Thursday, August 8, 2019

Abrogation of Article 370: End of Kashmir’s Autonomy


Sourav Baksi
‘Sitam sikhlaayega rasm-e wafa aise nahin hota
Sanam dikhlaaenge raah-e khuda aise nahin hota’-1
Faiz Ahmed Faiz

The quote needs to find a place in today’s world which means ‘Tyranny giving lessons in the fidelity of love’.

The so called ‘bold and historic’ movement of 5 August 2019 requires a deeper analysis and understanding on its impact without elaborating upon its legal terms as that has been decoded in several enriching articles. What is the meaning of this lightning strike on a time honoured constitutional settlement?


The NDA Government’s decision to scrap the special status to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 caters to a programme. It is the realization of a nearly 70-year-old project of the Hindutva brigades and now their idea of ‘integration’ of J&K with the Union of India a reality. The ruling BJP’s core cultural nationalist ideas centre around Article 370, Uniform Civil Code and Ram temple. This is their first nail in the coffin of the secular constitution. ‘Ek desh mein do Vidhan, do Pradhan aur do Nishan nahi chalenge’ was the slogan raised by Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS) founder Shyama Prasad Mukherjee during his march to Jammu & Kashmir where he breathed his last in jail in 1953. But it remained the political cry of BJS even though its position in the national politics was minimal. Expulsion of Jan Sangh members from the Janata Party led to the formation of the BJP in 1980. With its formation as the official Hindu rightwing party of India within the parliamentary system,  the strategy of communal polarization was once again brought to the forefront. The saffron brigade wastes no time in mitigating its demands and simultaneously labelling the oppositions as ‘pseudo-secular’ thereby deploying the century old fascist tactic of bipolarizing opinions as either ‘pro-Hindu’ or ‘anti-Hindu’. The Congress in the meantime was extremely regressive on the issue of the Shah Bano case in 1986 which revived the BJP’s submerged demand of Universal Civil Code (UCC) that had featured in the BJS manifesto during the 1967 Lok Sabha Elections. It took little time for the BJP to take a decisive turn towards hard core Hindutva sentiments by invoking the Ram Mandir issue at the national convention at Palampur (HP) in 1989. The then BJP president Murli Manohar Joshi along with ‘Bal Narendra2 took out the Ekta Yatra which culminated in the hoisting of the Tricolour at Lal Chowk in Srinagar on 26 January,1992. Then the most grim day of Indian history arrived on 6 December of the same year when the historic Babri Masjid was allowed to be destroyed by the Hindu communal forces with full connivance of the state apparatus. As anti-Muslim hatred was institutionalized through this act of symbolic violence and pogroms against minorities spread across the country, Article 370 served as a golden goose for the BJP. Yet political compulsions forced it to keep this aside as the BJP had to run a coalition government from 1998-2004. BJP’s ideological mastermind, the RSS continued to push for the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya during that time but could not convince the Vajpayee government to play the Hindutva card beyond a point, overburdened as it was to cover up the Gujarat genocide and its mega neoliberal economic asset stripping practices.

A full majority BJP-led government in 2014 surfaced with a new image and new propaganda pushing ‘Louho-Purush’3 Advani into oblivion. The Modi wave gave a surge to the new hopes of the BJP cadres who were keen to implement the RSS plan of Hindurastra. But the numerical challenges in the Rajya Sabha restrained the party from pushing the agenda of abolishing Article 370. In 2019, the BJP made up the numbers in Rajya Sabha and could push through its instant Triple Talaq legislation also. On Monday 5 August 2019, the NaMo Government dealt the most audacious strike on India’s democratic setup by invoking the special status of Jammu & Kashmir; by withdrawing Article 370 which the autonomy of  Kashmir was dismantled. According to the pro-government intelligentsia this is probably the boldest decision by any government on Kashmir since Indira Gandhi arrived at Srinagar with Sheikh Abdullah in 1975. The year itself raised the fear of revoked fundamental rights and utter disarray in the shape of the notorious state of Emergency (1975-77). The manner in which  the BJP led NDA government has changed the status of Jammu & Kashmir by rendering Article 370 obsolete and bifurcating the state reveals its true fascist character.

The special status guaranteed to Kashmir was not a partisan or personal decision of the founding fathers of the Indian Republic. It was a recognition of the conditions of a Muslim majority state entering the Indian Union-its unique demography was protected by the constitution, belied the claims on which India’s Partition had taken place, and also strengthened the secular ‘idea of India’. The obvious questions now arise on the counter-constitutional move of 5 August 2019: why was there so much secrecy behind this move from the Treasury benches? Why did the Government hide behind the false claim of imminent terrorist attack? Why did it trigger panic among the Kashmiri citizens? Why were all communication channels snapped? Why does the government need troops to announce equality and freedom and most importantly why put ex-CMs of the state under house arrest? Interestingly high officials and bureaucrats justified the induction of troops by citing an alleged terror plot from Pakistan on the Hindu pilgrims on Amarnath yatra, thereby nurturing the image of the so-called Hindu messiah Narendra Modi.

The simple explanation behind the government’s actions is the fear of widespread protest. The Indian state has unleashed horrendous violence and torture on the Kashmiris and has never had the guts to take a concrete stand on resolving the social isolation and political alienation of the residents of Kashmir. It did nothing to address the well-being of Kashmiris who have now endured two generations of effective military occupation and it separates the Kashmiris from the rest of the Indian Peninsula. The available jobs are distributed among the convent educated upper middle-class Kashmiri elites who are a mere handful while the majority of the population survive on low paid blue-collar jobs (that too only 23%) and the recent unemployment data shows Jammu & Kashmir ranks first among the other states in the unemployment index. But this is not all. Reiterating Amit Shah’s claim to restore Kashmir’s status to the famous catch-phrase of “Heaven on Earth’, the state’s intentions and those of its supporters are more than grotesque and more than shocking at the level of ground reality. The tourism industry remains a volatile income generator due to month-long conflict and the slow vendetta of marginalization of Kashmiris as militants and the projection of Kashmiri Muslims as the murderers of Kashmiri pandits in the minds of the ‘peace-loving relished middle class’ by the controlled cyber- army of the BJP IT cell. Propagating fake news, the reflection of this venomous propaganda became scurrilously prominent after the Pulwama attack.

Let us re-examine the political moves that have led to the notification from the Ministry of Law and Justice to scrap Kashmir’s autonomy: 
On 20 June 2018, under Article 92 of the Constitution of J&K, the State was placed under Governor’s Rule after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) withdrew support to its alliance partnership with the PDP. 
Six months later, in December 2018, Governor’s Rule got converted into President’s Rule (Article 356 of the Indian Constitution). 

Let us be clear about the implications of these tactical manoeuvres of carefully transferring power from a democratically elected Assembly, to Governor’s Rule and then President’s Rule. 
It implies that all powers of the Government of the State are now vested in the Governor under the superintendence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 
Given these conditions of severe democratic deficit, government wrote up an order scrapping Article 370, sent it to itself for ‘concurrence’ and had it signed by the President.

This is not the dawn of a new constitutional settlement; it is not simply a tool of repression but an ultra-authoritarian action-plan that regards federalism as an obstacle to a strong Hindu majoritarian state and its virulent imposition of a homogeneous culture over a plural complex formation. This order has effectively betrayed all the other constitutional promises the Indian Union has made. They encompass the many asymmetric federal arrangements outside Kashmir like Nagaland (Art 371A). How can the government justify offering Nagaland asymmetric federalism but deny it to Kashmir? This ultimately boosts the belief that we are living in Union Territories that happen to be regional states only at the Centre’s discretion. The government does not even trust Kashmir to be a state; the move therefore is not an attempted integration but furthers the political humiliation of an already subjugated Muslim population denied all political and civil rights. The Centre is sending a clear signal to all minorities in India, reminding them of their extremely vulnerable positions under the violent dispensation of Hindutva.

What awaits the ‘tribes’ of Kashmir? Tribes in Jammu & Kashmir constitute 11.9% of the population which  has increased by 0.1% (10.9% in 2001 Census)4. Yet J&K has a total of12 tribes recognized by the State Government. Among them the nomadic Bakarwals constitute the poorest and the most illiterate tribal community5. These communities have certain rights bestowed upon them by the provisions of Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Government is still not clear about their rights; with the onset of new laws the worst affected will be these nomads as the J&K Government hasn’t extended even minimum rights to them. They lack proper healthcare and with the surge in militancy in reaction to the government’s actions, there has been a rapid decrease of livestock. We can hardly imagine the enormity of the onslaught of GST and demonetisation on them as most of them are breeders of the famous Pashmina wool. The multi-million saffron industry is now pitted against them. The large pasture of their livestock will be encroached by the uber-rich dream of lavish penthouses on the lush-green valley. The tribes, if anyone survives at all, will be reduced to an anonymous smiling bell boy or girl in one of the many posh villas sprouting out to cater to the neoliberal urban upper classes.

The Kashmiri economy is sinking like the rest of the country. There is no wage premium in handicrafts; carpet weavers get only Rs.150 a day while migrating construction labour costs Rs.600 per day6. Here lies the oppression. Only fifty percent of the state’s 50,000 graduates pursue Master’s degree, in order to stay out of the labour market. There is only one listed company with AUM of 10 crores. There is no employer in Kashmir who pays provident fund and no private player with more than 500 formal employees. The solution to the economic crisis will not be answered by removing the special status tag or bifurcating it. Major infrastructural and economic plans are needed. Being able to buy lands in the valley may usher In false hope among the prospective buyers. But land in Kashmir is costlier than Gurugram itself, and these will ultimately pave the path for land barons (the process was replicated in Gurugram).  The very army behind whom Patriotism hides will now be used in harm’s way. The already debated AFSPA will now be implemented on every occasion and the recently re-introduced UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act)  allowing Centre and State Government to designate individuals as terrorists and seize their properties as per Amit Shah’s instructions. All one can say to the current regime in New Delhi is this: consider peace of the graveyard restored with the power of bayonets and soaking in the blood of Kashmiri people; just don’t interpret it as victory.

Fundamentally the change signals the downfall of Indian democracy, which has rapidly paved the way for a fascist majoritarianism. The futile surrender by the Opposition will deepen this sense of alienation of minorities and political dissenters. The Congress, as the chief party in opposition, has never stood for any convictions or meaningful alternative; thus, our rights are being dismantled so easily. This is not only about Kashmir; the recent context of NRC, NIA Amendment Act, Medical Amendment Bill, Ayodhya and the other issues indicates the same pattern of marginalization and erosion of contrary opinions within Parliament. The larger worry is the near-monopolistic propaganda machinery unleashed by the Hindutva-chauvinist media that calls out for blood baths and tags majoritarian nationalism with it. With the mainstream Hindi media propagating sheer communal views and false news what is being ultimately torn apart is the secular fabric of India. The views of the people of Jammu & Kashmir are being completely ignored as their viewers are watching this draconian drama peacefully on mobile or televisions some thousand odd miles away. We all have to remember that today it is them, tomorrow it could be us. The process of destroying constitutional democracy, of the rights that were once inseparable in the formation of the post-1947 Indian state has begun in earnest. Such a sweeping process of violent autocracy does not discriminate, in the long run, between castes, religions, regions and communities. Kashmir is just the beginning. Stand with Kashmir.

Sourav Baksi is a leftwing observer of present times.

Notes and References:-
Nuskha Hai Wafa (Kulliyat-e-Faiz) (p. 673); Educational Publishing House (2009) 
Bal Narendra Comics Publisher: Rannade Prakashan
Sanjeev Srivastava in Economic Times Lauha Purush melts into the sunset



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