the BJP doesn't mar their electoral chances, for the state has just six seats in a House of 543 members. It is from such cynicism and divisiveness the Indian Republic needs to be rescued.
The writer is a Delhi-based freelance journalist.
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