The Hindutva rightwing has ostensibly succeeded – for now – in embracing the land area of Kashmir and defeating the Kashmiris.
That the moment to do this was chosen with adroit calculation cannot be denied. With the Indian National Congress in confused disarray, and many regional satraps willing to strike bargains, the Modi government struck on the back of a dominant cultural opinion.
Interestingly, even those regional political forces assented to the revocation of all autonomy-granting provisions of Article 370 who have been screaming to obtain such privileges in their own states.
Not a few “notable” young leaders in the Congress party also came out supporting the unethical and crass measure.
So much for that.
How drastically the ideological axis of Indian “mainstream” politics has revolved may be understood by recalling that the first-ever non-Congress Indian government fell apart in 1979, on the issue of “dual membership”. An objection was raised by Chaudhary Charan Singh, Madhu Limaye and others in the then Morarji Desai-led cabinet to components from the Jana Sangh continuing to hold their membership of the RSS, while having sworn their oath to uphold secularism. Today, there is a seemingly unending beeline among members of several non-BJP parties to go join the communal right-wing bandwagon.
I spent the whole of June in the valley, interacting with droves of students, teachers, political workers, cultural organisations all the way from Srinagar to the deep interiors on subjects that ranged from history to culture to politics, to the specific situation of Jammu & Kashmir.
In a breathtaking openness of debate, the persistent theme everywhere was why the Centre refuses to dialogue with Kashmiris with a view to reaching a modus vivendi that would satisfy the needs both of integration and autonomy.
Little did I or they know what would be in store within a month of those interactions. As events have unfolded, what a group of very bright young scholars said to me seems to have come true – namely that “India” seemed more anxious to defeat the Kashmiris than to integrate them.
Democracy dealt a fatal blow
The Hindutva right-wing has consistently – and with considerable justice – accused the Congress in collaboration with “mainstream” local political forces of having denied democracy in Jammu and Kashmir over long decades of manipulative politics. In doing what the Modi government has done, not only has democracy finally been dealt a fatal blow in the state (erstwhile state, one may now say), but trampled underfoot Kashmiri attachment to centuries of distinct cultural history and identity.
Recall that in his inaugural speech to the constituent assembly of Jammu & Kashmir (November 4, 1951) the late Sheikh Abdullah had said:
“The character of a nation is not known by its demography but by the sort of Constitution it gives to itself. The secular and democratic Constitution of India promises equal rights to all its citizens.”
He had also ringingly rebuked Jinnah by saying that contrary to claims made by him, Pakistan would be a “feudal oligarchy” run by vested interests, and that a “sufi Kashmir could have nothing to do with a theocratic Pakistan”.
Well, today we know it is indeed all about demography/theocracy rather than anything else, be it in Assam, West Bengal or Jammu and Kashmir. The truth of this is reinforced by the double whammy the state has been dealt: in vengefully demoting J&K to a Union Territory, and snatching Ladakh away from it, the Modi government has cannily ensured that it retains control of all land and forest rights in the territories.
The ploy offered by the Centre is that since “terrorism” is a problem specific to the state, this measure was necessary to maintain security. We are thus to understand that no such problem exists in other states that will continue to enjoy a “special status”. The fact of the matter is that both indigenous turmoil and cross-border “terrorism” that afflict states like Manipur, Tripura, Nagaland have a demographic profile different from what pertains in Jammu and Kashmir; and thereby hangs the tale of what “cultural nationalism” wishes to achieve for a re-constituted nation-state.
Media channels collaborating with the Centre are busy propagating how Kashmiris are delighted with what has happened. Clearly, this must be the reason why the Kashmir province is today – five days after the new measures have been passed – locked down like a funereal space, why more than a hundred leaders – most of whom have consistently stood with the accession of the state to India – in jail. Perhaps, this is also why unconscionable numbers of the state-apparatus have swooped on the valley, and why, according to some reports, even the local police forces have been disarmed for now. What a sterling paradigm of democracy-in-function, and what an expression of trust in the people of the valley.
There are also reports that a Joint Action Committee has been formed by the residents of the Kargil district of Ladakh to resolutely oppose the Union Territory status for Ladakh. Reports also suggest that the Chenab Valley and the Pir Panchal areas of the state are in potentially violent unrest. The only Kashmiris who are happy – various Pandit organisations, for example – are those on whom Article 370 placed no bar on acquiring property or employment in the state.
Future hangs on two planks
The future seems to hang on two planks: one, the consequences of legal challenges to the new measures passed by parliament, and on how things may or may not shape in the Valley, the Chenab, Pir Panjal and Kargil after the present clampdown comes to be relaxed or lifted. There is also no telling how far Pakistan may go to redeem itself with its humiliated internal situation.
As to the propaganda about how the revocation of Article 370 will open the doors to investment and employment for the Kashmiris, here is what a Kashmir wag had to say: “Physician, heal thyself.” Meaning, bring investment and employment first to the mainland before holding out the promise to Kashmiris. It may be noted that whereas the percentage of people below the poverty line in Gujarat is 22%, it is 12% in Jammu and Kashmir, thanks to Article 370 and the special status which enabled pioneering land reforms in the state, contributing to its front-ranking economic status. As to education, likewise, the state of just about seven million people has a dozen universities of high quality and free education from primary to post-graduate studies, thanks to the exceptionally progressive “Naya Kashmir” manifesto drafted in 1944.
One thing may be safely stipulated: the route that the Modi government has taken vis a vis Kashmiris, and the coloured backing it has received is set to make antagonists of all Kashmiris. What consequences this eventuality may have both internally, and in the event Pakistan ramps up the military aspect of the situation boggles the mind. If in 1965, and on other moments of the turmoil ordinary Kashmiris have firmly assisted Indian security agencies in opertations, a radically different scenario may be in the offing.
God help the republic.
Badri Raina taught at Delhi University.