The wily @rajnathsingh & the #Kashmir crisis

BY JYOTI MALHOTRA| IN Opinion | 20/07/2016
When you are not a social media pro, you do your political fencing inside Parliament and post your speeches on YouTube. As Rajnath Singh and Ghulam Nabhi Azad did last week.
JYOTI MALHOTRA tracked the discourse off Twitter, and on it.

 

 Jyoti Malhotra

PoliTweet
Jyoti Malhotra

 

The last fortnight has belonged to the wily Thakur from Uttar Pradesh, home minister Rajnath Singh. As protests in the Kashmir valley in the wake of Burhan Wani’s killing on July 8 reached a crescendo, Rajnath reached out to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and National Conference leader as well as former Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah, to confabulate on the deteriorating crisis.

If timing is everything in politics, note the date of Rajnath’s telephone calls to the Opposition leaders: July 11, one day before prime minister Narendra Modi was to return from his week-long schmoozing in Africa. Modi’s absence made his home minister’s overtures even more interesting. For the first time since the BJP came to power two years ago, Rajnath was admitting that the ruling party was not the final word on governance.

The home minister was putting out another message, of course, which is that he was willing to bend in front of the Opposition – Sonia Gandhi and Omar Abdullah represent the other two main political parties in J&K – but that in him vested the final decision-making authority and he intended to exercise it.

But was there a third, coded message in Rajnath’s actions too, this time about his own prime minister? It is well-known that the home minister, theoretically number two in government hierarchy, ranks much lower in Modi’s food chain – definitely after party president Amit Shah, and even finance minister Arun Jaitley. There remains an unsaid tension between the two since the BJP came to power and Delhi’s rumour mill unkindly put out that the PM had chastised Rajnath’s son for allegedly accepting a bribe.

So as Kashmir exploded in Delhi’s face, was @rajnathsingh using “national interest” as an opportunity to assert himself, and simultaneously send a definite message to Numero Uno that he could not be politically short-circuited?

Certainly, older politicians like Rajnath Singh much prefer the face-to-face as well as more traditional forms of communication, like Parliament, to make his point. Wily as he is, Rajnath still isn’t as skillful in his use of Twitter and Facebook, unlike @narendramodi.

So when the Congress demanded a short duration discussion in the Rajya Sabha on Kashmir, the home minister immediately agreed. @pmoindia went along, even as the Congress dangled the carrot of not coming in the way of the GST Bill.

Another older politician, leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, whose own Twitter handle @ghulamnazad shockingly features a blank page, although he has 34.6K followers (my month-long request to join is still “pending”), led the discussion.

Now Azad’s heart definitely beats for Kashmir – he has been chief minister of the state from 2005-2008. But the 67-year-old’s ways of seeing the story as it unfolded in his home-state remains old-fashioned, no matter that Burhan Wani was only a Facebook militant and that Kashmir is burning today because social media tools like Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram are replacing old-fashioned tools of communication like newspapers – which were banned in the Valley for the last three days, anyway.

So @ghulamnazad got his boys to put his speech in the Rajya Sabha on youtube, which was then pasted on the party @INCIndia handle. Talk about the dinosaur age.

Ghulamnazad

“People don’t have enough to eat, no rations, no milk, but are still willing to live under curfew. The wounds have gone so deep that superficial measures are not working… We have to retrieve the situation. We don’t want Kashmir to burn…” Azad said in his speech.

“When protests take place in Haryana, they don’t use pellet guns, but here in Kashmir, hundreds of people, including young girls and boys have lost their eyesight because of pellet guns….When we were in power we were tough on militancy but soft with the people. This healing touch is missing now,” he added.

Imagine, if Ghulam Nabi Azad’s remarks had clogged Facebook or been fired off on Twitter – like @abdullah_omar does, in English and in Hindi? The Congress party really needs a few lessons in putting out its messages in real time.

Certainly, @rajnathsingh was waiting for his turn to speak. As soon as he got it, the House heard an outpouring of gratitude for the prime minister. Faint praise, they call it sometimes in English. When you praise someone, especially your opponent, so sweetly and so eloquently that the audience thinks you are best friends.

At least @rajnathsingh’s youtube speech was on his own twitter handle.

“When the crisis erupted, the Prime Minister was travelling, but it was he who called me, I didn’t call him, to ask about Kashmir and next steps that should be taken to calm the situation. Even after he returned, his first meeting was on Kashmir… Imagine that, although he must have been suffering from jetlag…” Singh said.

The remainder of his comments were an exercise in amiableness. You wanted to believe the man.

“I share the pain of Ghulam Nabi Azad. It has been said that excessive force has been used. But I want to tell you that I telephoned the Chief Minister, DG of CRPF & BSF and told them maximum restraint has to be exercised…We are also in great pain. I don’t believe that a country like ours can be ruled without being sensitive to your population. There is no problem to start political process. We must take care of Kashmiriyat, the identity of the people,” Rajnath said.

He then quoted Atal Behari Vajpayee, who during his famous trip to Kashmir in 2003 had said that Kashmir’s needs were circumscribed by “kashmiriyat, jamhooriyat, insaniyat… 

But Rajnath also knows that his mentors in the RSS as well as his BJP camp-followers expect a certain hardline from him :

“Whatever is happening is Pakistan-sponsored. Kehne ka naam Pakistan, lekin harkatein napak. (You call yourself Pakistan, but all your activities are impure.) A militant is being killed inside our country and Pakistan will interfere in our internal affairs? “ Rajnath said.

Even Azad had in his mild-mannered way had admonished Pakistan in his speech, saying it should mind its own business and that India was capable of looking after its own Muslims.

It took a full day for @INCIndia to repeat them.

INC India ‏@INCIndia  8h8 hours ago

INCIndia

 

INC India ‏@INCIndia  10h10 hours ago

It's been 10 days but Kashmir shows no sign of returning to normalcy. Find out why & punish those dividing people

The discussion in Parliament also gave Karan Singh, the son of the former maharaja of Kashmir (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EuWbKT91Ais,) to speak. His youtube speech too found its way on the @INCIndia twitter handle.

CPI(M) general secretary @SitaramYechury was one of the few who disagreed that Pakistan was the chief villain of the crisis. 

Sitaram Yechury

 

“The intelligentsia is alienated. The entire valley is in the grip of a terrible crisis. We have to accept we are facing a serious problem of trust and credibility in the valley,” Yechury said.

“Pakistan has fanned the flames..but we must look within. We have to face uncomfortable truths. We can’t face it by going to war with Pakistan, we have to face it by undertaking dialogue with the Kashmiris…

“(PV) Narasimha Rao said that under Constitution, the sky is the limit for autonomy for Kashmir. Today I fear under the BJP coalition, Article 370 will be done away with,” he added.

Still, the day after this heartfelt discussion, Kashmir seemed all but forgotten in Parliament. It was business as usual in the Lok Sabha as the wily Rajnath Singh, describing the Congress party as a “leaky boat” which was bound to sink sooner than later, provoked a walkout by the furious Opposition.

Certainly, Rajnath Singh had succeeded in establishing this week that he is not a pushover. If it took 43 deaths and a Kashmir crisis to prove himself, well, so be it.

 

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