The latest US Congressional hearing on Kashmir, the second in space of a month, catches the current tension in India-US relationship and also demonstrates the way India has been caught in the middle of US domestic crossfire as Democrats turn up the heat on a President they fiercely loathe. To understand the second context and its link with Kashmir, it is worth taking a brief look at the way current impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump are shaping up.
The fact that these proceedings are taking place at all has more to do with desperation of Democrats to vent frustration and heap some humiliation on a President they fear remains electorally impregnable, through a Congress they control, and less to do with any viable reason that may require Trump to be impeached. In a survey carried out by Reuters/Ipsos Core in the lead up to the impeachment inquiry, it emerged that 45 percent Americans believed Trump should be impeached, 42 percent do not, and 13 percent are unsure, much in line with previous weeks.
As the proceedings kicked off, latest poll reports seemed to show that Trump's approval ratings are climbing up. The Times (London edition), has reported that POTUS’ ratings have climbed two points to 48 percent, while Washington Examiner, quoting conservative pollster Rassmussen, reported that the US President ratings "was at 46 percent on Wednesday morning, rose to 48% yesterday (Thursday) and is now at 50%."
Poll ratings and election analytic models tell us that Trump’s prospects of retaining his seat in 2020 remains bright. One should, therefore, expect the Democrats to even throw the kitchen sink at him. Amid this domestic cauldron, India's decision to abrogate Article 370 and rid Jammu and Kashmir of its (largely symbolic) semi-autonomous status has added a leverage for the Democrats to exploit.
Kashmir provides an excellent rallying point for Democrats in US to focus and consolidate their Muslim vote bank ahead of a dogfight next year. There have been implicit threats from some members of the Muslim community, staunch backers of Democrats, that they are being taken for granted.
As this piece in The Daily Beast, titled, Why Are So Many 2020 Dems Ignoring Muslims?, argues: "If the Democratic Party leaders and 2020 candidates continue to ignore the Muslim vote, they could find that post-Trump, the GOP might make inroads in our community. We could very well see successful Muslims doctors, engineers, and business people choose the GOP’s platform of lower taxes over a political party that takes them for granted."
At the first US Congressional hearing on 22 October, Ilhan Omar, the Muslim Democrat representative from Minnesota (that includes the largest Somali diaspora in the US), bullied and heckled a senior Indian journalist who was invited to testify before the panel of largely Democrat lawmakers led by California Congressman Brad Sherman who presided over a kangaroo court of sorts where anti-India voices and assorted malcontents — including a Pakistani-American from the audience — were given free rein to rant against India. There was not even a semblance of balance in the proceedings. Indian journalist Aarti Tikkoo, a displaced Kashmiri Pandit who has done decades of ground reporting from Kashmir, was maligned by Omar who didn’t give the journalist even a chance to respond before leaving the venue in a huff.
As Washington-based columnist Seema Sirohi writes of the proceedings in ORF: “At one point Sherman even allowed ‘audience participation’ and gave time to a Pakistani American doctor friend to hold forth. It was an unprecedented move and designed to damage (India).”
The panel, ostensibly mandated to cover human rights violations in South Asia, ended up focusing solely on Kashmir. The Congressional testimony resembled more a liberal lynch mob bent on grandstanding before its audience than making any serious effort to understand the complexities involved in the issue.
Among the witnesses called to testify before the panel was Angana Chatterji, an author and human rights activist whose name has previously been linked to notorious US-based Pakistani spy Ghulam Nabi Fai, who was arrested by the FBI in 2011. A Kashmir-born American citizen and an ISI “asset” for 25 years, Fai worked in the US to further Pakistani propaganda on Kashmir and arranged seminars where Chatterji, among others, was a regular.
On his arrest, key networker Fai pleaded guilty to secretly receiving millions of dollars from Pakistan's spy agency in violation of US federal laws. According to DNA, Fai was instrumental in steering through 'Washington Declaration' on 25 July, 2010, seeking right to “self determination” for Kashmiris. This declaration, according to the report, “was signed by three Indians who had been regulars at conferences that Fai used to organise using money from the ISI.” They are “Prof Angana Chatterji, Gautam Navalakha and veteran journalist Ved Bhasin.” Chatterji has since claimed that she was unaware of Fai’s ISI links.
The second scrutiny at Capitol Hill occurred at the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing on Friday (IST) where India got yet another shellacking. A Commission is only slightly less important than a US House Foreign Affairs Committee, but the trend is clear. As Presidential poll looms near, Democrat lawmakers will now use the issue as a cosh to flog India and showboat before their respective constituencies.
In a second Congressional hearing on Kashmir, now by Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, expect Pakistan fed lies & propaganda on Kashmir, “in historical & national context”. Their dog in this fight? US Muslim vote bank is critical for Democrats to defeat @realDonaldTrump.
— Aarti Tikoo Singh (@AartiTikoo) November 13, 2019
Ironically, the charge against India at Capitol Hill is being led by Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Seattle who is the first Indian-American woman to be elected to the US House of Representatives. An Indian citizen for 35 years, Jayapal is planning to introduce a House Resolution on Kashmir and is working behind the scenes to make it pass the Floor of the House and embarrass the Narendra Modi government.
As Sirohi writes in Economic Times, "Jayapal has been working hard to build credibility on various issues. She is a serious contender for future leadership, and calling India out as an Indian American will win her points in certain quarters."
Jayapal was also present on the Tom Lantos panel. In the same boat, for instance, is Ro Khanna, another Democrat lawmaker who has joined Pakistan Caucus in US Congress to prove his 'neutrality'. The Kashmir story has come at an opportune time for these politicians.
Yet there's another angle why the Democrats appear to be burning in righteous indignation over Kashmir. Apparently, Modi's move to display bromance with Trump at Houston and appearing to even endorse his candidature hasn’t gone down well with the Democrat lawmakers. It has also been suggested that the Indian diaspora — highly educated, affluent and powerful — is more interested in organising jamborees and taking selfies with Modi than making any real effort to counter the anti-India narrative on Capitol Hill.
The Tom Lantos panel, named after a late Hungarian-American lawmaker who was also the sole Holocaust survivor to serve in the US Congress, in 2003 had said on the increasing solidarity between Indians and Jews against terror sponsored by Pakistan, that both share "a passionate commitment to respect for others, for the rule of law and for democracy… And lately we have been drawn together by our joint fight against mindless, vicious, fanatic Islamic terrorism."
It is ironical that a panel to honour the late lawmaker ended up targeting India that has been the victim terror for three decades over Pakistan’s revanchist designs on Kashmir. Pakistan’s relentless proxy war involves sending armed and trained terrorists from across the border to foment trouble in Valley and keep the separatism fire burning. India’s move was aimed at altering the ground realities so that Pakistan’s normalizing of terror tactics takes a hit, but in Kashmir, the perpetrators of terror have become victims of human rights abuse in the eyes of the West.
Whether it is the necessity to showboat before Muslim vote bank, lack of understanding of the historical context, appreciating the necessities of the move to remove a temporary Constitutional provision or simple animus against Modi and BJP, the West through its politicians and "liberal" media have been flogging India, normalising, justifying Pakistan’s terror tactics and assisting "Pakistan's jihad against India in the pretense of human rights."
Appearing at the Tom Lantos Commission hearing, Houston-based writer, Kashmiri Pandit and activist Sunanda Vashisht pushed back against the dominant narrative of the West through a forceful and compelling speech that drew from her personal experiences as a displaced Kashmiri Hindu forced to flee from her ancestral home driven by fanatical Islamist radicals at gunpoint and presented a coherent picture on why "there is no India without Kashmir, and no Kashmir without India", a 5000-year old civilisation.
"Where was the savior of humanity when my feeble old grandfather stood with kitchen knives and an old rusted axe ready to kill my mother and I in order to save us from the much worse fate that awaited us?" Vashisht asked the panel dominated by India-baiters who weren’t ready to even acknowledge the subversive role played by terror-sponsoring Pakistan that even Pakistani politicians admit to.
The hectoring and bullying tone of Congressional hearings, and the sermons delivered through condescending US politicians won’t make India change its decision or plan of action in Kashmir, but it may certainly introduce some frost in the bilateral ties.
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Updated Date: Nov 17, 2019 15:10:39 IST