South Asian Insider
India must preserve the values it’s known for
There is no reason for us to curb democratic debate just because Pakistan may exploit some of our statements Sharat Sabharwal Pakistan’s use of certain statements made by our politicians on the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s (J&K) special status and related issues unleashed a political storm. With our relationship with Pakistan becoming a key electoral issue in recent years, developments concerning it evoked reactions on both sides of the political divide, not necessarily informed by rational considerations. Critical examination of government’s moves in relation to Pakistan has been dubbed by some as playing into the hands of the enemy. It was suggested in the Supreme Court recently that its notice on the petitions against scrapping of Article 370 and related issues would have international implications, and statements made in the court might be raked up in the United Nations (UN). Is there any weight in such arguments? First, Pakistan questions the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India. Since the special status given to the state did not in any way detract from the finality of its accession to the Indian Union, debate concerning its abrogation cannot bolster Pakistan’s case. Second, this is not the first time the Pakistani establishment has attempted to use the statements made in the course of our vibrant democratic discourse to pad its case for its home and international constituencies. Indeed, we have ourselves been using statements made/documents issued in Pakistan from time to time to criticise it in international forums. For example, I have occasionally cited from the reports of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an independent non-profit organisation of human rights activists, to bring home gross violations of human rights by Pakistan during debates at the erstwhile UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. It is just that our national discourse being far more vibrant and varied, Pakistan has been a bigger user in this context. That is no reason to put an end to our democratic debate. Third, aside from questioning J&K’s accession to India, Pakistan, to present itself as champion of the human rights of Kashmiris, seeks to play up the restrictions placed in the state that have received greater focus than the scrapping of the special status in otherwise a muted international reaction hitherto. Given its extremely poor human rights record, Pakistani propaganda is not likely to add significantly to the criticism that may come our way on the human rights aspect. That would largely be a function of how the situation evolves on the ground in J&K. Moreover, our position during the UN human rights debates has been that such rights can be promoted more effectively through a cooperative rather than a finger pointing approach. And that the preservation of human rights in India does not need external intervention, simply because of our internal checks and balances through vigorous political debate, free media, strong civil society and, above all, independent judiciary. Any attempt to take away from these assets will weaken our case and invite greater external scrutiny. Our detractors would not have failed to notice that our apex court has decided to take up the petitions challenging the abrogation of special status and certain allied issues. While our lively national discourse highlights various aspects of the matter, constitutionally, the final word will belong to the Supreme Court. This is what distinguishes us from Pakistan, whose brutal handling of internal dissent has led to disastrous consequences such as loss of its eastern wing, now Bangladesh. There is no reason for us to curb our democratic values and norms just because the semi-dictatorship on our western flank may try to exploit some of our statements. Pakistan is now too weak to pose a significant threat to us, and too discredited for its propaganda to dent our image. However, the urge to emulate its divisive ideology and dictatorial value system could lay us open to the miseries that Pakistan has brought upon itself.
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