HIMMAT is starting off as a blog by Rajmohan Gandhi who has written on the Indian independence movement and its leaders, South Asian history, India-Pakistan relations, human rights and conflict resolution. His latest book is Modern South India: A History from the Seventeenth Century to the Present (New Delhi: Aleph, forthcoming).

Loyal to what?

Congressman Tom Suozzi has discovered that Indian-Americans wield clout in the US. O   n August 9, Suozzi, a Democrat representing a Long Island constituency on the edge of New York City, had written a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressing anxiety that India’s scrapping of Article 370 ‘risks provoking mass social unrest’ in Kashmir.

Agitated over the letter, Indian-Americans who had played roles in Suozzi’s election and fund-raising flooded the office of the Congressman with angry messages. On August 11, which was a Sunday, Suozzi met with one hundred Indian-Americans and issued an apology.

‘Based upon my meeting,’ said Suozzi, ‘it is clear that it was a mistake to not consult with some of my Indian-American friends and supporters before I sent my letter to Pompeo.’

If not consulting constituents before writing a letter calls for an apology, what would you say about not consulting any representatives of a population of millions before their territory is ‘fully amalgamated’ by a much larger power?  

If, for example, without speaking to Tibetans, China ‘absorbs’ Tibet even more fully than it has done? Or when India ‘fully integrates’ Kashmir, in the process enforcing a complete lock-down in that territory, with phones and the internet cut off, with not a word exchanged with any Kashmiri? 

If you are a loyal Indian-American – loyal, that is, to the government of India, even though you hold an American passport --, you would say nothing. Or you would switch the subject to Pakistan’s horrible designs.

Shah Faesal, now 36, holds an Indian passport. He is a Kashmiri whose father was murdered by Kashmiri extremists in 2002. A day after his father’s death, Faesal sat for a highly competitive medical entrance exam and cleared it. Nine years later, as a qualified doctor who also held a master’s degree in Urdu, Faesal hit the headlines after topping India’s prestigious Indian Administrative Service examination. 

First among all competitors nationwide! Faesal became the poster boy of India 2011, the brilliant Kashmiri whose success was motivating hundreds of fellow-Kashmiris to find attractive roles in an India for all. Extremists called him an Indian stooge.

In 2018, Faesal won a Fulbright scholarship to Harvard’s famed Kennedy School of Government. Early this year, however, after eight years as an administrator in Kashmir, Faesal left the IAS to enter Kashmir’s politics as a ‘mainstreamer’, not a ‘separatist’.

On the night of Tuesday the 13thof August, more than a week after Kashmir was made an unambiguous ‘Union Territory’ of India, Faesal went to Delhi’s international airport for a journey to the US for his Fulbright.

He was not allowed to board his plane. Arrested at the airport, Faesal was taken to Srinagar, where he remains in confinement.

On August 15, over 120 Harvard students, faculty and alumni, including many of Indian origin, urged New Delhi to release Shah Faesal and other Kashmiris arrested in the crackdown. ‘We are concerned about the latest restrictions and arrests of many local leaders, including a Harvard student and politician, Shah Faesal,’ read the statement. ‘We urge the government to release Shah Faesal and other local leaders.’

The Kashmir story has many ramifications. And it seems to be an unending one. 

Loyal Indians, loyal Americans, loyal Indian-Americans, loyal Pakistanis and loyal Kashmiris have much to think about. Especially if they are loyal also to notions of choice, democracy and reconciliation, and concerned about peace in a zone of nuclear danger.

Power doesn’t equal prestige

Troubling thoughts