A Lincoln moment: What PM Modi has in common with the former US President

Ram Madhav
Liberals, whose great-grandfathers had attacked Lincoln as a despot, paint a dark picture of Kashmir today. (File/PTI Photo)

Abraham Lincoln put an end to slavery in the American South through the historic Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. He had always believed that slavery was against the basic tenets of the American Constitution.

His resolve to end it was fortified by an open letter published by eminent thinker Alexis de Tocqueville in 1856 in the pro-abolition paper Liberty Bell. “I am pained by the fact that the freest people in the world maintain slavery”, Tocqueville had written.

It was not an easy journey for Lincoln. He was severely criticised not only by the pro-slavery leaders of the South, but also by a number of others including prominent liberals in the US and Britain. Even the Papal establishment was against his decision.

Civil war had erupted, forcing Lincoln to resort to strong measures like the declaration of emergency, deployment of army and the censorship of media. Liberals had a good opportunity to accuse him of degenerating American democracy into a military despotism.

He was called an aspiring tyrant, a hypocrite who used slavery as an excuse to exert the North’s authority over the South. Lincoln was also accused of provoking civil war, violating civil liberties and even destroying the Republic.

Laboulaye, who was credited with the conception of the famous Statue of Liberty, was one scholar who had analysed Lincoln’s actions very well. Historian Helena Rosenblatt, in The Lost History of Liberalism, writes about Laboulaye’s analysis of Lincoln: “Lincoln’s use of emergency authority, he [Laboulaye] concluded, was the very model of crisis government. Lincoln had responded to the emergency without undermining the Constitution or the rule of law. He had suspended habeas corpus, but only to save the Constitution. Most importantly, Lincoln had engaged in moral uplift. In all these ways, then, Lincoln was a great leader of liberal democracy. In making such a man president, the United States had vindicated not only the Constitution, but liberty, democracy, and humanity itself.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s actions in Kashmir will be seen in similar light in the future. In ending a constitutional provision that was coming in the way of civil rights, political rights and dignified living of the ordinary people of Kashmir — and one that was promoting terrorism and secessionism — Modi, like Lincoln, had to demonstrate some toughness.

The slave system was being exploited by the aristocrats of the South. They used everything, including the Jesuit religion, to whip up sentiments of the commoners against the more modernised and liberal North, and waged a civil war. Article 370 was benefitting a few hundred political, aristocratic families in Kashmir. They were using the ordinary Kashmiris as cannon fodder to uphold their family feudalism.

The liberal attacks on Modi for his Kashmir decision are particularly ferocious. Liberals, whose great-grandfathers had attacked Lincoln as a despot, paint a dark picture of Kashmir today. While the Papal establishment had joined hands with the liberals in Lincoln’s times, it is the Islamists who are the partners with the frustrated liberals now. The European liberals had stood by Lincoln on the principle of liberal equality then. Today, when a number of MEPs, after visiting the Valley, have reiterated the same principle in extending their support to the Modi government’s action, Indian liberals fulminate and brand them as right-wingers.

Unlike in Lincoln’s America, no civil war has erupted after Modi’s decision. Three months down the line, the Valley has been absolutely peaceful. There are no restrictions on people’s movements. One encounters traffic jams on a daily basis in Srinagar and other cities. Business and educational establishments have reopened. Offices are running normally. The newly born Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir is reinventing itself as a full and integral part of India.

“Human rights” is a bogey that the liberals flaunt easily. Placing a couple of hundred politicians under preventive detention on a temporary basis can’t be called human rights violation. Hundreds of other political activists are free and engaged in political and electoral activity in the state. The Block Development Council elections, held after the historic decision, saw the participation of 98 per cent of the electorate. Those under detention, too, would be able to resume political activity at an early opportunity.

Raising the bogey of internet disconnection as another human rights violation is superfluous. An increasing number of people are getting their broadband connections restored. Internet cafes have been reopened. The state administration has promised that full internet services will be restored based on the security assessment. But, the internet cannot be categorised as a fundamental right. It is a civic right no doubt, the denial of which for the larger social good will always be in the domain of the state. Vint Cerf, often called the “father of internet”, also categorically rejects the rights argument. “Technology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself”, he had written in 2012. Kashmir had witnessed internet blackouts many times in the past. While the whole country got the internet in the 1990s, Kashmir got it after a decade or so after that.

Like Lincoln, Modi too needed an iron-will. Lincoln had to be ruthless with racial fascism in his time. For Modi, it was, to quote Bashir Assad in his book K File, masla-e-Kashmir is no longer political; it is about Nizam-e-Mustafa; it is a pan-Islamic movement now. Lincoln didn’t have any choice. Neither did Modi.

The writer is national general secretary, BJP, and director, India Foundation