Noted lawyer and senior Aam Aadmi Party leader Prashant Bhushan has come in for severe criticism for his recent remarks on Kashmir. Bhushan had told Aaj Tak and Headlines Today that “People should be asked whether they want the Army to handle the internal security of Kashmir… If people… say they don’t want the Army to be deployed for their security then the Army should be withdrawn from the hinterland.”
The statement basically brought back the age old issue of having a plebiscite to decide what the people of Kashmir really want. Plebiscite is essentially a direct vote in which people are asked to either accept or reject a proposal.
It needs to be pointed out that this is not the first time that Bhushan has talked about having a plebiscite in Kashmir. On September 26, 2011, while addressing a press conference in Varanasi, Bhushan had said “It is my personal opinion that no country or part of its territory can be governed without the wishes of the people with the help of army. This is not in the interest of the country and the people…I want that the situation be normalized, Army be withdrawn, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act be also withdrawn and then try to persuade the people of Kashmir to stay with India. And yet, if the people want, then there could be a plebiscite, and if the people of the Valley want separation, they be allowed to separate.” On October 12, 2011, Bhushan was attacked and beaten up because of this statement, by youth claiming to be from the Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena.
The situation has changed a lot since then. In 2011, Bhushan was a lawyer who had a remarkable role to play in exposing various scams, but now he is a senior leader of the Aam Aadmi Party. The party after having made a stupendous debut in the Delhi state assembly elections now has national aspirations. And a senior leader of a political party seeking national presence cannot be seen to have such a view on Kashmir—a view which questions the idea of a united India.
As Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes in The Burden of Democracy “Groups may have deep seated grievances and suppressed complexes but the mere freedom to articulate them gives them a stake in the system like nothing else. And the imperatives of seeking sustainable majorities, most observers argue, moderates even the most radical movements, giving them a largely centrist cast.”
Bhushan and the Aam Aadmi Party need to keep this in mind if they want to move from being a local political party in Delhi to being a national level political party. Bhushan’s view on Kashmir might at best appeal to a section of the population in Kashmir and a few people among the intellectual class. Radicalism of the sort he espouses on Kashmir won’t help the Aam Aadmi Party. This is not to say that Bhushan should not have the views on Kashmir that he has. Its just that politically neither he nor the Aam Aadmi Party can afford to have these views.
In fact, Bhushan and the Aam Aadmi Party can learn a thing or two from the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) here. In 1996, the BJP formed a government which lasted for a mere 13 days. It then realized that if it had to ever come around to governing the country, it would have to keep its certain ‘core’ issues on the back burner. A centrist position would be more beneficial politically was the realization that the party had. As Ashutosh Varshney writes in Battles Half Won—India’s Improbable Democracy “In 1998, the BJP managed to assemble a broad alliance of parties and come to power, but only after dropping key Hindu nationalist demands, such as the construction of a new temple on the site of the razed Ayodhya mosque; the adoption of a common civil code to supersede all the ‘personal laws’ of the religious minorities; the termination of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir (India’s only Muslim-majority state). India’s pluralism has induced the BJP to scale back its anti Muslim rhetoric; to build coalitions across caste, tribal, linguistic, and religious lines; and to seek alliances with regional parties in states where Hindu nationalist ideology makes no sense.” In fact, the party has gone ‘soft’ on these issues since then and is seen talking more about economic and social progress.
Other than Bhushan, Kumar Vishwas, another senior leader of the Aam Aadmi Party, has also come in for a lot of criticism, for his politically incorrect views on issues as wide ranging as women to Muharram.
Vishwas is a Hindi poet who primarily writes poems about love and romance(his most famous poem is koi deewana kehta hai). Given this, he has a huge popularity among students and over the last decade has been seen regularly at college festivals around the country. The colleges tend to have more males students than female students, and in this environment, it is not surprising that Kumar has made some quips about women which are now being seen as politically incorrect, though at the point he said them, students had laughed at it.
While Kumar cannot erase things he has already said, but as a leader who hopes to take on Rahul Gandhi in the next Lok Sabha elections, things that he says in the public domain in the days to come need to be politically correct and hold a centrist view on most issues. And the same holds true for the other leaders of the Aam Aadmi Party as well.
As it expands rapidly in the days to come, the Aam Aadmi Party will make its set of mistakes. Other political parties are all waiting to latch on these mistakes and turn them into “issues” they can cash in on. Given this, it is important that the leaders of the Aam Aadmi Party do not score any more self-goals.
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on January 9, 2014
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)