Many speeches have been made in our parliament which got memorialised in people’s memory and are recalled time and again. Be it Jawaharlal Nehru’s “Tryst with destiny” or Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s speech with his famous quote “Sarkarein aayengi, sarkarein jayengi, partiyan banengi, bigdengi, desh ka loktantra zinda rehna chahiye” or Sushma Swaraj’s fiery speech with the famous Urdu couplet “Tu idhar udhar ki baat na kar”, all of these amongst many others have been memorialised.
A recent example of such a speech, being considered by many, is Ladakh’s first time MP Jamyang Tsering Namgyal’s speech on Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill. I consider it to be an excellent example of oratory; however, I also drew many lessons from it as I read more about the context and critically examined it. The major lesson was how important it is to question the intent of our leaders and the facts they quote. I looked forward to listening to the powerful speech; however, I ended up feeling disappointed.
Like most members and leaders of the ruling party, the Ladakh leader also could not resist the temptation of blaming our first Prime Minister and invoked him during the first 40 seconds of his speech. The Hon’ble MP seemed to be hurt, and rightfully so when he quotes the former Prime Minister’s rather insensitive comment on the barren nature of Aksai Chin. However, a lesson in dissent could be learnt from the Congress MP of that time, Mahavir Tyagi, who rose against the leader of his party and with his quick-wit, retorted pointing to his bald head, “No hair grows on my head. Does it mean that the head has no value?” How many of our current MPs can we count on to question their senior leadership in such manner in the Parliament?
I feel that Namgyal has played with the sentiments of the nation because his speech was Islamophobia garbed as Ladakh’s voice—for which there are several reasons. I am using Islamophobia instead of Kashmirphobia because Namgyal understands it well that only Muslims of the state will be projected in a bad light, including the non-Kashmiri Muslims and excluding the non-Muslim Kashmiris. The non-Kashmiri Muslims of the state include the Bakharwal-Gujjar community which was the target of Kathua rape incident, and the Shia Muslims of Ladakh—both of which are very distinct communities from Kashmiri Muslims.
Even though Namgyal boasted of being the representative of entire Ladakh—a constituency which has an almost equal number of Buddhists and Muslims—he didn’t name a single Muslim leader, although he expressed his respect for Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, a leader who wasn’t even from the state. He forgets that his constituency Ladakh, too, has sent Muslim representatives to the house in the past.
When he mentions the struggle to include Dogri in the 8th Schedule, he subtly propagates Islamophobia by portraying it in a manner which creates a perception that it was a struggle of Hindus alone. A fact to note is that the issue of Dogri was raised in the parliament by two Muslim MPs: Shabir Ahmed Salaria and Hannan Mollah. It got support outside the parliament of prominent Muslim leaders Farooq Abdulah, Saifuddin Soz, and Ghulam Nabi Azad. He propagated Islamophobia when he over-simplified the inclusion of Dogri in the 8th Schedule. Dogri, which was wrongfully classified as a dialect in the past, has a complex history. It was only recognised as a language in 1969. Furthermore, he forgets a simple consideration that the number of speakers is an important factor while giving any status to any language. Kashmiri has a lot more speakers than Dogri.
Even though he blames the Congress party multiple times for various reasons, he doesn’t blame the party even once for being responsible for the rise of the insurgency in the state. He doesn’t say that insurgency took force in the state majorly after the 1987 elections, which are widely believed to be rigged and the Congress party is one of the alleged culprits. He doesn’t mention that the Congress party played with democracy in the state so much that it resulted in the saying “Kashmir me sarkar Dilli ke aashirwad se banti hai”. But why would he miss that chance of blaming the opposition party? He probably did not because that might defeat the larger purpose of his speech, which apparently was propagating Islamophobia. Any humanist who hears about the injustice meted out to the people of Kashmir will empathise with them.
The Ladakh MP lied or cited false details at least thrice in his speech, however, got away with it because of his excellent oration.
He said that Kashmiri was included in the 8th Schedule despite not having a script of its own. The Kashmiri language or Koshur has its own script, the Sharada script, though not widely used now. He then talks about the demand for inclusion of Bhoti (Ladakhi) in the 8th schedule of the constitution. Moreover, if not having a distinct script is a criterion then several languages like Marathi, perhaps even Hindi, will have to be excluded. Similarly, even Ladakhi doesn’t have a distinct script and is written using the Tibetan script. I consider this to be a disrespect to the great Indian literary heritage, and especially to the Kashmiri Pandits who continue to use the Sharada script in their religious ceremonies.
Namgyal said that during the Congress rule in the state when new districts were formed, Jammu had to struggle for their share of four new districts, while the truth is that the recommendation of Wazir commission, three new districts in Jammu and one in Kashmir, was being implemented. The Congress government had to give more districts under pressure of alliance partners and demonstrations by the general public.
Another incident when the Hon’ble MP lied was when he boasted of a victory with a record margin. While in reality, his victory margin was less than 9%, while in 2004 Lok Sabha elections, Thupstan Chhewang, the then independent candidate, won by a margin of almost 20%. Moreover, the current MP’s victory was possible because the opposition stood divided. While the Congress fielded Rigzin Spalbar as its candidate, the National Conference and PDP supported the independent candidate Sajjad Hussain, an activist and journalist of the region. Spalbar and Hussain got 16.8% and 25.3% votes respectively, while another independent candidate Asgar Ali Karbalai got 23.23% of the votes.
Another fact which was only partially true was that while PDP did expel their Leh district president on the demand of UT status for Ladakh, National Conference only served show-cause notice. Whether any disciplinary action was taken against him later or not, could not be verified by me.
Tsering Namgyal claimed that the people of Kargil are in support of the Union Territory status. However, the facts make his claim highly debatable to the point that it could be considered as misleading the nation. While both the Leh and Kargil Hill Councils stood united on the demand of divisional status for Ladakh, a demand which was met under BJP rule in February 2019, Kargil Hill Council (LAHDC-K) opposed the demand of the Union Territory status. The MP seemed to be in favour of unity between the Muslims of Kargil and Buddhists in Leh when he referred to the two as “Hum dono bhai”, however, if the people of Kargil are against the bifurcation of the state, then won’t the bifurcation increase the animosity between the people of the two districts? The Hon’ble MP claimed no protests are happening in Kargil even though pictures of strikes are there. Later on, he downplayed the ones which occurred like most people these days in the country downplay the various protests happening in the country.
During the speech, it was also claimed that Article 370 is responsible for the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits. This is also arguable since Kashmiri Pandit leaders themselves have different views on this. Sanjay Tickoo, president of Kashmiri Pandit Sangarsh Samiti (KPSS), had said in the past that the Article 370 affair is different from the issue of exodus of Kashmiri Hindus and both should be dealt with separately. He remarked that linking both the affairs is an “utterly insensitive way to deal with a highly sensitive and emotive issue.”
Hon’ble Congress MP Shashi Tharoor claimed in the Parliament that the recent move is “the political equivalent of demonetisation”. However, given the highly unpredictable environment in Kashmir, I will not comment on what can happen there. However, I do feel that owing to the highly strategic location of Kargil, dissent there should be attended to and not doing so will be like playing with fire for any party at the centre, especially if the people of Kargil start perceiving the Central Government and by extension, India to be anti-Muslim.