Speaking to the tyranny of the majority in his epochal essay On Liberty (1859), John Stuart Mill wrote how the acid test of any democracy must be in the quality of space and consideration it gives to the opinion of the most isolated individual who may dissent from a consensus, however backed up by numbers or by the compulsions of loyalty or collective self-interest.
Although western democracies since his time have to an extent made the prerogative of individual liberty an essential feature of their democratic political/party practice, it must be said that they too have, in dire phases of modern western history, succumbed to the authoritarian temptation to railroad individual/minority opinion – often at the behest of a great leader who has come to be credited with a transcendant knowledge of and concern for what is best for the “nation”.
Examples here are too well known and recorded to need iteration.
Indeed, the contemporary moment everywhere seems to favour this view of the political management of nations.
In the social areas of collective human life, of course, the sway of crass power centres has seldom received the sort of consideration that political theorisation has. The dominance of male perceptions over female ones, of white peoples over black ones, of upper caste Hindus or Muslims or Sikhs or Christians over lower-caste ones continues even now to be viewed as corresponding to the order of Nature itself – something ordained and irrefutable.
Thus human communities who have been at the wrong end of dominance by self-appointed minority power structures continue to be “told” what is best for them to think, and to do – a one- way stream of diktats that stretch from matters of faith to eating habits and dress codes.
But in saying what the honourable prime minister has said with respect to Kashmiris in his Independence Day speech rather takes the cake.
It is is his view that some millions of Kashmiris – after the consenting ones have been excluded – have thus far been enchained by the now fatally mauled Article 370 of the constitution.
A precipitate riposte that suggests itself is why there should then be any need to lockdown all these unchained people when in fact any prisoner ought to be jubilant about being so freed of long-standing fetters?
To that, the answer must be drawn from the sort of histories that have been outlined above: put simply, not only do even the most notable individuals often not know what is good for them but whole populations as well. Only the individual who commands absolute state power does. We have seen how such individuals are thrown up through “democratic” processes as much as through violent take-overs of authority.
Given that premise, where was the point in consulting the chained Kashmiris as to whether or not they loved their chains, and why they seem peculiarly unwilling to be unchained. Just as men, white people, upper castes have always told women, black people, lower castes what is good for them, so have the Kashmiris been told how best to reconcile themselves to their altered circumstances.
Justifying the unjustifiable
The days are back in history when power has become its own best justification, and when democratic systems of government and law had best take their cue from the great leader whose all-encompassing wisdom is to be regarded as a source of correction in all nation-wide aspects of reflective or active living.
And when subsequent days prove such diktats deleterious, there is never a dearth of cabals who spawn theories and fake facts to justify the unjustifiable.
Wasn’t demonetisation a roaring success, we ask you?
Thus, if a bulk of Kashmiris feel they have now been chained rather than unchained, such a perception must be ascribed to a decades-long brainwash, despite their strides in education, victims to an an illusion inimical to their real best interests, now made transparent by an omniscient authority.
Likewise, their complaint that they might have been accorded the democratic and constitutional courtesy to have been asked must be understood as the needless iteration of an unevolved people not knowing what is best for them.
That the impugned Article 370 had become a part of the constitution of India as the result of a considered and long process of deliberation, cooperation and consent at a fraught moment in our history seems within an hour a matter of little significance. And the unparalleled decision of the then only Muslim-majority state to join a secular-democratic Dominion on the strength of that Covenant a thing of little importance.
Just to recall, in the Constituent Assembly of India, of which the late Shyama Prashad Mookerji was a member, there was but one caveat expressed by Hasrat Mohani who explicitly stated that whereas he had no strong objection to the provision, he should have liked similar status to be accorded to the then Maharaja of Baroda as was being accorded to MaharajaHari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir.
Notably, there was no dissent from Mookerji either in the Constituent Assembly or in the then Cabinet of which also he was a member. Nor from any other member from the group of members who were then called “Hindu nationalists”. Let us also recall that the Article was piloted by Sardar Patel, since Nehru at the time was out visiting the US.
Studies have shown that Jammu and Kashmir’s “special status” allowed the state to implement the extraordinarily progressive “Naya Kashmir” manifesto of the National Conference (who had resoundingly repudiated Jinnah and fought off co-religionist invaders at a time when there was no Accession yet to India, with all communities in the Kashmir Province staunchly together in that historic rebuff) be it in land relations, or education, or special provisions for women’s empowerment in the governance of the state and its services (50% of seats in medical colleges, for example, being reserved for women). A history because of which the state today is in the vanguard of states with respect both to most indices of economic life and of human development, contrary to the fake laments being made about the state’s backwardness.
Let it then be admitted that the reasons why of the 11 states in the Union which enjoy “special” provisions, only Jammu and Kashmir has come for correction lie elsewhere than in the claims being propagated. If integration was the issue why should all those mainstream politicians now be in jail who have unfailingly upheld the Accession of the state to the Union even in the most dire of circumstances?
And if the so-called “backwardness” of the state is the great worry, why do all objective indices suggest that the state in fact is far ahead of many other states, including Gujarat? As to “terrorism”, one would have thought that only a trusted rather than an antagonised people offer the best chance of defeating foreign elements intent on co-opting the state – a fact substantiated by the intelligence rendered by common Kashmiris at every single occasion when the Pakistani deep-state has sought to make incursions or invasions.
But, wait a minute. As is well known, for millennia the hills of Kashmir have been alive with the sound of music. But within days of the revocation, the darling Reliance group has already blown a bugle of potentially deafening discordance. Cognisant of studies that speculate that the western Himalayas may be replete with gas and petroleum reserves, the big foot is forward. Who knows how many Niyamgiris the afflicted state may be in for.
And if in fact the affected people are thrilled with the measure that has been taken, why are the ruling party’s own leaders in the state suggesting that some “curbs” need to be placed , such as “domicile” requirements in order to protect “locals in regard to land and state jobs” (Nirmal Singh reported in the Indian Express of 11 August, 2019) – all that after having first demanded the liquidation of Article 35A?Why should the whole population in the Valley, in Kargil, in the Chenab, and in Pir Panchal areas be under an unprecedented lockdown? Or the media shackled from reporting from all areas/regions of the so-happy state, and all communication mechanisms shut down now for ten whole days?
The fact is that only the one or two know, the millions do not. Nor is it certain that the decision to lop-off the autonomy-granting provisions of Article 370 through legally challengeable may not go the way of demonetisation with consequences far more damaging.
Badri Raina taught at Delhi University.