Modi’s Elephant in the Room

by  Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai
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Modi’s visit to Srinagar Saturday brings to mind an event where in September 2006 the British artist Banksy gave special meaning to the phrase “elephant in the room” in a Los Angeles exhibit called Barely Legal. It’s theme was global poverty. As writer Gary Martin says, “By painting the elephant in the same bold pattern as the room’s wallpaper, Banksy emphasized the phrase’s meaning, by both making the elephant even more obvious and by giving those who chose to ignore it (like the woman in the tableau) an opportunity to pretend that it had blended into the wallpaper background.”

Modi’s elephant in the room was depicted in the same way in Srinagar, the Capitol City of Kashmir this past weekend, where we had the same artificial set re-enacted. The attempt to disguise the true problem of Kashmir by locking up the voices and spirit of resistance to Indian oppression did not make it go away nor did it recede into the wallpaper. The dispute over the sovereignty of the land and people of Kashmir cannot be hidden by all the cosmetics that $12 billion can purchase.

In the carefully choreographed visit, Modi was given a warm welcome by around 15,000 people who included couple of thousand police personnel in plain clothes, a few thousand daily wagers, some non Kashmiri employees who come from the Indian State of Bihar and of course some loyalists of PDP patron, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.

It was no surprise to the local residents of Srinagar when they found out that the non-Kashmiri (Behari) employees did not show up to work. They had been detoured and corralled into listening to the prime minister who was otherwise going to standing before a lot of empty seats.

The highways were closed for public transportation, restrictions were imposed on movement, drop gates were erected in every nook and corner of the city of Srinagar and cordon and search operations were conducted. Curfew-like restrictions were imposed in Srinagar. Hundreds of leaders of the resistance were detained to prevent them from leading a march which was expected to attract more than a million Kashmiris.

Syed Ali Geelani’s call for ‘Million-Man-March’ was endorsed by all including Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Mohammad Yasin Malik, Shabir Ahmed Shah and others. It was expected to attract virtually the whole population of the city, towns and villages – men, women and children — to express their desire for a political solution and not the economic package of the Kashmir dispute.

The local papers reported that the daily wagers from various departments of Agriculture, Horticulture, Forest, Fisheries, Labour and Animal Husbandry were ordered to assemble at Town Hall in Pulwama on Friday, November 6, 2105 at 6 pm so that they could be taken to Srinagar to participate in this Bansky-like staging of a rally on Saturday, November 7, 2015.
The local news agency CNS reported, “We (police personnel) have been asked to ensure our presence at our police lines in Pulwama for physical fitness tests but we are sure that we will also be taken to Sher-i-Kashmir Cricket Stadium to attend Modi’s rally,” said an SPO, wishing not to be named.

It has been the tragedy that the Indian leadership not to listen to the saner voices. India’s obduracy has never helped resolve the Kashmir dispute. And Narendra Modi is no different . It is the basic principle of international relations that when the parties are not able to resolve the conflict, then it is always better to listen to saner elements beyond the parties who are directly involved in the conflict, such as U.S. President Harry Truman who was in office when the Kashmir dispute erupted at the United Nations in 1948. Men like President Mandela who said that ‘we should be willing to lend all the strength we have to the resolution of this matter (Kashmir),’ and President Obama who has also said that the resolution of Kashmir is in the interest of the world peace.

Prime Minister Modi should realize that money can certainly solve some of the problems caused by last year’s flood, but it will not remove the ever-present and destabilizing atmosphere of oppression, the violence in the streets, and the persistent trauma of rape, murder and disappearances that have been the hallmark of India’s history in Kashmir.

Mere sloganeering, economic packages and cricket diplomacy will never solve the Kashmir problem. Kashmir is a political issue which needs a political solution. The immediate necessities are the following:

1. The intervention of the international community to bring the violence in Kashmir to a quick end. This intervention could also be the facilitation of a person of international standing, like Nobel Laureates, Bishop Desmond Tutu or Dr. Kofi Annan;

2. Demilitarization of the State of Jammu and Kashmir on both sides of the Cease-fire Line;

3. Initiation of a political dialogue between all parties concerned – India, Pakistan and the leadership of the people of Jammu & Kashmir to set a stage for a democratic and peaceful solution.

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