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).

Power doesn’t equal prestige

Just as Narendra Modi tells his United Arab Emirates hosts that New Delhi’s takeover was meant ‘to end Kashmir’s isolation’, Rahul Gandhi and other opposition leaders, prevented at Srinagar airport from entering Kashmir, are forced to return to New Delhi.  

‘Soldiers and guns end isolation.’ ‘Opposition leaders and journalists sent out.’ The two headlines form a cartoon that needs no sketches.

Amusement helps in coping with unpleasant times. But it does not banish the sort of rage I felt on reading that two complaints have been filed in two different police stations in Odisha accusing Kumar Prashant of ‘spreading falsehoods about the RSS’ and ‘conspiring against the nation’.

Who is Kumar Prashant? A brilliant Hindi writer of Bihari origin who has been heading the New Delhi-based Gandhi Peace Foundation for some time, Prashant entered the national scene in the mid-1970s when he joined Jayaprakash Narayan’s movement for democratic rights.

And what is his crime? Along with many others who declared that they have been inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, Kumar Prashant signed an August 18 statement criticizing the Modi government’s move over Kashmir. It can be viewed here:

https://thewire.in/rights/democracy-has-plunged-to-a-new-low-gandhi-peace-foundation-on-kashmir

The strong statement is also arrestingly worded. Among other things, it says that ‘the gun that was used to silence Kashmir is now being used as a telescope through which to see Kashmir …A whole state has vanished from the map in broad daylight.’

Is it a crime to use clear and quotable language to describe what’s happened in Kashmir, including the instant conversion of Jammu & Kashmir into a ‘Union Territory’, the internet and phone shutdowns, and the bans and curfews?

Does it mean that not just Kashmiris but individuals in other parts of the Indian Union who claim to be inspired by Mahatma Gandhi are to be silenced? 

This may not be an easy exercise for a government that has been asking all its missions abroad to fittingly observe Gandhi’s 150thbirth anniversary, which comes up in five weeks, on October 2.

Until Modi and Shah promulgated their new Kashmir policy earlier this month, that territory seemed totally absent from conversations in the US. Now Kashmir appears frequently and often prominently in leading American newspapers and also on TV, usually with expressions of disappointment and concern. Not surprisingly, Trump’s willingness to mediate on Kashmir has been aired on America’s major TV channels.

Other large populist regimes, including those of Russia, China and Brazil, have also captured America’s attention. Russia’s radioactive explosion of August 8, when five nuclear engineers and two military personnel died after an ‘isotope-fuel’ engine blew up at the Nyonoksa test range, has been in the news; as also the extraordinary satyagraha of hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong’s citizens; and the flurry of large fires in Brazil’s Amazon rain-forest, one of our planet’s critical resources for capturing carbon and releasing oxygen.

There is scant evidence that Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin are in danger of losing their power. They seem to be as secure as India’s Narendra Modi. 

But in terms of prestige in the world, which is different from power, all four have been hurt in August 2019. As for a fifth populist, America’s Donald Trump seems for the moment to be less comfortably placed than two months ago, largely because of anxieties about the economy.  

Silencing a people

Loyal to what?