Differing media perceptions on Kashmir

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Harsha Kakar

Mr Harsh Vardhan Shringla, the Indian Ambassador to the US stated in an interview, ‘Unfortunately, some of the media in the United States – particularly the liberal media – have, for reasons of their own, chosen not to provide this (correct) perspective, which is very important. Instead (they have) focused on a perspective that has been pushed forward by those who are inimical to our interest.’ There is a clear-cut difference in media perception on the current clampdown on Kashmir. Backed by Pak’s propaganda machine few international media houses were influenced and projected Kashmir as a jail, where public is incarcerated, freedom of movement is restricted and there is a communication clampdown. It also referred to Kashmir as a flashpoint for a potential nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan.
With foreign correspondents being denied permission to go to Kashmir, many media outlets have relied on local journalists for their inputs. They had to choose between those adopting a positive or negative view. A possible reason for some media outlets taking an anti-India approach is that bad and disturbing news always sells better than inputs indicating peace.
Some US media outlets have also published articles by members of the Pak leadership on the issue, most likely under the influence of Holland and Knight, the Pak hired US Lobby Company. For the biased media, comments by Indian opposition leaders, media personalities including those who hate the Modi government for demolishing the Lutyens lobby or even Pak supporters in the valley are essential inputs.
India has many citizens who have sought to damage its national fabric and hence every incident is blown into a religious one. This is readily grabbed by some biased media houses. These include some electronic media houses including the BBC and Al Jazeera. Media houses where Pak influence does not exist have ignored the Kashmir clampdown or stood by the Indian government narrative.
Most Indian media establishments have projected the Kashmir clampdown as a necessity to prevent violence and loss of lives. They have supported the government action on the subject.
Anti-India media outpouring came out almost akin to changing Pak strategy. Many initially projected that the original intention of abrogating article 370 was to change demography. This failed. Then they switched tack to brutality by security forces. When reports flowed of not a single bullet being fired and deaths caused mainly by terrorist actions or stone pelting, this also lost steam. Occasionally this resurfaces when fake photographs of tortured individuals emerge. Other than Indian media houses, none other reported the Army Chief’s statement that in case of proof of torture, there would be a thorough investigation.

With Pak warning of a nuclear war, western media hyped the importance of Kashmir. Nuclear war is an anathema in the western world. Western media, copying Pak’s war cry’s, termed Kashmir as an ‘accidental nuclear flashpoint’ ignoring realities that employment of nuclear weapons is not a decision which any government can take lightly or by itself. It has international consequences and nuclear powers have responsibilities.
With no Indian response and even western Governments ignoring this rhetoric, it died a natural death. Then came the new topic of clampdown and closure of communications, mobile and internet. The projection was based on rumours of difficulties being faced by the local public, including availability of supplies and medical support. This began gaining steam. Those who have vehement hatred for the government and are strong supporters of Pak, as also unaware of ground realities, wrote against this.
They ignored the fact that to ensure that there were no major problems at the ground level as the government was working in cohesion and overtime to provide for the needs of the local population. Data being released on hospital visits, admissions and operations were ignored. Kashmiris located outside the state complained of not being able to communicate with their relatives within, which became a new media point.
Biased media outlets ignored the government’s perspective as enunciated by Ajit Doval, the NSA. He stated, ”We are determined to protect the life of Kashmiris from Pakistani terrorists even if we have to impose restrictions. Terror is the only instrument Pakistan has to create unrest.’ He added that there is no question of atrocities by army as only local police and central forces are handling the public order. “Indian Army is there only to fight terrorists.”
The reality, which has been ignored, is that presently Kashmir is safer than any city in the world with its massive security deployment. A single injury or death hits headlines, whereas murders in other Indian metro’s do not even find mention in local newspapers. Another major reality being ignored is that security forces, deployed to keep terrorists at bay and leading risky lives have also suffered under the clampdown on communications.
Media houses have questioned the Government on reasons for detaining political leaders from the valley. Indian nationals are aware that Kashmir has been the fiefdom of a few families, who have exploited the system for decades. The amended status of the valley would impact them the most, hence would adopt any means, including inciting the population, for their own needs.
Further, rumours can be spread through local network of over ground workers, social media or by those who have exploited the special status of the valley. Pak’s ISPR already possesses a collection of fake media posts, which it is desperate to push through. This is blocked by restrictions on the internet. Hence, in every forum they have projected against this clampdown. Similar cries are being made by those media houses and personalities who desire that Kashmir erupts in violence. A quiet Kashmir does not provide much to write home about.
Governments at the centre and state continues to announce schemes seeking to convince the masses that the decision undertaken is for the benefit of the local population, whereas on ground there is little movement. Logically, frustration would continue to grow and along with it would be internal anger.
There is no doubt that this clampdown could have repercussions. Population kept in lockdown conditions in any part of the globe begin to thrive on rumours. Sitting idle leads to rumour mongering. Rumours then become accepted as truth. The population starts losing faith in the system. This needs to be considered by the government.
The Government must now consider its future actions carefully and decide when and how it seeks to lift the clampdown, ignoring media hype. Media would continue to play both sides. As Barkha Dutt stated in her op-ed in the Washington Post, ‘The full impact of the Modi Government’s risky decision will only be known in the months ahead. It might well prove to be a terrible mistake that will set back Kashmir by years. Or it might yet prove to be a tactical success.’
(The author is retired Major General of Indian Army. The contents of the article are his views and not necessarily be agreed with the policy of the newspaper. For feedbackexcelsior@gmail.com)