Many photographs in newspapers and TV channels of 14- and 16-year-olds aiming bricks or stones at the security forces have filled our minds over the last few days as street violence in the Kashmir Valley escalates. A 14-year-old identified by the police as a regular stone-thrower during protests could not recall to the media why he was pelting stones and what the protests were about. Perhaps he was simply enjoying the fun, as street urchins do, especially when they find an expensive car parked on the village road.
But this was not adolescent fun. As the embattled Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah said, these stone-throwers were trained and stationed to provoke and force the security forces to open fire. The resultant deaths provide enough fuel to provoke more protests and for the security forces to fire in self-defence and ensure law and order.
We are trapped in a caste cage 60 years after independence, but we still seem eager to lock ourselves further—in the divisive politics of caste. So intense are the feelings across the political spectrum for reintroducing a caste-based census that most parties (except caste-based ones) are divided on the issue.
Every politician who supports caste enumeration swears that caste is a reality in our country. True, that reality cannot be denied. But the question is whether we want such divisions to gather strength. Don’t we want an Indian identity that’s beyond caste to evolve? Look at what cricket has done for us. Do we have quotas in our cricket team? Or look at Bollywood. Nobody asks what religion or caste the big stars or directors belong to. Nobody even cares where they come from. Open competition in Indian cricket and Bollywood has resulted in the best talent coming to the fore—as Indians first and last. So it’s not as if Indians do not look beyond caste; they do, and indeed feel proud about what could be called a pan-Indian identity.
What is interesting is the state of the government, led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh but controlled behind the scenes by Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Take a close look at the UPA’s Cabinet. One minister in charge of railways is perpetually in Kolkata, battling the Marxists in her state. Another minister whose literacy does not go beyond his native language is perpetually in Chennai or Madurai — his bailiwick —preparing for a succession battle. Shockingly, he chose to miss Question Hour for queries of his own ministry.
Where does the civil society stand in its war against terror? Are the hi-tech security measures and strict policing sufficient to deal with this menace? The failed car bombing in New York’s Times Square has underlined the grim reality that the civil society cannot hope to win this war till the religious mindset — which is the motivating factor behind mindless violence — is not suitably dealt with.
It seems that Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has deprived the so-called secularists of a golden opportunity they were looking for. Now they are a disappointed lot. That explains their ridiculous demand of asking the Chief Justice of India, K.G. Balakrishnan, not to share the dais with Mr Modi at the first convocation ceremony of Gujarat National Law University in Ahmedabad.
One after the other, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance-2 (UPA) has taken steps backward on the two issues crucial to its government — the Women’s Reservation Bill and the civil nuclear liability limitation bill. And on many others that it promised it is said to have a rethink. This could mean only two things: the government’s claimed honeymoon with the people is turning bitter and, secondly, it has failed in its floor management.
Where was the secular pack, which carries a regular crusade in defence of controversial painter M.F. Husain, when fanatic Muslim mobs were holding Karnataka to ransom? Buckling under pressure, the Karnataka Police has registered cases against Kannada daily Kannada Prabha and Urdu daily Siasat for “hurting religious sentiments” though unidentified goons ransacked the offices of Kannada Prabha and an evening newspaper and threw petrol bombs late on Tuesday night in Mangalore. Can a debate on this issue be considered an insult to Islam?
Union home minister P. Chidambaram might be a better and dynamic captain of the ship at the North Block compared to his dour and uninspiring predecessors, but I am sure even he would agree that the back-to-back strikes — bomb blast in Pune and the Maoist destruction of a security force camp in West Bengal’s Paschim Mednipur district, have some connection. It would do the country much good if he views these issues as connected — planned together as part of a larger conspiracy to destroy India.
Jammu and Kashmir: A tale of two flags
The contrast between the agitators in Jammu, holding the Tricolour and shouting "Bharat Mata ki jai," and the separatists in Kashmir Valley, marching across the LoC to Pakistan, with the Pakistani flag, sums up the crisis in a way which will remain in the nation’s consciousness for years to come. The clash is not between two regions, but two value systems. The character of the two groups of agitators is defined by their respective flags: The Tricolour represents the spirit of India — respect for diversity in all its multitudes, be it faith or language; The Pakistani flag denotes an exclusivist character devoid of the right to dissent in all avenues of life.