Using flood rescue for vested interests

BY FAHAD SHAH| IN Media Practice | 17/09/2014
The army's rescue operations in Jammu & Kashmir are being used as propaganda to bolster India's image.
FAHAD SHAH accuses the media of politicising the floods. The article in ~The Indian Express~

In Jammu and Kashmir, the massive floods have got worse since last week. First South Kashmir was hit badly due to the continuous downpour and the lack of action by the government. Later Srinagar city was submerged. Now the waters of Dal Lake are rising and submerging nearby areas. 

During the period of violence since the late ‘80s, around 70,000 civilians have been killed and tens of thousands have been affected by the army’s activities, facts which India has been denying vehemently. As the mayhem of the floods continued, six days after they started, the same Indian army was put in action. 

It must be noted that the army arrived only after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s aerial survey of the region. Of course, the delay and the decision to send the army have political connotations that some media outlets now show. 

No one is questioning the work that the army is doing. The force, and the other defence wings of India, are helping to rescue people. Local civilians have been doing so too with their limited resources. Even before the army arrived, it was civilians with empty water tanks, rubber tubes, and wooden plank boats who were saving people. They are still doing it, as Muzamil Jaleel reported in The Indian Express. The shortage of essential items continues. Thousands still remain stranded. Hundreds have died. 

Now selected media outlets in India have started suggesting that Kashmiris are not isolated and that the army is their real saviour. IBN Live reports that the defence and security forces have emerged as the heroes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir: “The much 'hated' Indian Army is doing a commendable job across the flood-hit Kashmir Valley…These brave men have been risking their own lives to save the people, fully knowing that the same people whom they saved might throw stones and hand grenades at them once the situation returns to normal.” 

In another piece, Mukul Kumar Mishra writes in One India that: “The Modi government has extended help in every possible way giving the impression that they [India] are with them in these tough moments, but the way our armed forces have performed their heroic act on the front, that is really praiseworthy.”  

You can’t even say that this is a piece of journalism. He ridicules the resistance leadersof Kashmir and even goes ahead with praising the Modi government. Mishra quotes a shikara rider from Srinagar who was luckily in Delhi when the floodwaters broke and film-maker and Kashmiri Pandit leader Ashok Pandit to boster his view that the separatists had abandoned the Kashmiri people. 

Mishra writes: "These separatists who always pretend that they are the real protector of the Kashmiri people are sitting in their comfortable homes, leaving common people in the lurch. Not even a single leader from the All Party Hurriyat Conference, the umbrella body of the Kashmiri separatists, has been seen in action till now. Similarly people of the Valley are also raising a finger about another leader, JKLF Chief Yasin Malik, who is cooling his head in Delhi."  

One of India’s largest newspapers, the Times of India, went on saying that the flood has washed away the isolation of Kashmiris. On September 9, Rakhi Chakraborty reports in TOI, “The devastating floods in Jammu & Kashmir that wreaked unprecedented damage also erased the "distance" of the state — distinct due to the special status accorded to it under Article 370 of the Constitution — from the rest of the country. 

The media in India has started using a natural calamity as a point of politics. No wonder there was such a late response by the government then. The state government has no resources. It has been made dependent for everything. And the civilians have not yet overcome the continuous wounds of army repression, so you can’t expect them to have a disaster management mechanism that obviates the need to ask for help from their parent power. 

Such media reports are only part of the anti-resistance doctrine called ‘heart as my weapon’ that was launched in 2011 by the Indian army. If you pass through the heavily garrisoned Badami Bagh cantonment or any other major army camps in Kashmir, you will find large hoardings installed by the army showing: an army man pouring drinking water in an old man’s cupped hands or an army man helping school children to cross a narrow bridge. 

These are not just hoardings. They are the tools to construct perceptions. We have known the “perception management” in which an atmosphere is created that helps you to counter opposition. 

A model of “hearts and minds” by Gerald Templer was implemented during the Malayan Campaign (1948-1960). According to the model, the focus had to be on the heart and mind of people who are opposing you. The British used the same model in the final decades of the twentieth century in Northern Ireland and it has also been used in the contemporary models of counter-insurgency operations executed by the United States and the United Kingdom in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

In a similar way, India introduced a doctrine according to which, “Winning the hearts and minds (WHAM) of the population through low profile and people-friendly operations (is) the most essential aspect of successful CI [counterinsurgency] operations.” 

The doctrine calls WHAM a “process of seeking the consent of the population for the armed forces presence by accepting its necessity due to disturbed conditions in the area.” 

In 1998, the Indian army started an operation called “Operation Sadhbhavana” (literally meaning Operation Goodwill) in Jammu and Kashmir. This operation involved the army carrying out “goodwill activities, aimed at winning the hearts and minds of the people in the various areas of its deployment.” It started with installing large display posters of messages like “Jawanaur Awam, Aman Hai Muqaam” (the soldier and the people, peace is the destination). 

In the on-going floods in Jammu and Kashmir, the army has started helping people in rescue operations. The fact that the army has been in the state for seven decades now, the number being more than half a thousand, is in itself testimony that the power of the state lies in the hands of the army. The administration turns helpless, as always. 

There is no question of the army being wrong here. This is part of their duty, as ordered by the government, and they do this everywhere in India. 

A Delhi-based journalist, while speaking about this, told me that in the Uttrakhand floods when the army was helping people, it was a simple appreciation of the army but when it comes to Kashmir, the appreciation takes a U-turn and becomes perception management.  

“There was no need of perception management in Uttrakhand. However, the media and politicians are using the whole act of the army as perception management. So, you have all these ultra-nationalists saying, see how good our army is that it’s helping the anti-national Kashmiris. Now Kashmiris should be grateful,” she tells me. 

That is exactly what is going on. The aim is perception management. By using the opportunity of these floods, the Indian government is only going towards its bigger goal.  The people of Kashmir need to be rescued from so many things – they have been asking for help for decades now - but at those times, the government was deaf and dumb. 

The difference between these flood waters entering our houses and a bomb exploding in the house is nothing – only the cause is different, the damage is same. This post may attract a lot of trolls from all sides, but the question remains unanswered: what is the media doing by suggesting these points? 

The answer has been given by IBN Live as: “The rest of India is hoping that the heroic, humanitarian efforts of our defence forces will change the perception of the local Kashmiris about our military, which is demonized by various vested interests.

(Fahad Shah is a journalist and the editor of 'The Kashmir Walla' magazine.)

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