November 14, 2000


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Arvind Lavakare

Countering Pak 'hacktivism'

A few days ago, an Indian from the USA sent an e-mail pleading that three specifically named columnists work in tandem with folk to highlight what he calls "the growing danger of hacktivism".

What disturbed the gentleman was that several sites, including BBC and FBI, had started referring to a "free Palestine" and a "free Kashmir" in the same breath, with photographs in support. The gentleman was not sure whether it was yet another instance of Pakistani propaganda, but he strongly suspected it on the basis of cited URLs. And his appeal to those three columnists of arose out of his belief that "the Indian news media is passive, reactive and pseudo-secular".

Now this gentleman is an avid surfer with a sharp eye for Hindutva issues. That he runs a computer newsletter is an indicator of how alert and committed he is to the cause. And while his above comment on the Indian news media -- meaning the English-language one -- is largely true, it is a pity that he expects the media here to challenge and overcome the dangers of adverse propaganda generated abroad about such subjects as the J&K imbroglio.

What such an expectation overlooks is that it is the national government which, first and foremost, must do everything conceivable to counter any propaganda. This has to be done not by more propaganda, but with hard facts and their reasoned interpretation. With regard to J&K, every government in Delhi has failed miserably in this direction.

Despite the issue being complex and affecting national security, successive regimes have never fully explained it to the people at large. The result has been that there are several shades of opinion on the origin of the problem over half a century ago, its historical development and our official stand on it. Only a few who have laboured to study the problem's background and its evolution into a crisis know the truth of it all. And those few are those who have written books on J&K -- books that, alas, have not been read and digested by those who work in the Indian news media.

Hence our perverse and disgusting situation wherein --

  • The editor-in-chief of The Indian Express writes that it is we who have consistently defied the UN resolutions on plebiscite in J&K.
  • India Today prints articles that project the state's accession to India (in October 1947) as being linked to Article 370 in our Constitution (of January 1950).
  • Dr Karan Singh's son (a minister in Farooq Abdullah's government) is known to be spreading word that his grandfather, the maharaja of J&K, signed the Instrument of Accession under pressure from India and a columnist wonders whether it is worth the price we are paying to keep Kashmir.

Wild rumours include the one that the J&K maharaja did not at all sign any Deed of Accession and that the Government of India's records do not contain any such deed in the original. Widespread ignorance/disbelief envelopes the existence of a separate constitution of Jammu & Kashmir. About the UN resolutions on J&K, it will surprise this writer if even five people in this country have a copy; perhaps even our foreign ministry will take five weeks to produce them for public inspection.

That is the reason for what must be rated as a conspicuous finding of the Kargil Review Committee. Chapter 14, paragraph 25 of its report says what is quoted below:

"There is no single, comprehensive official publication containing details of the Kashmir question, the UN resolutions and why they could not be implemented, as well as of war, terrorism and ethnic cleansing together with Pakistan's involvement in all of these. The government must review its information policy and develop structures and processes to keep the public informed on vital national issues."

Ironically, the Kargil Review Committee would seem to have become a victim of its own finding. It uses the phrase "the Kashmir question" when, in official parlance, the question is of "Jammu and Kashmir". Similarly, the committee errs with its emphasis on "Kashmiriyat" as a supposedly prevailing ethos, overlooking the reality that those living in Jammu and Ladakh have their own distinctive cultural identity. That is why Manvendra Singh wrote: "Anybody who has lived in rural Kashmir would testify to the fact that Kashmiriyat exists only in the imagination of some starry-eyed folk in Delhi."

Incidentally, the only Government of India white paper on J&K known to this writer is of... 1948!

It is a commentary on our nation's governance that the above-quoted indictment of the Kargil report of December 15, 1999, came 14 months and 15 days after Prime Minister Vajpayee had told the Indian American community in New York that "there is need to make people the world over understand the real Kashmir story".

An equally devastating commentary on our governance is what an unimpeachable source -- the horse's mouth really -- told this writer about a couple of years ago in Delhi. It was his personal experience, he said, that the state governor during the explosive Hazratbal incident was only vaguely aware of the J&K constitution and had not read the scholarly dissertation on it available in book form.

Take, lastly, the cry, a few months ago, demanding autonomy for J&K -- autonomy, mind you, of the pre-1953 kind. Did anyone in Delhi from Vajpayee downward ever tell the nation that J&K is already the most autonomous state in India where, for instance, the Central Bureau of Investigation has no locus standi? Did anyone from Vajpayee downward tell the nation then or afterwards that the J&K assembly's resolution demanding autonomy violated the state's constitution itself? Did anyone from Vajpayee downward tell the country that the demand for pre-1953 status meant an abrogation of the state's constitution of 1957? Was the nation told that since the J&K constitution was formulated by the state's constituent assembly, which had been democratically elected on the basis of universal adult franchise, Farooq Abdullah's demand for pre-1953 status was a rape of the J&K people's wishes that had been crystallised into a formal and legal statute after six years of debate?

The conclusion is loud and clear. 'Hacktivism' of the BBC, FBI and other Web sites that propagate a "free Kashmir" just cannot be countered by and its three or 30 columnists. The first step has necessarily to come from the government in Delhi -- not Sheila Dixit's, but Vajpayee's. Passionate and patriotic e-mails of angst from Indians in the USA must be sent to the same prime minster who makes tall promises -- the same prime minister whom they so pamper and dote upon.

Arvind Lavakare

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