The Indians in the lobby -Express Tribune

Spread the word

There is a short-lived but hilarious Jack Black and Tim Robbins starrer series called “The Brink”. Be warned. It is not for the faint of heart. Or for those who were tragically born without a sense of humour. While the plot involves a nuclear crisis in Pakistan, the writers of the series time and again prove equal opportunity offenders. Americans are shown to be of loose moral character and faulty judgment, Pakistanis mostly mad, the British and Israelis weird and Indians extremely insecure and quick to take offence. You must have seen mind benders before but probably never realised that your mind could bend in so many politically incorrect ways. I have no intention of divulging more plot points. The Indian bit, however, is intriguing because it tragically resonates with my personal experience of Indian diplomacy under Modi. When a satire so meticulously designed to be as far from reality as possible accidentally rhymes with reality, the fate of such works is sealed.

This February when the DGMOs of Pakistan and India agreed in principle to uphold the 2003 ceasefire agreement, I sent out a few tweets. Call me old fashioned but I have seen many good peace initiatives being jinxed and sabotaged for the crime of building too much expectation prematurely. So, my message was simple. Be cautiously optimistic. And given that Pakistan’s Foreign Office had repeatedly presented evidence that India was attacking Kashmiris on our side of the LoC with cluster bombs and the world refused to see, it was probably advisable to sensitise the Indian diaspora about the Kashmiri ordeal. I tweeted and moved on. But a few days later, an Indian friend half teasingly sent me a link to an article. The author of the article claimed to have unearthed a Pakistani conspiracy to undermine India’s interests. The only evidence she could find to support her case was the above-mentioned set of tweets. I did not know whether to be flattered or offended. On one side I was characterised as the devil’s spawn, on the other author had attributed too much power to this scribe. If you know anything about the twenty-five years of my work you will instantly realise that I have perfected the art of shouting in the void. If someone wants to listen, they are welcome to it but I do not go out of the way to advise any policymaker. In fact, until invited to an interaction in the public eye I seldom volunteer for any sidebars. But here we were, with this writer assuming I was in on a conspiracy and channelling Pakistan’s high and mighty. Initially, I thought that it might be a rookie clutching at straws to get published but then was dismayed to learn that the writer was a noted academic. Ever such a fan of delayed gratification, I have decided to lay out my case today.

I brought up this episode and am presenting my case to India’s diaspora because there is ample evidence that something has gone horribly wrong in their country since Modi came to power. And that it directly affects their safety abroad. Bear with me as I show you how.

The trigger for this piece is a dossier on the Indian war crimes in Kashmir under its occupation that the Pakistani Foreign Office recently released. It is not an ordinary document. It painstakingly documents the human rights abuses that have reached terrifying proportions under Modi’s installed junta in Jammu and Kashmir. Some of the pictures and clips included are unbearable to watch. You do not need to take my word for it and can check it out by visiting the link But even if you do not, I am sure you have come across some of the excruciating pictures that the Indian media was quick to normalise. A man strapped to a military jeep’s hood ostensibly as a human shield. A toddler sitting nervously on the chest of his grandfather’s corpse after a fake encounter. And on.

The Kashmir dispute, since the inception of the two countries, has worked as an endless reservoir of victimhood and national outrage that the extremists of the two sides have banked on. Pakistan has been to hell and back but the great Indian tragedy has only begun unfolding. For decades, India’s far-right treated Kashmiris as subhuman terrorists. If your body came in the way of my bullet, you are a terrorist deserving no due process. As it went on, India’s secular elite and some in the diaspora looked the other way. But now it is reaching their homes. The Indian ruling party today openly treats the country’s minorities and lower castes as subhumans. Just look up Dr Subramanian Swamy’s interview given to Vice. He is a member of the Indian upper house of the parliament, a PhD who taught among other places at Harvard and yet seems emboldened enough to state on record that the Indian Muslims cannot be treated as equal citizens. And the problem keeps growing.

The natural allies of the BJP-RSS collective in the west are the hate groups with white nationalist inclinations. No wonder then that the Indian flag was the only foreign flag among many that were carried by the January 6 insurrectionists. They may find common cause against the liberals and Muslims but in the end, the white nationalists always see non-whites as subhumans. So, this growing monster can come back to haunt everyone.

When the dossier was released, it failed to find any serious coverage by the international press. India’s clout abroad routinely has a chilling effect on the coverage of the right-wing extremism in the country. Ask the makers of Quantico, an ABC TV series with an Indian lead, that had to be cancelled because of this clout.

It is in the interest of the Indian diaspora that the permanent changes Modi seeks to bring in the Indian society are offset, that the ties between India’s far-right and the western far-right are broken and that a major source of radicalisation, the Kashmir dispute, is amicably brought to closure as soon as possible. It is a temporary intervention and an important avenue for us to cooperate. No one is asking you to turn on the country of your origin. In fact, it may help you to salvage it. Once normalcy is restored, we go our separate ways. Or better still, we manage to convince Islamabad and New Delhi to be allies and partners. Stranger things have happened. Meanwhile, the content of this dossier deserves everyone’s precious time and attention.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 18th, 2021.