Many of my fellow countrymen, mostly Hindus, have hailed Union Home Minister Amit Shah after the passage of Narendra Modi government’s sweeping legislation in the Upper House of the Parliament on the troubled state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). It’s a matter of little time that the lower house of our highest legislature will also succumb to the regime’s brute majority and arm-twisting tactics outside the house.
Shah’s cronies including the A-listers in Indian big business have already greeted the crown prince as the reincarnation of Sardar Vallavbhai Patel; the first occupant of the hollowed chair in independent India and the original ‘íron man’ who had achieved national integration by incorporating princely states during the Partition years. The courtiers have also welcomed this move as a masterstroke against Pakistan’s proxy war against India which is aimed at gobbling up the parts of original J&K that has been left with India after the 1948 intrusion of Pak raiders as well the incursion of China in the north-east.
The move fulfills one of the most controversial pledges of Hindu hyper-nationalist BJP’s poll manifesto within three months of the second coming of Modi, the messiah of Hindu resurrection, even as he has failed to deliver in his first innings on mundane things like jobs for youth and farmer’s distress. Also, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the party’s ideological fountainhead is more than happy as the surgical strike in Kashmir underlines a leap forward towards the majoritarian Hindu Rashtra that it has been propagating since inception.
But, are we ordinary mortals prepared for its far-reaching consequences, both internal and external?
India’s sole Muslim-majority state’s special status vide article 370 of Indian constitution that promised it maximum autonomy at least in theory now stands annulled. Further, the historic state itself has been abolished. It will be now bifurcated into two centrally ruled Union Territories (UT). Buddist-dominated Ladakh bordering Chinese Tibet will be separate with no legislative assembly. The Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley and Hindu-dominated Jammu region in the plains that border Pakistan with remain together. But it will lose a full statehood with a nominal assembly with little power. Maintenance of law and order, land management and hosts of other subjects scheduled in state and concurrent lists of the constitution will be passed on to union government. Both the UTs will be ruled by two lieutenant governors like the national capital territory of Delhi with their puppeteers at the Centre holding the strings.
The design is ostensibly aimed at defang Pakistani claim on the Indian part of the state as well as its supporters in the valley. Further, it will not only facilitate the return of the Kashmiri Pandits to their ancestral homes in the valley who had been forced to flee by the terror groups. With the scrapping of article 35A of the constitution that was a safeguard against land alienation of locals of all faiths, now the mainlanders including the big business would be free to buy land and property as well as settle permanently in the residual J&K. The intended influx from the plains will trigger demographic changes and consequent delimitation of electoral constituencies. In turn, it would dilute the support base for Muslim separatism in the valley and parts of Jammu which will eventually integrate the land to Hindu-dominated India.
The regime has made the momentous move when the state is under the President’s rule which is a smokescreen for central government’s rule, the most abused section of Indian constitution. An unprecedented security build up has preceded the government’s parliamentary move as additional thousands of security forces have been rushed to the state to spread fear psychosis and quell any violent protest. Even pro-Indian political leaders of Kashmir valley including the former chief ministers have been put to house arrests or taken in custody. Hindu pilgrims to Amarnath cave as well as tourists and students from mainland India were returned in a hurry, ostensibly to preempt terrorist attacks but actually to avoid any local backlash. The civil and military machinery has been prepared for a siege within for a long period.
In a way, the abolition of the unified statehood and the bifurcation of the territory has only formalised the present ground reality of J&K. The valley has virtually become an internal occupation zone, one of the world’s most militarised and brutalised parts since past three decades. New Delhi largely controls the state, with or without an elected state government, on the ground of ongoing Indo-Pak tussle over it which has remained inconclusive despite four wars between the twins born in August 1947.
The questions refuse to die
Will it facilitate integration of people of Indian Kashmir with our nation-state, or trigger more disintegration, communal hatred and violence as well as militarisation and dance of ‘Death’ in the ‘heaven on Earth’ with cascading effects in mainland India to the content of the hearts of enemies? What will be the impact on our centre-state relations in rest of country and the federal structure that has been increasingly violated in order to create a unitary state, halting by the earlier Congress regimes and now aggressively by the BJP-RSS dispensation? Is it a culmination of national integration project based on pluralistic Indian nationalism of our freedom fighters? Or is it a mainstreaming of communal fractures in our body polity and road map to a one-party dictatorship under the garb of one nation-one election- one supreme leader slogan that will fructify the Sangh’s dream of Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan?
Does the dismemberment of historic state of J&K and abolition of its special status through this ramrod legislation and unprecedented gagging of public opinion in Kashmir valley upheld the unity of the union? Or, does it underline the denouement of the secular, democratic and republican ethos of our freedom struggle which makers of our constitution had codified in the book despite all our contradictions?
According to the new normal of our public life, enforced by the rulers at the Centre, the questions will be called anti-national. The hired howlers or hyper-nationalists by creed would like to lynch the questioner. Else, they will ask the government to throw him/her into a dungeon for sinning against Mother India and colluding with her enemies as urban naxal or Jihadi terror suspect. The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act has been amended suitably to extend the police state only before the J&K bill was placed.
The recent massive mandate for the BJP has bolstered the Sangh Parivar to translate its agenda into legislations in quick successions. The denouement of the state which has been the flashpoint of South Asia between two nuclear neighbors has not come through the discussions and agreement of the pro-Indian political forces of the state and its elected assembly that had earlier ratified the merger with India but demanded more autonomy time to time. It has been accomplished through an executive ordinance and legislative bill, rubber-stamped by a fellow-traveller president. Both were introduced at the fag end of monsoon session of the parliament without giving the emasculated opposition enough time to go through the watershed bill and decide after a discerning debates on internal and external ramifications. What happens if other Christian-dominated NE states or recalcitrant sub-nationals like Tamils and Bengalis as well as tribals in the hinterland demand maximum autonomy like the Kashmiris and the new emperor wipes out the legitimate entities at one fell swoop in the parliament using its brute majority?
The mothballed history
It’s true, prevailing social-political reality in J&K is a far cry from its syncretic past that was a creation of its people over the millenniums of Hindu, Buddhist, Mughal and Sikh rules. It had laid the cornerstone for its composite traditions and modern polity. The role of people of J&K was exemplary when rest of Indian subcontinent was convulsing under communal riots during the Partition years. A substantial section of Kashmiri Muslims and fellow believers in Kashmiriyat had refused to join Pakistan that was born out of two nations theory. The state’s Hindu king had initially dithered while tinkering with the idea of an Independent realm. The letter and spirit of his eventual agreement to join Indian union, though disputed by all stakeholders including Pakistan, reflected the popular desire for maximum autonomy based on composite Kashmiriyat.
This mothballed tradition and its collective memory have been under severe strains during Indo-Pak wars over the land as well as periods of certain regional and religious tensions in post-independence decades. The misgovernance and mockery of democracy in J&K, as we have suffered across the country, have only increased the tension between the seekers of unity and diversity. The mix of religious and regional identities and violence against minorities within has always helped the autocratic centres to suppress legitimate cries from the margins. The ouster of Pandits from the valley and Pak-sponsored Jihadi terror on poor labourers from the mainland became handy to sway the Hindu public opinion in favor of wanton human rights violation in the valley during the decades of separatist insurgency.
Chronicles of a death foretold
The Modi-Shah regime could not have a more opportune moment to press for its agenda when the grand old party of the land, Indian National Congress (INC), has been reduced to a headless chicken with clipped wings. The residual opposition comprising mostly of regional parties whose bosses have no qualms about running with the hares when hunting with the hounds. Lefts, who have dug their own graves in their former strongholds and now have microscopic presence in the parliament are only left to cry in the wilderness. The electoral authoritarianism of Modi-Shah only reminds early periods of Hitler and Mussolini. We know what befell the patriotic Germans and Italians later who had lauded the ‘final solution’ of Jew problem by the Third Riech Fuhrer and his buddy. The death knell of Indian democracy, if goes unheard by my fellow countrymen, we will be the pallbearers of Indian civilization that Asoka and Akbar, Nanak and Tukaram, Buddha and Basavanna had built.
Opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not of eNewsroom. This is an open forum and we try to give space to every school of thought.