Kashmir one year after: condemned to repeat a ‘past’ that BJP cannot remember

The abrogation of Article 370 signifies the deepest constitutional distortions, and leads to a wholly uncertain and possibly dangerous political trajectory

 The-then Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik inspects the Guard of Honour during the 73rd Independence Day celebrations at Sher-i-Kashmir Cricket Stadium, on August 15, 2019 in Srinagar, India
The-then Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik inspects the Guard of Honour during the 73rd Independence Day celebrations at Sher-i-Kashmir Cricket Stadium, on August 15, 2019 in Srinagar, India

Anand K Sahay

MA Jinnah visited Srinagar in the summer of 1944 to invite the people of Kashmir to partner his enterprise and join Pakistan. They accorded him a rousing reception, as befits an important public figure, but their tallest leader Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah (the “Lion of Kashmir”) was clear about rejecting Muslim Pakistan and remaining with “secular” and “democratic” India, attributes that were still only a promise.

This was more than three years before Maharaja Hari Singh, the Hindu ruler of J&K, eventually agreed to accede his princely state to India in special circumstances.

It is this history that was crudely shredded by events of August 5 last year. Walking over to Pakistan, which lay just a few yards away, would have been the easiest thing for a Muslimmajority region in 1947. Ironically, since the RSS-BJP view history and politics through the prism of religion alone, it was the Hindu ruler of J&K who had toyed with the idea of remaining independent after Partition until the Pakistani tribal invasion of his domain knocked some sense into him and he scurried to sign up with India, forced by events rather than willingly.

However, the ideological forces that dominate New Delhi at present evidently have no value for the political courage that Kashmir showed in rejecting Pakistan. It is in their DNA to regard Muslims as suspect, and in doing so scrubbing the country’s – indeed Indian society’s- true mosaic.

This is the fundamental reason why Article 370 of the Constitution has been shown the door, although the Modi government falsely proclaimed that the very existence of this Article engendered separatism and produced terrorism. History tells us that the RSS and its cohorts have been eager to annihilate this special provision for J&K practically from the time it was passed by the Constituent Assembly in 1949, when there was no separatism and terrorism.

The abrogation of Article 370 signifies the deepest constitutional distortions, and leads to a wholly uncertain, possibly dangerous, political trajectory. The Instrument of Accession- which was codified in law as Article 370- signed by the J&K ruler in October 1947 had the force of a treaty. It was a solemn undertaking to Kashmir, ratified by the Constituent Assembly, and was thus an important landmark- a constitutional unifierin the making of the Union of India as a republic. For the people of J&K, the unceremonious scuttling of the provision is to denude them of special rights. Viewed in the setting of history, the consequences of this can be unsettling.

The arbitrary reading down of Article 370 of the Constitution, which promised J&K a special measure of autonomy and constitutional freedoms within the Indian Union, has not only played with the dignity of the people of Kashmir, it has left them with a sense of betrayal, and a gnawing vacuum in their lives.

The people of the former state, which was forcibly made a Union Territory by the Centre last August, have been reduced in the past year to conditions of abject wretchedness through acts of contemptuous disregard and state violence long before the rest of the country was officially locked down to deal with the threat from the new Coronavirus.

Their rights as people taken away under duress, Kashmir valley veritably became a vast military site, there was a communications blackout with mobile phones and the Internet services being withdrawn, and people’s livelihoods were destroyed. The health and education systems collapsed. Some seven thousand Kashmiris were jailed on a preventive basis, including the entire political class (except those with BJP connections). The youngest to be interned was nine years old.

In the days and weeks following August 5, 2019, middle-aged men in different parts of Kashmir, speaking on mobile phones borrowed from friendly officials since there was a communications blackout in force, confessed to this writer of having wept when they received the shock news on August 4/5 last year.

Each asked the same question: “What will we now tell our children about why we chose India?” The only set crowing were the pro-Pakistan factions among the separatists, who were driven by an ideology of religio-extremism and constituted a tiny fraction in the valley’s political make-up.

On a visit to Kashmir two months after the dumping of Article 370, I asked a friend, a man of great experience who has scars all over from a fusillade issuing from terrorist guns, about the difference between the massive deployment of armed force in the valley in the current period and at the height of the militancy in the early nineties. He replied with frightening simplicity.

“In our gut we knew then that the Indian army had arrived to deal with Pakistan; but this time we know they have come for us!”

Just before the phones were disconnected, and rumours began to swirl in August, 2019, lakhs of people sent “Good-bye” messages to their near and dear ones, fearing the worst. An additional military force of 38,000 was unexpectedly inducted into the valley which is no more than 130 kilometres long and 30 kilometres wide, and has a meagre population of 70 lakh, to supplement an estimated pre-existing armed forces presence of around five lakh soldiers. (For comparison, China has assembled a force of 40,000 in eastern Ladakh. This is viewed as readying for war.)

Under the Orwellian eco-system brought into existence since then, the newspapers have stopped writing ground reports and editorial opinion. Instead, they carry lengthy government hand-outs and discourses on philosophy, health and gardening. Journalists are charged with criminal offences as if they were terrorists and dangerous criminals, and routinely made to report to police stations on pain of being thrown into prison.

The message is unambiguous: do not inform the world! Minor officials of the Information Department sit in judgment over what constitutes news. Under the new media policy, they are to maintain close coordination with the security grid in a perfect cloning of the systems put in place by Pakistan’s dreaded ISI.

Welcome to “New India” in Kashmir.

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