The battle between India and Pakistan on Kashmir has spilled onto the streets from London to Houston. The latest round of the protracted dispute began when the Indian government reabsorbed its side of the Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir, negating its historical special autonomous status early in August.
This month I felt like I was seeing the arc of a political narrative – vigorous and violent – whiz around the world on the quarrel of the South Asian nuclear-armed neighbours zig-zagging like a firecracker.
Unprecedentedly, busloads of protestors, many of them allegedly supporters of the violent separatist Khalistan movement, led violent protests outside the Indian embassy in London twice within weeks. The situation got rough enough for the ambassador to be escorted out to safety and the building was damaged, some of its window panes broken. There were protests also outside the ‘Howdy, Modi!’ event in Houston where Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke at one of the most colourful and supportive audiences ever for an Indian Prime Minister on foreign soil. While American President Donald Trump joined hands—literally—with Modi in support, at least one local newspaper registered its opposition to India’s constitutional re-accommodation of Kashmir suggesting that the continuing communications lockdown in parts of that state, and the holding of state political leaders under house arrest, was oppressive.
It is perhaps time, then, to recognise that the Kashmir dispute, which was once ‘international’ only in the sense that it had a United Nations resolution to its name and a few countries (especially the U.S.), and their leaders, had, from time to time, offered comments on it, is now international in a localised sort of way. It has, I am arguing, entered local politics at least in two countries—the United Kingdom and the United States.
In both countries, prominent politicians have taken sides in the debate. If in Britain, the leader of the Left-wing Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn tweeted in support of ‘the rights of the Kashmiri people’ and was immediately chastised by Rami Ranger, co-chair of the Conservative Friends of India (of Britain’s ruling Conservative Party), for introducing sectarian divisions within Britain using the politics of India.
In the U.S., such divisions have already surfaced as supporters and detractors of presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard of the Democratic Party clash regularly on her perceived closeness to India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Her supporters, in turn, point out that many of her critics have links, overtly or covertly, with Pakistan and its allies, and, more nefariously, with its notorious armed forces.
On Kashmir, Gabbard has been praised by her supporters at home, and in India, for her video describing Kashmir as a complicated affair in a sovereign country, while her critics see this stance as further proof of her complicity.
On the other side, within the Democratic Party, are Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, both first-time Congresswomen, often mired in controversy in their home country, who have criticised the Indian government on its handling of Kashmir. This has further convinced their critics of the partisan nature of their politics.
Perhaps the biggest evidence of the political localisation of the Kashmir dispute has come from the actions of U.S. President Trump (Republican) and one of his leading challengers in next year’s presidential election in America Bernie Sanders (Democrat).
By enthusiastically participating in the Modi rally in Houston where the Indian Prime Minister defended and promoted the decision to remove Kashmir’s special status as a credit-worthy move in the presence of Trump (and to cheering crowds), with Modi repeating the Trumpian version of his 2014 slogan ‘Ab ki baar Modi sarkar’ (This time a Modi government)—Ab ki baar Trump sarkar – at the venue, Trump ensured that at the very least a small portion of his campaign for re-election next year had forever been enmeshed with Modi. At the very least among the Indians living in the U.S. Trump himself further strengthened this connection by talking about the danger of radical Islamic terrorism at the event—a comment that received a standing ovation from Modi and the crowd. Bernie Sanders, though, criticised Trump for being part of such an event with Modi when Kashmir remained in turmoil in a newspaper editorial.
While it could be argued that such Indian visibility and influence is fleeting and more derived from desire for better trade deals than any other political reason, there is reason to start to imagine that certain aspects of Indian politics, indeed certain disputes, may have started to acquire a global footprint, with all the allied repercussions that such a spread implies.
Opinions are personal.