Kashmir is the last bastion of the BJP. On paper, everything seems kosher. If Srinagar is as much an integral part of India as, say, Itanagar, surely there’s nothing wrong in the Indian tricolour being hoisted by patriotic hokeys at Lal Chowk this Republic Day. Or is there?
As always, there is something the BJP, in its finite wisdom, can learn from my late grandmother, a liberal Hindu who would have been at ease with the party president’s avuncular style. Despite her progeny straying considerably from her cultural mores, they did respect her wish of not consuming alcohol in her presence. She didn’t mind people drinking; she just felt uncomfortable about alcohol being consumed in front of her.
If the BJP was a member of my grandmother’s household, I fear that this is what would have happened: citing the undeniable fact that alcohol consumption isn’t banned in our country and certainly not in the privacy of homes, the party would have plonked their choice of poison and would have knocked back a few in front of my grandma. Essentially, it would have been a rude gesture carried out just to make a larger — correct — point.
The problem isn’t that the Indian national flag is being raised in the Valley on January 26. Plenty of tricolours are raised there that day officially and unofficially without a murmur. But the fact is that it’s the BJP doing it and telling everyone, “Look, look! We’re raising the flag in Kashmir. Top that Mother India-lovers!”
In the world of symbolism that we live in, how something is done matters as much as — if not more than — what that something is. And unlike the expired charms of gung-ho Hindutva, the touchy-feely patriotic buzz gained by raising the national flag is hardly the stuff of any radical ideology. Also, such a gesture is popular, non-exclusionary and in-sync with the ‘Jai ho!’ bonkers crowd that is young India’s version of ‘Inqilab zindabadwallas!’
All self-respecting Kashmir experts pooh-pooh any comparisons between Northern Ireland’s historical relations with London and the Kashmir Valley’s relations with New Delhi. They are right to do so as the two ‘disputes’ are very different in nature, origin and trajectory. But I can’t help but think of the BJP’s Tiranga Yatra bearing a strong resemblance to the ‘Orange march’. The ‘Orange march’ is a commemorative walk undertaken in various parts of Britain and Commonwealth countries to mark the victory of William of Orange, a Protestant, over James II, a Catholic, in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. It’s a harmless show of pride in Protestantism and the fact of Northern Ireland being part of Britain.
But during the ‘Troubles’ of the 1970s, an ‘Orange march’ in Catholic-majority, London-owned Northern Ireland became something more than the equivalent of a mobile satsang event. It took on the flavour of conflicting ‘nationhoods’ — between Northern Ireland and Britain, despite the former being a ‘disputed’ part of the latter according to Irish separatists.
The marches were fine when they usually passed through Protestant-dominated parts of Northern Ireland. But when passing through ‘Catholic’ localities, people — who would have otherwise been sitting at home watching the telly and without much of an opinion on whether London or the Irish Republican Army should be in charge of their town — turned into abusive onlookers. In the late 1990s, in the Catholic-majority locality of Drumcree in the Northern Ireland town of Portadown, riots broke out when the Orange Order was banned from walking down a particular street. The ban in such ‘contentious’ areas is still in place, although tensions have subsided.
It’s too late for our very own Orange Order boys to be dissuaded from marching to Lal Chowk. But a ban on their Boy Scouts sojourn would be exactly the kind of thing that would make an LK Advani out of Nitin Gadkari. It’s bad manners, impolite and the worst kind of short-term politics. But if the BJP wants to carry out their patriotic task that’s the equivalent of glugging a bottle of beer in front of my grandma’s face, we need to ensure (with yet another layer of security) that no one in the Valley takes these merry, patriotic attention-seekers to heart.