Prof Yogendra Yadav, leader of Swaraj Abhiyan, speaks his mind on the situation in Kashmir, Ayodhya verdict, NRC, state elections and growing challenges to secularism
Zafar Aafaq | Caravan Daily
The August 5 order stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its special status has alienated the people of Kashmir and shifted public opinion in favour of separatism, says Yogendra Yadav, leader of the Sawaraj Abhiyan.
“The authorities there jailed top leaders of pro-India political parties since then to avert chances of protest. However, the National Conference workers I spoke to during my brief Kashmir visit recently say Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Gelani was always right,” Yadav says in an interview with Zafar Aafaq of Caravan Daily. “I was dismayed at the shift in popular perceptions in the valley. By such an act, Prime Minister Modi has done a disservice to the cause of Indian nationalism.”
Yadav said many political observers in India think the country has taken a rightward shift under PM Modi. “The recent Supreme Court Judgement on Babri Masjid has further bolstered the nationalistic Hindu sensibilities. Though I too favour an early end to the highly politicized, decades-old Ayodhya dispute, I was disappointed with the nature of the verdict because it came from the Supreme Court. I expect a high quality of reasoning behind every court verdict.” He added: “I feel sad the Supreme Court let go of an opportunity for genuine truth and reconciliation”.
Taking a dig at the traditional secular parties for their inability to defend secularism, Yadav said, “The real solution is to begin speaking to people, to the Hindus as much as to the Muslims, to explain to them that secularism is necessary to re-convince the younger generation that the idea of India is worth defending.”
Yadav is of the view that even as India has taken a majoritarian turn, the trend can be stopped. Here below are excerpts from the interview:
You recently returned from a visit to Kashmir. What’s your assessment of the situation there?
I was there for three days. And the principal reason for the visit was my urge to go and meet the apple growers and understand their plight. They suffered enormous loss due both to the present political situation there and the unseasonal heavy snowfall. Also, I was obviously observing the situation in general and speaking to the people. My assessment is that, as far as the impact of the first 100 days past August 5 is concerned, the government steps have achieved exactly the opposite of what PM Modi said they will achieve.
The government said this was a move aimed at having a better integration of the people of Kashmir with the rest of the country. It said this is something which would usher in a period of hope for development. I saw exactly the opposite. There was no talk about any development. No one buys this argument even for a second. More importantly, what the government has done was it alienated the people of Kashmir even further from India.
There existed in the past a sense of alienation. Now, it has turned into anger and the entire spectrum of public opinion has shifted in favor of separatists. Earlier, if the Abdullahs (Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah) were at one end of the spectrum, the separatists were at the other end. Now, I fear, those like the Abdullahs have been rendered completely irrelevant.
Did you meet the workers or leaders of the pro-India political parties in Kashmir? What are they saying?
I did not meet leaders of the National Conference. I met one or two activists of the NC, but none from the PDP (People’s Democratic Party). Therefore, it would be hard for me to generalize. The NC activist I met said this: ‘Today we feel that [Syed Ali] Gelani [leader of Hurriyat] was always right.’ Gelani has been known for his skepticism about the Indian state. So, in general, the sentiment of skepticism, a deep suspicion and a sense of betrayal has become the dominant mood in the valley. This is what I could gather from visit. This worries me.
I take pride in the idea of India, and I am someone who has extolled the virtues of the Indian democracy. Today, I feel very dismayed at the shift in popular opinion that we see in the Kashmir valley. Therefore, I think PM Modi has done a disservice to the cause of Indian nationalism.
After August 5, large sections of the Indian civil society maintained a silence on Kashmir. What does this silence explain?
I do not know which civil society you have in mind. I do know of a large number of intellectuals, a large number of activists, who have spoken quite openly. And I salute them. The silence is more from political parties, not from the civil society. That is my understanding. Parties like the Congress failed to arrive at a coherent response to this. Some Congress leaders have gone out in public supporting the ruling BJP. Some Opposition parties are also conspicuous by their silence. Even in the political spectrum, I think there have been parties that spoke openly about the present Kashmir situation. I represent a small political party. I’m not only a psephologist and a TV commentator. We have a party called Swaraj India. And we have quite openly stated that what has happened is not in the interest of the people of Kashmir and not in the interest of the people of India.
NGOs, civil society groups and political activists go to Kashmir, come back and release reports highlighting the issues like human rights violations, the impact of political decisions, the reconciliation etc. But hardly anyone touches upon the basic political point — the people’s right to self-determination in Kashmir?
That is not the question I focused on during the visit. I believed for long that if genuine democracy were to flourish in Kashmir, if Kashmir Valley were to enjoy the same level of human rights and fruits of democracy that the rest of India enjoys, it would heal the wounds of the people there. If every election is going to be of a kind of open election that they had in 2002, if the people there are given that kind of a freedom, I hope that the existing wounds can be healed. A genuine integration of mind and heart should take place. As a political activist, my principal job is to persuade the people to begin to look at Kashmir differently. Every human being on Earth has a right to self-determination; a right that no one can take away from them. Tomorrow, Delhi can exercise it, Haryana can exercise it. It is not my call of duty to support this.
After returning from Kashmir, you stated in an interview that underneath the surface silence, something is simmering in Kashmir. So what are we steering the nation into?
I’m drawing an inference from what I heard from some young people there. There is an eerie silence in Kashmir. This silence is not the silence of contentment. This is not a silence of one acquiescing in and accepting what’s happening. Something else is happening. And, as I said, the entire spectrum of public opinion has shifted away from the middle ground. The middle ground had said, ‘Let us be with India, but let us get more democracy and autonomy from within the Indian setup.’ Not any more. This could end up fueling support for the separatist cause. If that were to happen, that would be very regrettable and it would have its consequences in terms of popular action. The history of the state has shown that if there is this kind of popular anger, it cannot be suppressed for long.
What will be your recommendation to the Modi government at the moment regarding Kashmir?
Honestly, it is too late to recommend anything to this government. It is a very fragile situation and this government has run a stream roller on a very fragile situation which has damaged and seriously eroded the possibility of a genuine reconciliation or integration of Kashmir with the rest of the country. My recommendation, if any, to the government would be to ‘please reverse what you have done, to begin with.’ Converting Jammu and Kashmir into a UT is an insult to the people there; the people of both Kashmir and Jammu. Article 370 stood for a principle and that principle needs to be maintained; which is to say Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed a unique status in the Union of India. That uniqueness needs to be recognized in one form or the other.
Article 370 was nothing but a bridge between the people of Jammu and Kashmir and the people of the rest of the country. For so long, there was an emotional divide. A bridge was needed as long as the mind and hearts did not come together. And to break that bridge now, before this happened, is to prevent the possibility of a healing.
What’s your impression of the Ayodha judgement? Do you think the Supreme Court took a line in conformity with sensibilities of the majority population?
I wrote on this even before the judgement came. I said, no matter what the judgement, no matter whether the judgement is right or wrong, please accept it. Because, I want this Mandir -Masjid dispute to end. There is a legal process, the Supreme Court happens to be at the apex of it. And if a five-member bench gives a unanimous judgement, I should accept it. Having said this, I’m very disappointed with the nature of the verdict. From the Supreme Court, I expect a high quality of reasoning. I do not expect of it to say that your house was occupied illegally, that your house was destroyed illegally and therefore you should vacate the house and give it to those who have occupied it illegally. This is no reasoning. I don’t know how the court will justify this kind of reasoning.
For anyone who reads the judgement and notices the incoherence of the judgement, this will make them think about the reasons that may have led to this incoherence. And yes, it would be as if the majoritarian sentiment ruled not only the elections, but also the apex court. That, to my mind, is sad. The Supreme Court had a unique opportunity to do a genuine reconciliation between communities. What I waited for was not a technical judgment. A genuine reconciliation requires upholding of truth. I feel sad that the Supreme Court let go of an opportunity for upholding genuine truth and encouraging reconciliation.
Following the announcement of the Ayodhya, the Muslims largely observed silence and calm. How do you read this silence?
I think it’s a resigned silence. Whenever I spoke to Muslims, I heard nothing but disappointment about the verdict. But there is also a view that let the dispute end. There’s also a sense of ‘what more can we expect’, which really makes me sad because people should be able to expect something concrete from the judiciary. Even one individual set against the remaining 130 crore people should be able to expect that the Supreme Court will give him justice. Otherwise, it may lead to a diminution in the confidence in the courts, which is worrying.
Home minister Amit Shah recently said that the government will go for a nationwide NRC. You have been a critic of NRC. So if this is implemented across the country, what will be the consequences?
You have probably not read what I wrote on NRC. I took a different position. I said that, in principle, the idea of NRC is unexceptionable. And that, in the case of Assam, it was necessary because of the Assam Accord; where NRC was demanded not only by Hindus, but also by Muslims. People don’t understand the history of Assam. But to carry the NRC process forward to the rest of the country in the manner in which it was carried out in Assam would be a disaster. There is no harm if we have electoral rolls for the country like we have a census. Yes, we can have a national register of citizens. In principle, there is nothing wrong about it. But, the onus of proving that you are a citizen should not be put on the ordinary individual. In this country, millions and millions from all communities live with no proof of their citizenship. So, to put the burden of proof on an individual would be to punish the disadvantaged people and this would create a fear psychosis among the minorities. NRC can be created by simply accepting the electoral roll as the starting point and then do deletions or additions that you wish.
The Hindutva plank has yielded success for the BJP. What should the Opposition parties fight their election on in such a polarized atmosphere where the Hindutva agenda has gained primacy over issues of one’s bread and butter?
To my mind, secular politics in this country has failed in one fundamental aspect. No country can remain secular if an overwhelming majority of the population is made to feel that secularism is a burden and that secularism is an unnecessary concession. Therefore, it was necessary for the secular establishment which has ruled the nation for the first 50-60 years to cultivate a deeper sensibility among the people, to impress upon everyone, including the Hindus that secularism is in their interest as well. India is a country of minorities. Every single Indian is part of a minority in terms of his multi-faceted identity. Therefore, there is the need to defend secularism.
Unfortunately, the secular establishment has failed. What is necessary is not somehow trying to bring every anti-BJP party together. That is not the solution. The real solution is to begin to speak to the people, to the Hindus as much as to the Muslims, to convince them that secularism is necessary. There is the need to re-convince the younger generation that the idea of India is worth defending. So Constitutional values have to be reimagined and reinvigorated. That is the real challenge for secular forces.
And, to my mind, secularists of this country have been guilty of doublespeak; of keeping Muslims as hostage, of losing connect with ordinary Hindus and their sensibilities, and allowing this majoritarian sentiment to come in, which is very artificial. This is not in the spirit of this country. This is against the cultural grain of this country. The challenge is to rescue secularism, which is ingrained in the country. We need to bring it back.
Critics say that the BJP is focusing on the issues of NRC, Article 370, Ram Mandir etc to divert attention from the real issues like economic slowdown or unemployment. Would you agree with that observation or there is something more fundamental to it?
It is both. Minority bashing is in the very DNA of the BJP. So whether it is AB Vajpayee or LK Advani or PM Modi, all have practised different shades of this. But, yes, right now the BJP is also using it as a political strategy to distract public attention. Basically, the BJP has been able to set the narrative, in essence lay the pitch for the Opposition to play; and sadly, everyone else plays as per the script laid out by the BJP for its benefit. For example, the triple talaq issue was a trap set by the BJP and the entire Muslim leadership stepped into that trap by making that non-issue into an issue. So, the BJP keeps setting one trap after the other and the Opposition is only being reactive. It is time the secular politics became proactive and more imaginative.
Recently we saw the Congress and other regional parties doing well in elections in several states. Do you think a new beginning has been made? Has the BJP’s invincibility shaken?
I don’t think the overall national mood has changed. Secular, non BJP political parties have shrunk so much in their ambition that they try and fashion every defeat into a victory. Fact remains that the Shiv Sena and BJP put together got a clear majority in Maharashtra. BJP has formed the government in Haryana . The Opposition should not see these elections as their victories. A little bit of a window has opened. State elections are separate from national election. At the national level, the BJP’s dominance continues. It may have got even more consolidated than before. At the state level, the BJP is failing to stand on its own feet. But we should not draw a conclusion that politics of the Hindutva has gotten weaker. BJPs decline has not begun yet. BJP enjoys a very strong ideological, cultural and moral hegemony in contemporary India.
Many say India has embarked on this race for becoming a Hindu Rashtra. Are the fears genuine? How far are we from that? Do you think that this trend can be stopped?
Of course, it can be stopped. The attempt at making a Hindu Rashtra is against the very grain of India. Not just against the Constitution of India. The Indian society has been against dominance, either of religion or sect or caste for a long time. And, this is what the Indian National movement has been all about, and the Indian Constitution has inscribed this. So, the idea of a Hindu Rashtra is anathema to India. We tend to prematurely arrive at a conclusion. We must rather wait and see. There is a serious danger of India becoming a Hindu Rashtra, and we should be alert about that danger. It is true that the country has taken a majoritarian turn. The rise of the BJP, especially under Prime Minister Modi, poses a major challenge to the very foundations of this country. One must fight against such trends.
What would be your suggestion to the civil society groups, to the NGOs, to different political formations, to the secular forces, to Muslims, on how to fight such things out?
To my mind, this is a battle to save the soul of India in which every Indian, irrespective of their caste and creed, irrespective of their political ideologies, must contribute. If we lose this battle, we lose India. In the short term, this is a political battle; in the long term, this is a cultural and ideological battle. In the short term, this is about checking the BJP and defeating it using democratic means. In the long term, the BJP is in the current dominant position because it enjoys cultural, ideological and moral hegemony. In the long run, that hegemony has to be questioned. So, what we need is for intellectuals, for civil society groups and everyone to connect with the ordinary people. If the idea of a secular democratic India is dependent only on the Supreme Court, then we cannot hope for much. I do believe that the ordinary Indians are not bloodthirsty. Ordinary Indians can be misled. They can be misled by propaganda. But, in the last instance, the deeper cultural heritage of this country is not going to go away very soon. Therefore, our task is to prepare for this cultural battle.
To my mind, the three rounds of this cultural battle would be nationalism, religion and tradition. Unfortunately, those who call themselves secular liberals have lost touch with all these three. We need to recover these. Indian nationalism is not like European nationalism. Indian nationalism is positive in its outlook. It is all-encompassing. It connects us to the rest of the world. Religions including Hinduism are inclusive. Hinduism is not a religion of hatred. It is not a religion of exclusion. Our traditions and cultural heritage are much deeper than the political ideologies. That is what needs to be revived.