Mainstream, VOL LII, No 38, September 13, 2014
Positive Signs amid Persisting Negative Features
Saturday 13 September 2014, by
It is a welcome sign indeed that politics has taken a back-seat while confronting nature’s fury in Kashmir. As floods ravage and cause havoc in large parts of the Valley including the capital Srinagar taking quite a toll of lives and numerous citizens are still stranded across the State, the armed forces and Air Force alongwith the National Disaster Response Force have mounted rescue efforts braving all odds with the nation united behind them to meet the challenge of the humanitarian crisis wrought by Kashmir’s worst floods in 60 years. In carrying out this enerous task the PM has doubtless played a key role with a bipartisan approach—he has declared the calamity as a national disaster and announced a sum of Rs 1000 crores for relief in the circumstances.
About 2600 villages have been the worse affected and several areas are completely cut off with roads and bridges swept away. Against the backdrop of such a scale of destruction thousands have been rescued due to swift ooperations by the Army in particular. Like in the case of the Uttarakhand disaster last year, the defence forces have emerged as the saviour here as well. The spirit with which the armed forces are doing the herculean job assigned to them is indeed commendable guided as they are by the Army Chief.
In the wake of this calamity a new window of opportunity has opened up on the India-Pakistan front and the PM has promptly seized it in national interest and that of regional stability. As The Times of India has aptly noted,
Nature’s fury has also opened up a new window for flood diplomacy. Modi made the first move by offering assistance to those affected across the Line of Control. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has responded in kind. There is no doubt a subtle power play here with neither side likely to accept real help inside each other’s territories and both offering to support the other. Even so the exchange between the two Prime Ministers is a welcome change in tone after the breakdown in Foreign Secretary-level talks. For now the focus must be on relief, rescue and rehabilitation but the common human tragedy on both sides of the border must also be a catalyst for thawing of relations.
Cutting across party lines politicians in general have lauded Modi’s initiative to reach out to the people of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). One of the foremost among them is Congress leader Digvijay Singh, an inveterate critic of the BJP and its PM. He has tweeted: “Commend the rescue by NDRF, Army, Police and Security Forces in J & K and also GOI and PM for prompt action and reaching out to people in PoK.” And the Pakistan PM, while thanking his Indian counterpart on his proposal to enhance flood relief efforts in PoK, also spoke of extending “a helping hand, in whatever way possible, to the efforts” for the relief and rehabilitation of people on the other side of the LoC (meaning ‘Indian’ Kashmir) and made a striking suggestion: closer collaboration in disaster management should be a part of the India-Pakistan agenda of peace and development in the region.
On her part, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj hinted that Modi and Sharif could meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly later this month depending upon the evolving situation, saying: “There are no full stops in diplomacy.”
While these are all positive signs, there are mixed signals when it comes to social problems in the country. True, the PM has, in his address to a meeting held to celebrate the 152nd birth anniversary of Ayyankali, a Dalit reformer from Kerala, underlined that “not just equality, we have to move forward and have samajik samarasta (social amity)” and explained that being “a combination of equality and sameness.... samarasta needs a larger social awakening while samata (equality) can be brought in through laws too”. However, his close associate and now BJP President Amit Shah is continuing with the policy of communal polarisation in UP ahead of the State Assembly by-elections there since this policy had helped it reap rich dividends in the 2014 parliamentary elecitons— giving it an incredible 73 of the 80 seats in the province. And Yogi Adityannath is raising the pitch of his hate speeches with the full blessings of the party’s top brass—also for the same purpose.
At the same time, as love jehad goes on in UP, Right-wing organisations, obviously a part of the Sangh Parivar, are mounting pressure an Dalits in Madhya Pradesh—who had converted to Islam due to increasing caste discrimination—to return to Hinduism through reconversion. The coercive tactics in this regard, that are being reportedly discussed, include destroying crops, social boycott and imposition of fines. These tactics, originating from the BJP-RSS now on the ascendancy after Modi’s capture of power, cannot be reconciled with the democratic practices in vogue in the country.
Do the positive signs of the Modi dispensation outweigh its negative features? The jury is still out, some would argue. A large body of opinion-makers, upholding the values of secular democracy now being sought to be undermined, hold a different opinion: the negative aspects dominate in the final analysis because try as you would, you cannot force a leopard to change its spots.
September 10 S.C.