It has been a week since a suicide bomber drove a car laden with explosives into a Central Reserve Police Force convoy in Kashmir’s Pulwama district on February 14, killing 40 personnel. Across India, the tragedy gave rise to a tide of grief – and then to anger and hate. Over the past week, the country has surrendered itself to mob frenzy and violence directed at Kashmiris across Indian cities.
Fearing for their lives, many Kashmiris who had gone to work and study in different parts of the country, are now streaming back to the Valley. While police units and the Central Reserve Police Force itself have worked to keep the violence in check, where, in all this time, has the political leadership been? Where is the mature political voice condemning the violence, cautioning against hate, warning against the barrage of fake news circulating around the attack, pointing out that an entire population cannot be held responsible for the crimes of a few?
On February 16, as anger against the Pulwama attack spread, the Union home ministry sent out an advisory to states, asking them to ensure the safety of Kashmiris. But political statements made so far have ranged from denial to finger-pointing, if not active incitement. A day after the Pulwama attack, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged audiences in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh, to vote for a “strong government” in the upcoming national elections.
On a visit to Bihar and Jharkhand on Sunday, Modi had just this to say: “And to the large number of people who have gathered here, I would like to say the fire that is raging in your bosoms, is in my heart as well.” There was no mention of the threats and attacks faced by Kashmiris across the country.
On Tuesday, Tathagata Roy, governor of Meghalaya, endorsed a boycott of Kashmir and Kashmiris. Though he now occupies a Constitutional post, Roy started out as a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party and continues to support party positions. The Centre is yet to respond to his comments.
On Wednesday, Union Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar blandly claimed there was no threat to Kashmiri students after Pulwama. States governed by Opposition parties have not fared much better. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has blamed a “section of political parties” for spreading hate and making “dangerous statements”. But she has failed to prevent violence against Kashmiris in the state she rules.
The attack on Kashmiris should be a matter of national shame. It is the primary responsibility of the BJP, as the party in power at the Centre, to make a strong statement against it, to counsel restraint at a time of mourning. In the absence of such a statement, there is a growing impression that the ruling party thrives on the jingoistic rage generated by the Pulwama attack, that it hopes to benefit from its polarising effects in the run up to a national election.