Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks on Tuesday comparing the Indian Army with Israel’s might have have gone down well in some quarters. But in Kashmir, it was greeted with hurt and some resignation.
At a rally in Himachal Pradesh, Modi had said the surgical strikes on "terror launch pads” in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir were “no less” than the exploits of the Israeli military. The comment comes after three months of protest in Kashmir, which have left scores of people dead or hundreds injured.
“By mentioning Israel, the prime minister has hurt a lot of sentiments here,” said Junaid Mattu, a spokesperson for the National Conference. "Already close to 100 people have died." Mattu added that the analogy was “problematic” since, in Kashmir, many believe that the state uses the same kind of excessive force that Israel does.
Modi's statement also feeds into parallels between Palestine and Kashmir commonly heard in the Valley. In the past, comparisons have been made between protests in Kashmir and Palestine, where civilians have been displaced, lost livelihoods, faced restrictions on movement and denied basic amenities.
In the Valley, many call the movement for “azadi” an “intifada”, an Arabic word that means “to shake off” and which was first put to political use in Palestine in the late 1980s. Some images of the civilian protest in Kashmir, such as stone-pelting children, also echo those of the Palestinian intifada.
The Valley’s largest circulating English daily, Greater Kashmir, carried the headline “PM equates ‘surgical strikes’ with Israeli operations” on its front page. Its sister publication, the Urdu newspaper, Kashmir Uzma, also took note. Its front page report on Modi’s remarks went under the headline: "Bharat ne wahi kia jo Israel ne Falastine mei kia" – India has done what Israel did in Palestine.
Urdu newspaper Chattan also featured the story quite prominently though other leading newspapers did not cover the prime minister's remarks.
Modi isn't the first person to make this comparison between India and Israel, observed Sheikh Showkat Hussain, head of the School of Legal Studies at the Central University in Kashmir: it's an analogy that Pakistan has long been pushing. “Now it is sort of a confession on the part of Narendra Modi,” Hussain said. “This has endorsed the long-drawn perception which was thought to be communicated by Pakistan and even separatists over here that Israel and India are two faces of the same coin.”
Indeed, separatist leaders of the Hurriyat greeted Modi’s comparison with little surprise. “I don’t see anything new in it,” said Shahid-ul-Islam, spokesperson of the Hurriyat's Mirwaiz faction. "I remember since the '90s when militancy started, Israeli teams used to come here [to Kashmir] and give [army] training." India learnt how to “suppress the movement” in Kashmir from Israel, separatists contend.
But a student in Kashmir University, who didn’t want to be identified, felt the analogy did not show India in a good light. “Israel is a big bully in that part of the world," this person said. "If that is what India is trying to do here, that shouldn’t be proud moment for India. It glorifies how we are being bullies in South Asia and moreover justifies the claims of some sections of Kashmir.”
The battle of perception
The prime minister’s comments have done nothing to help the popularity of the Indian state in Kashmir. In a Muslim-majority region, Hussain pointed out, comparisons with Israel were bound to create anxieties.
Such remarks, many felt, were bound to push Kashmiris farther away from the state. “Modi has a very superficial understanding of political psychology,” said Mattu. “In conflict zones...perceptions matter more than reality or facts. The long-term effect will be further alienation among Kashmiris.”
Others, however, tended to dismiss the remarks as mere rhetoric, and would have no long-term consequences for Kashmir. “The strike is being politicised for the elections in Uttar Pradesh, there is no other importance,” said Tahir Mohiuduin, editor of the daily Chattan newspaper. “As the situation was already bad here, it would have no other impact over the people.”
A local journalist, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the prime minister’s statement was “more rhetoric and less substance”, and that it was a hollow boast. “India is nowhere near the defence capabilities, particularly in terms of indigenous manufacturing of weapons and innovations,” he said.
He added that Modi’s remarks were tailored for his political supporters and had little to do with Kashmiris. “Linking his statement with Kashmir would be unfair and illogical because the statement was meant for non-Kashmiri audience, mainly the states that are going for polls,” he said.