It is amply, also comically, obvious by now that the ruling establishment does not want to make the mistake in Jammu and Kashmir that Donald Trump made in the presidential elections of 2020 in America.
It does not want to swagger into an assembly election thinking there is no way the BJP cannot win now, then lose the election and have to claim that it did not.
What administrative and political contortions have the powers-that-be thus not gone through over the last three and a half years to ensure, before any elections happen, that the ruling party will win.
From scrapping the “special status” granted to the erstwhile state by the Constituent Assembly of India after protracted negotiations with leaders of the democratic movement in the then Jammu and Kashmir (negotiations which were steered by Sardar Patel), to the forever suspension of representative governance, to the infusion of a handy central bureaucracy, to a ragged and patently illogical and gerrymandered delimitation exercise, to gerrymandering electoral rolls through one subterfuge or another, culminating in pyrrhic authority given to Tehsildars to certify voter eligibility, to then an ignominious rescinding of that desperately feckless order, and too much more to be listed here – but all contortions calculated to prepare the ground for a BJP triumph in any likely assembly elections – the Union government has left no stone unturned to achieve the result before the exercise.
Indeed, some wisecracks have commented that the best way may have been to take a cue from a new television channel called “Jammu/Kashmir/Ladakh/ Himachal” and actually fast forward and merge the Union Territory with Himachal Pradesh. That clearly would resolve all demographic difficulty!
Alas, the more these all-too-blatant machinations have been attempted, the more the prospects of the desired result seem to recede.
Even the battered and beleaguered Pandits who had at one time put all their eggs in the right-wing basket now fulminate much more against the Modi/Shah regime than at Kashmir’s mainstream parties – a consequence greatly to the bewildered embarrassment of the Hindutva camp.
The latest targeted killing of Puran Kishan Bhatt – a Pandit who only recently left the valley – has been followed by uncharacteristically militant protests by Pandits in which the leading slogan has been, “BJP hai hai.”
Within the Hindu-dominated Jammu region, even the Dogra Rajputs seem to have realised that the aim of the central regime is to suck them into Hindutva homogenisation bossed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh than to allow them to express the fullness of their proud ethnic and regional identity.
Consider the significant fact that Hari Singh, Maharaja of the erstwhile princely state, had wanted to retain an independent status vis a vis both new dominions of India and Pakistan.
Indeed it must remain a piquant speculation of our modern history if he would at all have acceded to India had the new dominion of Pakistan not foolishly launched a tribal-led military offensive in Jammu and Kashmir.
Another matter that his birth day has now been designated a public holiday whereas that of Sheikh Abdullah who had firmly rejected the “two-nation” theory and rebuffed Jinnah to throw the state’s lot with an India which, (as he said in his first speech to the J&K Constituent Assembly on November 4, 1951) had framed a secular and democratic constitution that guaranteed all citizens, regardless of caste, creed, religion, gender, language, race etc., equality before the law, has been denotified as a public holiday.
Some sagacious measure that, of sorting out disaffections in the valley, wouldn’t you say ?
The longer the undemocratic interregnum of administrative rule choreographed from New Delhi continues, the more apparent the schematics of the contortions become for all to see.
Contrarily, far from being weakened in their political hold, the mainstream parties, having played their cards well, seem firmly ensconced in both regions of the Union Territory: even Hindu Kashmiris are at some loss to understand why their specific cultures should be cavalierly sought to be engulfed by the “Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan” politics of ‘upper’ caste ideologues in a distant cow belt, when the Nagas, the Mizos, the Meities, the Kukis, the Tamils, the Telugus, the Malayalis, the Odias, the Bengalis, and the tribal populations of all states have so successfully secured for themselves an autonomous political expression and space within the large ambit of India’s constitutional democracy.
And nobody, but nobody, is persuaded that there has been a great change of heart or mind in the state towards a nationalist hegemony, (the sporting events and the cinema notwithstanding), or that flourishing tourism is any index of any such transformation.
Like any sensible populace, Kashmiris know tourism is an economic lifeline they must nurture, so that one rarely hears of the least hurt caused to a tourist.
A majority of Kashmiris in both regions know, even if they do not all say so, that the rescinding of the erstwhile “special status” has been a terrible blow both in regard to their economic security (concerning jobs, land ownership, education) and to their dignified self-perception.
Many are willing to admit that it was best for that folly to be reversed, and to be followed up by a comprehensive dialogue, both internally and with external forces, however depleted, to reach a modus vivendi that has the potential to restore both democratic and administrative prerogatives to Kashmiris and render the politics of violence redundant.
Kashmiris are unable to understand why this cannot happen in Jammu and Kashmir when such protracted dialogue has and continues to happen in Nagaland, for instance.
All that must be rooted in first returning a full statehood to the territory, followed by an electoral exercise which is seen to be free and fair, and an acceptance of whatever results such an exercise throws up.
Kashmiris must not simply be sloganeered to the world as integral to India but must be allowed to feel so and wish to be so by being accorded the rights they had when they willingly acceded to the Union, rejecting the two main criteria of affiliation issuing from the Partition Act, namely, contiguity and demography.
Believe it or not, many Kashmiris still keep faith that when the matter of Article 370 comes up in the top court, justice will prevail.