The first-ever report of the United Nations on the human rights situation in Kashmir finds the Government of India in a Catch-22 situation, from which it may not be able to extricate itself with its credibility intact. That may explain why the GoI and the BJP have rejected the report, questioned the motives of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr ZeidRaad Al Hussein and accused the UN itself of bias. New Delhi’s sharp reaction against the report — which it called “fallacious, tendentious and motivated” — and its strong protest to the UN suggests that the GoI’s image has taken a hard knock and that the damage inflicted may not get undone easily.
The response of the state to the contents of the report has not done India’s image any good. Nor has it enhanced public confidence in the government’s ability to manage the fall out of such reports and, more importantly, deal with the conditions that, in the first place, gave rise to the report.
The UN report came at the most inopportune time when the situation in the Valley was serious, replete with formidable challenges; and at a juncture when the government was undecided over whether to extend the Ramzan ceasefire or resume security operations. In the thick of this all, amidst all the noise over the report on human rights violations in both Kashmir and Pakistan-administered Kashmir, along with the demand for an international enquiry, came the killing of Shujaat Bukhari, Editor of Rising Kashmir. In the aftermath, the Centre decided to end the ceasefire, resume security operations in a more intensive mode, pull the BJP out of the coalition ministry with the PDP in Jammu and Kashmir, let the ministry fall and go in for Governor’s Rule to adopt a harder line.
The government could have turned the criticism in the report into an opportunity for a new initiative towards reconciliation in Kashmir instead of taking recourse to a more severe crackdown. That would have been possible if the BJP had a rapport with other parties on the issue. There is little difference between the BJP, Congress and other big parties in their approach to the situation in Kashmir. The Congress party has been the biggest offender and has much to explain for the trials and tribulations suffered by the people of Kashmir. Atal Bihari Vajpayee as Prime Minister set out to make a difference and he did succeed to a large extent. He recognised that for all the assertions of the “Kashmir issue” being an “internal matter”, the strife in J&K could not be ended without Pakistan being brought to the table for talks towards normalising bilateral relations.
In his initiatives, Vajpayee strove for a consensus and carried with him all parties, including a reluctant Congress. When the UPA assumed office, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was no less enthusiastic about going forward on the path opened by Vajpayee, but he was thwarted from doing so by the Congress leadership. Prime Minister Narendra Modi would have been more successful in responding adequately to the UN report had he made common cause with the Opposition, especially the Congress. After all, when it comes to issues such as this, with a bearing on foreign policy and security, there still exists a bipartisan consensus. What is lacking is the required chemistry between Modi and Opposition leaders.
Modi could also have taken a cue from the way Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao fought off an ominous move by the UN to impose sanctions for human rights violations. He drew in Vajpayee to lead India’s delegation to the UNHRC in Geneva and managed to win powerful players like Iran to India’s cause. That clinched a victory, which is still recalled as one of India’s finer moments in international diplomacy.
Viewed from the standpoint of the state, with a little effort, Modi could, for ‘reasons of state’, have rallied the Opposition to this cause. Human rights have long been an instrument in the hands of the US and the West not only to point fingers at developing countries but also beat them into submission on terms of trade and strike economic deals including defence contracts. And, the UNHRC is both the platform and vehicle for the West to pursue this agenda. Much like India, other South Asian countries, too, have been targeted for human rights violations and often for dubious reasons such as regime change.
Undeniably, there are human rights violations. The issues in these reports need to be addressed for upholding constitutional rights and democratic freedoms without giving in to western pressures for extraneous reasons.
However, that is not possible when India joins the West’s chorus of human rights violations against, for example, Sri Lanka; and, joins the “international community” in bringing about a regime change, as it did in Sri Lanka.
If India resents being targeted thus by the UN, it should also desist from: rooting for such reports when they are brought out against India’s neighbours; demanding and supporting overt and covert interventions by the “international community” in the region; and, dragging its own disputes and differences with smaller neighbours like Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Pakistan to international forums as it has tended to do.
Being selective in the matter of human rights not only does injustice to the cause of human rights but also damages India’s own case and its image and credibility. The sooner the government makes common cause with the Opposition at home and the neighbours in the region, the better it would serve India’s interests.