Art 370: Valley Rejects BJP-Sangh ‘Integration’
October 21, 2019
It is now well over two months since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government at the Centre unilaterally scrapped the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and withdrew from it the protections granted under the Constitution by Article 35A. Ever since then anger, dejection and uncertainty have gripped the Kashmir valley. The atmosphere is now characterised by fear and uncertainty. Protests have been brutally suppressed. The anger of the people is reflected in peaceful protest strikes across the Valley. A ghostly silence prevails.
All lower and higher institutions of education are still closed. The lock-down has severely impacted the livelihood of people, especially the working class Kashmiris. They have, once again, borne the brunt of the turmoil, for they are cornered on the livelihood front.
The apple industry has taken a terrible beating. The daily-wage earners, labourers, stall-wallahs, small shops, auto-wallahs, drivers, etc have not been able to earn a penny in the last two months. The prolonged popular agitation threatens their livelihood and the state repression threatens their life. Either way, there seems no respite.
It is worth recollecting an August 1952 speech in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly by Sheikh Abdullah. He had famously declared, “The supreme guarantee of our relationship with India is the identity of democratic and secular aspirations… I would like to make it clear that any suggestion of arbitrarily altering this basis of our relationship with India would not only constitute a breach of the spirit and letter of the Constitution, but might invite serious consequences for a harmonious association of our State with India.”
Now, the state has lost its special protections and it has been bifurcated into two Union Territories, Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir. This was done against the will of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and is contrary to the wishes of the democratic people living in mainland India as well.
The fears of an all-out assault on the special status of the state came into being the moment BJP won the 2019 general election with a huge mandate. By now it is evident that the BJP is not interested in seeking solutions to the Kashmir issue or bringing peace to Kashmir. On the contrary, it is happy to enact its repressive policies in Kashmir and reorient the complex question of Kashmir’s association with India.
As it goes, a majority in the state feels that New Delhi’s actions are completely bereft of reason. This feeling will have disastrous implications. The Indian state now finds itself totally discredited and hugely abhorrent, even in the eyes of those who had previously aligned with it. This could certainly pave the way for the situation to aggravate dangerously. It is impossible to fathom how “normalcy” will be restored.
Instead, Kashmir is reeling under a massive military crackdown with thousands arrested and moved to prisons in Agra, Bareilly and elsewhere. Almost the entire political leadership, including three former chief ministers and a number of legislators are still either under house arrest or detention. There is a communication and media blackout the kind the state has never seen before coupled with a massive increase in troops. One wonders about the sudden drought in the flowing Ganges of Digital India and about the flood, in towns and villages alike, of military boots.
Everything has been virtually handed over to the Army and the paramilitary, whose vehicles frequently patrol deserted roads and establish barricades to check identity papers of residents, especially the youth. In the rural hinterland, it is the armed forces who are primarily overlooking “law and order”. In rural areas, village elders, the youth and religious preachers are being frequently summoned to Army camps for questioning. The local police has largely been disempowered and disarmed.
Clearly, the repeated visits by defence minister Rajnath Singh during his previous term as home minister, and the appointment of an interlocutor on Kashmir or even Modi’s repeated chants of ‘Insaniyat, Kashmiriyat and Jamhooriyat’ were just gimmickry and rhetoric. Because, for the first time, a high number of artillery weapons have been placed outside the field units in the hinterland, presumably to further terrorise locals into submission. There have also been reports of vandalism of property and thrashing up of locals by the forces when protest demonstrations took place in some villages and urban areas.
This arrogant and blind use of unbridled state power to crush the will of dissenting Kashmiris has made it amply clear that the BJP government is not interested in peace and tranquility in Kashmir. Besides, in this atmosphere of hate, bigotry and complete apathy, the lives of the besieged and suffering Kashmiris hardly matters to anyone in India. The Sangh Parivar is fully exploiting the fragile situation to derive malicious capital for itself. The Sangh’s politics of hate, which it has wantonly practiced in the rest of India, has now come into Kashmir where it is stoking the fires of destruction.
It is to keep these fires burning that Article 370 was abrogated at a time when it was evident that it would cause more harm. Yet, the Sangh keeps doing it to derive political capital. It is generously aided by a large section of the corporate-owned media in this venture.
Over the years, people who had begun to understand the efficacy of the politics of reconciliation and pacifism are now losing that faith again. Secularism and democracy, two supposedly sublime concepts that the republic of India purports to offer to the Kashmiris, have gone to ruin in the past two months. The worry is that the current impasse may usher in a new violent phase by throwing up a new breed of radicalised militants. One hopes not, but the Indian state seems unconcerned about where things are headed.
It must be understood that the Sangh Parivar does not respect constitutional republicanism and the idea of secularism—two ideals which bind India and Kashmir. The age-old RSS view is that the lone Muslim majority state in India is a stumbling block for their grand project of turning India into a Hindu Rashtra.
For the sake of argument, India’s longstanding position was that for Indian secularism to survive, Kashmir has to remain in India. This was first asserted by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1953 when he argued as much: “We have always regarded the Kashmir problem as symbolic for us, as it has far-reaching consequences in India. Kashmir is symbolic as it illustrates that we are a secular state… Kashmir has consequences both in India and Pakistan, because if we disposed of Kashmir on the basis of the two-nation theory, obviously, millions of people in India and millions in East Pakistan will be powerfully affected. Many of the wounds that had healed might open out again.”
When the Sangh vows by its communal, fascist and anti-secular ideology, how could Kashmir’s secularism be compatible with it? Sheikh Abdullah did accede to India’s secularism and constitutionalism, but not to Sangh and its pernicious ideology. In his lifetime, he could never reconcile with them and often rejected their ideology as contrary to the principles of Kashmir’s association with India.
The only way to put things back on track for Kashmir and its relationship with India is by immediately restoring democracy in the Valley, along with full autonomy and statehood to the state.
First published in Newsclick.
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