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Capital Grapevine  

Virendra Kapoor

Ministers staking claim over Pak- occupied Kashmir rub more salt on Pakistan’s wounds

The battle for global opinion may have been won but restoring normalcy in Kashmir remains. Kashmir is unlikely to dominate the news cycle for a while until the euphoria over the spectacular giveaways to the corporate sector dies down. Whether that benefits the economy or the moneybags alone remains to be seen. And then Prime Minister Modi will hog the limelight with his wooing of the desi diaspora in the US with Trump acting as the chief cheerleader. Again, the dichotomy of the NRIs generally rooting for the Democratic Party while feeling obliged to celebrate a Republican President, aspiring for re-election, sharing the stage with their beloved Indian leader raises some awkward questions.

But whether or not Kashmir is in the headlines, the dire situation in the Valley would not allow those minding the store in New Delhi to take their eye off even for a moment. For, it is of paramount national interest that the gamble India took by deleting Article 370 and 35A on August 5 does not pour more oil on the already smouldering embers in Kashmir. That is why the latest move to rub more salt on Pakistan’s wounds assumes significance. Union ministers openly talking of taking back the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as the next step after the August 5 abrogation only further aggravates the frustration of Pakistan.

Wracked by an existentialist economic crisis and constant internal strife, the crushing blow to whatever is left of its national pride could not have come at a worse time for the ruling establishment in Pakistan. Prime Minister Imran Khan and his masters in the Rawalpindi GHQ could only wring their hands in impotent rage while India boldly blanked out the special status of Kashmir.

Despite apoplectic threats of armed reprisals and a serious accounting in global forums, Pakistan found itself helpless and isolated. Barring China, no-one was willing to stick its neck out and challenge India’s position that what it did on August 5 was entirely its own internal business, nobody else’s, least of all Pakistan’s. As far as the global community is concerned, it seems the deletion of Article 370 is a closed chapter, bar the pro forma shouting by Pakistan in the annual UN General Assembly meeting later this month. Earlier, both the UN Human Rights Commission and the Security Council had offered little solace to Pakistan. The only necessary caveat, however, is that the world may not look as kindly if in the coming weeks there is no verifiable evidence of a semblance of normalcy having been restored in the locked-down Valley.

Yet, ministers upping the ante and talking of recovering the PoK underlines official confidence that after the initial shock, the world has accepted the abrogation of Article 370 as a fait accompli. And, therefore, it makes sense to force Pakistan further on the defensive by trying to shift the narrative to the unfinished business of a chunk of Kashmir being held illegally by it by sheer force. These provocative statements from senior ministers have the effect of publicly humiliating Imran Khan and his fire-emitting ministers who give vent to their crippling helplessness by mouthing profanities against this country on nightly television.

It may well be part of a considered strategy to rub the Pak nose in the dirt, but whether it was proper of the Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu to lead the oral charge is unclear. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and other ministers talked of the next step in Kashmir being the reclaiming of the PoK. Last Tuesday, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar called a press conference to state that `acquiring physical jurisdiction’ (diplomatese for repossession) over PoK ` one day’ was on the Indian agenda. Having been a career diplomat, he was careful to leave the time-line of `physical jurisdiction’ rather vague but his ministerial colleagues felt no need to be nuanced when it came to Pakistan.

Given that the battle for Kashmir is also being waged on nightly television in the two countries, the repossession of PoK next on the to-do list of the government gives the hyper-nationalistic anchors something more juicy to chew on. Thus, in the clashing public narratives taking back PoK allows the television warriors further edge to humiliate their Pakistani counterparts who anyway feel defeated and dejected by the failure of Imran Khan to lift even his little finger following the grave provocation from India.

Yet, amidst ministerial statements about taking back PoK, J and K Governor Satya Pal Malik, striking a slightly different note, virtually ruled out physical action to repossess the one-third part of Kashmir from the illegal occupier. It seemed part of a carefully devised blow-hot, blow-cold strategy. Malik argued that improving the socio-economic lot of Kashmiris would by itself cause those trapped in PoK to rebel and seek reunion with Kashmir. This was the best way forward for India.

Malik’s political stature or his equation with the ruling dispensation does not warrant his straying far from the official line. Clearly, whether it is the ministers setting their eyes on the PoK or the J and K Governor resetting the agenda in Kashmir with the focus on welfare, the government has a clear road map for Kashmir. In this, changing the public discourse away from the hardships of Kashmiris forms a vital part. It is here that the talk of taking back PoK comes in handy.

But eventually the focus will have to return necessarily to the lack of `normalcy’ in Kashmir. Putting a tight lid on the simmering Kashmir cauldron can only increase the pressure. Therefore, it may be time to allow them to vent anger, albeit peacefully, so that a new beginning can be mode on both sides. The present stalemate cannot go on indefinitely.

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Physician, heal thyself

Then there is this senior lawyer who has made a career out of browbeating/intimidating the judges, throwing a childish tantrum every now and then, and always pretending to be wronged. He conducts himself as if he is the repository of all legal and juridical wisdom. Early on in his career he was found to have stolen books from his senior. Again, he was under a cloud following charges that he had diverted foreign funds meant for an NGO to build his own house. Yet, his supercilious conduct would suggest that he alone in the entire bar is the paragon of virtue.

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Always chasing power and pelf

It pays to advertise proximity to power, especially if you are looking to make a quick buck. Not long ago, a Rajya Sabha member made it a point to station himself in such a way at public functions that his mug shot would always appear in the background of the prime minister or senior ministers when the next morning’s papers published the photographs of the VVIPs. He thus attracted custom from various corporate houses who needed to have their irons pulled from the official fire in New Delhi. In the television age, the game has acquired more converts, including quite a few journalist-entrepreneurs whose business relies vitally on wooing big business.

For example, take the case of this TV anchor. Having gone through the entire gamut of unscrupulous behavior to get ahead, including virtually serving as an informer to a key aide of a former prime minister, our friend now has his sights set much higher. And, therefore, leaves no opportunity to let the world know that he is part of the inner circle in the ruling arrangement. Worse, a me-too tainted functionary of a high-profile sporting body treats our journo-friend as his savior, relying on him to extend his lien on his high-paying job once the latter gets to be his boss.

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The facts and views expressed in the article are those of the writer.