India’s hard-right Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government is pushing very hard to prevent the realities of its illegal Kashmir occupation from reaching more corners of the world.
The latest illustration of this crackdown is a coordinated campaign to stop the declassification of highly sensitive documents on Kashmir. Called the Bucher Papers, the availability of these documents to both domestic activists and foreign powers is already seen as counterproductive to maintaining India’s sham narrative of stability in Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK). Given all the transparency that is riding on the papers, their disclosure in accordance with Indian law is critical to reinforcing fact from fiction.
The BJP’s campaign to frustrate their release is symbolic of its campaign to maintain the occupation itself. Privileged communications involving India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, can bring to light irrefutable evidence that New Delhi was committed to breaching Kashmiris’ autonomy since 1947. Twisting the law to prevent their release deserves the highest degree of condemnation at present, given how similar barriers have been setup in IIOJK to sidestep independent scrutiny. The possibility that the letters will establish new military and political arguments on Kashmir is enough to take the lid off New Delhi’s wrongful insistence: that the Kashmir issue is somehow known to India, and that any documentation of territorial occupation is fabricated.
Interestingly, the Bucher Papers also refocus attention on rare correspondence between the Indian army’s second commander-in-chief between 1948 and 1949, as well as government officials, including Nehru. By operating at these intersections, the letters promise to give a penetrating look at India’s use of its military and political machinery to toy with Kashmir’s special status. A closer look at those motivations is chief to understanding the pattern that contributed to the serving BJP government’s revocation of Article 370 in IIOJK. At the same time, it can strengthen the case for holding the occupation to account, once the West’s assumptions about India’s historic role in Kashmir are weakened wholesale.
There is also a strong freedom of information premium on making the papers public at all costs. Look to the Modi government’s deep anxieties and fear that their release could toss India’s foreign relations in heated terrain, and spark debate with some of its closest partners. There is a dire need to break vicious attempts that seek to distort Kashmir’s actual history, the determinants of its autonomy, and the facts behind India’s role. Countless metanarratives have been generated by the BJP to treat Kashmir’s special status as an unlawful Indian state prerogative, only to breach that autonomy to accumulate political capital. The Bucher Papers simply show the mirror to the world, that Nehru is the same leader that put on an act of standing by Kashmiri autonomy, only to leverage military support and make Kashmir’s special status a matter of blatant state manipulation.
It is here that the declassification of the papers is critical to driving every veneer into the ground, especially when the BJP moves to diversify its forced demographic alterations in IIOJK. These illegal changes on ground, much like the campaign to stop the papers’ release, are being treated as a state policy. As such, a first-hand evidence of Nehru’s early influences, tactical considerations and military conspiracies are chief to bringing India’s sustained occupation under fire through new scrutiny.
Hindu nationalist BJP thrives on violent suppression of truth on Kashmir. One explanation is that authentic communication from early leaders can push the most reluctant of government leaders at present to take some responsibility domestically. Look to the humiliating fallout from the British secret probe into Modi’s 2002 Gujrat pogrom. It was resisted because the evidence debunked the Indian Supreme Court’s verdict that Modi was never guilty of any of the anti-Muslim massacres.
The same truth bomb is at the heart of the BJP’s current campaign to deny the release of Bucher Papers. These documents are equally central to India’s play on Kashmiri autonomy and subsequent breach. After all, it is a fact that many Indian activists have pressed hard to acquire access to the letters in the world’s largest self-proclaimed democracy. But the absence of a silver lining beyond 2021 made clear that even the country’s information commissioner could not issue a release order in the face of absolute authoritarian pressure trickling down from the very top.
Take a moment to gauge such an atmosphere of impunity in modern day India. Papers critical to exposing the Indian government’s historic thinking on Kashmir hang by a delicate thread in public. And yet, Modi’s hard-right government is operating on the fantasy that it can sit on evidence and make the illegal occupation appear credible.
Make no mistake! There is no BJP narrative that can put a spin on documented communication involving India’s most celebrated leader, and that too on the country’s elaborate scheming against Kashmiris and their autonomy.
The writer is a foreign affairs commentator and recipient of the Fulbright Award