This is that time of year when memories of Partition come alive. When the violence and trauma of that vivisection visit us as a reminder, a warning. Habitually, we say, “Never again.”
Yet, barely a fortnight before this Independence Day, a state within independent India was partitioned without the consent or knowledge of its citizens. Held hostage by the Central government, the people of Jammu and Kashmir, and its mainstream political leaders, woke up on Monday morning to be told they were no longer citizens of a full-fledged state. Split into two states, Jammu and Kashmir, in one fell swoop, was pared down to a union territory.
Knowing fully well that their plan to subvert Article 370 would hit a wall of resistance, the Bharatiya Janata Party leadership chose to ignore the existence of an entire people in deciding their fates. “For their own good,” as we are now being told. Kashmiris, as has so often happened in the past, did not have a say in choosing their own destiny.
“Kashmir can now not even be trusted to be a state. The optics of this measure is not integration, it is humiliation, of a piece with subtle and unsubtle reminders to minorities of their place in India,” wrote Pratap Bhanu Mehta in the Indian Express. The process that began in 2014 – of delegitimising Muslims citizens of India, of targeting them at every opportunity – has entered a new phase with the restructuring of Kashmir.
The stealth with which the BJP rammed through its Kashmir project reveals the face of “new India”. It is a chequered face, often an ugly face. A face that betrays signs of hostility and insecurity one doesn’t expect of those who are in total control.
We no longer have at our disposal an adequate vocabulary to describe the political and ideological manoeuvres convulsing the country. Basic human decency and political civility no longer matter. Hollowed out, Parliament is a space where numbers – and only numbers – count. A smug ruling party and a spineless, mostly quiet, opposition face each other in an unequal fight. There is little scope of debate or engagement. The spectre of majority rule is more a presence, less a haunting now.
We reminisce about what the ‘idea of India’ once stood for. We lament its death. But the silent, as well as the noisy popular endorsements that greet every aggressive move by the BJP, makes me want to turn the lens inward onto ourselves. Who are we as a people? What are the basic values that define us, values that we want to protect? We bemoan the systematic dismantling of our democracy.
But let’s pause a moment to consider what that word has meant for citizens in one of the world’s most militarised states. Or for that matter, let’s consider what democracy means for thousands of marginalised, vulnerable people in Assam, who are on the threshold of losing their right to live in a state they have known as their home for decades? What does democracy mean to Muslims, to Dalits, to women, to tribal populations in India today?
Union home minister Amit Shah presented in Parliament, on Monday, the government’s latest Kashmir project as a harbinger of economic prosperity, an end to the spiral of violence that has gripped the state for long; progress in education and health. One wonders about the kind of people who would buy into Shah’s vision, de-contextualising Kashmir from its present and past histories of violence and trauma.
The claims being made about Kashmir’s future prosperity could well have been made about Uttar Pradesh or Bihar or any other state in the Union. However, the BJP has very specific desires in wanting to dangle the aspiration of development and investment as a panacea to Kashmir’s deep-seated political conflict.
We still haven’t heard from Kashmiris, the people most affected by this decision. At the time of writing, Kashmir has been under lockdown for over 48 hours. The main stakeholders in such a decisive matter were excluded from the entire process, all the way from consultation to implementation and then, from the debate.
When this was pointed out to a BJP spokesperson on TV the other night, she insisted that everyone who had to be consulted had been. But when pressed, she could not name a single stakeholder whose views – especially opposing ones – the government had taken into account.
The government has said that the clampdown is a precautionary measure. Such an explanation runs foul of the beneficial intention which, the government claimed, prompted the abrogation of Article 370. As Kashmir remained under curfew and silence prevailed in the region, celebrations broke out at BJP headquarters across different cities.
One wonders if the central government would contemplate subjecting citizens of any other state to this kind of humiliating treatment. One wonders if the government would dare to detain mainstream, high-profile leaders and former chief ministers of a state without evoking outrage from all quarters.
They claim that this antidemocratic, disturbing move is meant to “integrate” Kashmir better into the fabric of India. That BJP workers and citizens across the country are celebrating “integration” even as those who are supposedly being integrated have no access to communication or free movement speaks volumes about the kind of integration the Hindu right wants. The territory or the people? One of those is, seemingly, disposable in the eyes of the ruling dispensation. It doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to figure out which one.
If this is indeed the face of “new India,” we will have to break every mirror in the land to not have to confront our role in its formation.