Sitting thousands of miles away amid the rather salubrious climes of Amman, I woke up to the news of new pronouncements in the Indian parliament whose tectonic resonance, you can be sure, will haunt us – not just Indians but citizens of the world – for decades.
For well over six decades, the constitutional provision of Article 370 guaranteed the state of Jammu and Kashmir its special status in the Union of India. A provision that, over the years, had been so diluted and yet so thoroughly abused that it had reduced itself to no more than a fig-leaf assurance to assuage the rampant anti-India sentiment in the Valley.
As parliament resumed after a brief recess, the Union home minister rose to announce his government’s decision to largely do away with the contentious Article of the constitution – using a presidential sanction.
Concurrently, the state was stripped of its territorial integrity by bifurcating it into two federally-administered union territories. By the same evening, the government had successfully steamrolled a parliamentary sanction to undo the border state, and with it the decades-long work in bridging the trust deficit between the people of Kashmir and those of the rest of India.
The announcement was made just nine days shy of what will be India’s 72nd birthday as a free nation. Thus handing the prime minister a major talking point for his eponymous Independence Day speech.
In doing so, the BJP-led NDA government may have revealed not just its complete misreading of the festering Kashmir imbroglio, but sown the seeds of violent jihadist blowback that may be difficult to contain in the weeks, months and years ahead.
Make no mistake. There is, and has been for quite some time, sufficient rationale for reviewing the continued relevance of Article 370, which was handed out as a confidence-building measure after the division of the country in 1947 and the subsequent first Pakistan armed aggression to annex the state by force.
For almost 30 years to the day, cross-border terrorism in the state has exploited religious fault lines and fed on local angst against monumental misgovernance and the inability of elected politicians to deliver on rising public aspirations.
I hold no brief for PM Modi and his andhbhakts – including a majority of my own fellow Kashmiri-Hindu brethren who have of late turned die-hard BJP zealots while still licking the wounds of the searing experiences of our very own ‘partition’ from Kashmir, when we had to leave our homeland in 1990 under a climate of cold fear and severe threats to our lives and the honour of our women.
Nor do I nurse the slightest soft corner for the Congress, considered by many as India’s natural party of governance for decades, in whose days in power as a coalition partner in my state of Jammu and Kashmir, the ground was made fertile for our exodus-scale migration that took place in 1990.
I feel most done in by the state-level parties like the National Conference and later the People’s Democratic Party. They have systematically neglected to nurture inter-communal harmony in concrete terms beyond syrupy platitudes to the contrary. They have failed to protect the rights of the half-a-million strong minority of Kashmiri Pandits. Instead, they have fattened themselves on a diet of endless federal largesse and embezzled public funds meant for infrastructure and human development activities.
Through all these years of homelessness – and in my over 20 years of life in conflict geographies as a humanitarian worker – I have seen up close how a third of the humanity and dozens of nation-states have been laid low overnight by violent conflicts led by armed insurgencies. These insurgencies fester on interminably, feeding on a diet of widely-shared sense of religion-based discrimination and injustices, and the holy duty to defend their ummah against the rampaging apostates.
Over the past decades, the trans-border jihad factory has learnt to operate with spectacular success as a rent-a-Muslim-cause industry. From Wilayat Yemen, an ISIS affiliate in Yemen and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, to other affiliates of the big ISIS brand in Afghanistan, Central Asia, South Asia and Africa, it is only a matter of time that we in India may inaugurate our very own long season of the jihadist soap opera.
As I observed the unfolding events in the Indian parliament, my mind went back to the night of November 8, 2016. That fateful night, in one fell swoop, Prime Minister Modi announced the demonetisation of all Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes. Modi announced the decision on late-night television, taking even his closest cabinet colleagues and central bank mandarins by surprise.
In an economy overwhelmingly motored by micro, small and medium-scale businesses, the announcement of demonetisation led to prolonged cash shortages in the weeks that followed, and attendant significant difficulties for ordinary citizens.
To me, the most troubling aspect of the sudden nature of the announcement on Kashmir is the direction in which India is sought to be taken, in manic contempt for what most Indians hold dear, the need for assimilative debate and consensus on issues of national import such as our secular identity and cultural unity as a nation. The wholly unanticipated announcement on Kashmir was a reminder yet again, that constitutional and institutional niceties matter little for this government.
Such heavy-handed non-consensual approach to even the most far-reaching decisions, holds portents of a hardening Indian state, least interested in protecting the country’s democratic consensus, expressed most visibly through parliamentary debate, as a bulwark against its ham-handed ways.
The manner of introduction of demonetisation and the reading down of Article 370 signals a cocky government certain of its apotheosis. Taken together with, on the one hand, the generalised and sustained downturn in the economy, clearly evident in falling investments, disappearing jobs and the mounting banking crisis, and, on the other, the years-old focus on excessive militarisation, one can piece together a picture of a panic-stricken iron-fist government lunging to cover up its inability to deliver a robust economic performance.
It will do so through prolonged and proactive shock-and-awe military adventurism on the borders while seeking to coddle and expand its base by whipping up ultra-nationalist passions and age-old, irreconcilable antipathy of the Muslims whom it blames as unpatriotic and undeserving of their place in India following the 1947 Partition along religious lines.
Its absolute majority in the Lower House of parliament and deft manoeuvrings in the Upper House to split the opposition ranks means it enjoys a near-total sway in both Houses, to ramrod any new legislation, howsoever dangerous and ill-advised, that’s in line with its political philosophy.
Clearly, the BJP government that rode back to power in May, is betting big on transforming India into a quasi-authoritarian state where individual liberties and institutional democracy will matter less and less.
In my country, as the demands rise on the state from hundreds of millions of the under-fed, the ill-educated and the teeming millions of educated unemployed, politics shows little stomach to take on the governance challenge by the scruff of its neck, and grow up.
Instead, ruling dispensations, for decades without end, have fallen back on the time-tested stratagem of whipping up atavistic and ultra-nationalistic passions to garner votes. The present right-wingers are no worse than the so-called centrists who came before them. Together, through means foul and fair, they have emaciated democratic traditions and brought us, as a nation, to this pass.
Unlike a lot of my fellow Kashmiri Pandit exiles, I am unable to gloat and exult at this pyrrhic victory that signals the end of the state of Jammu and Kashmir as we know it. A long period of uncertainty and unrest awaits.
Kumar M. Tiku, an internally-displaced Kashmiri in India, is the author of Humans on the Run – of exiles and asylum, published by Oxford University Press in 2018.