In Kashmiri psyche, Hindu majoritarianism will replace a multicultural democratic India as national symbol
If, in the name of security, the BJP can, with one stroke, undo the federal asymmetry which was a product of the unique circumstances pertaining to the accession of J&K state to India, with a complex set of legal and constitutional mechanisms, the same can be done to the Northeast special powers, but with greater ease, writes Reeta Tremblay for South Asia Monitor
In a surprise move, in a span of less than two days, the Narendra Modi-led government successfully passed legislative resolutions revoking the special status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and splitting it into two union territories—Jammu and Kashmir (with a legislature) and Ladakh (without a legislature). This was done without any parliamentary consultation and by using the constitutional provision of a presidential notification. These resolutions also received support from several opposition parties. A few days earlier, anticipating a strong reaction from the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley, more than 35,000 additional central forces personnel were deployed in the Valley. For the first time, the Amarnath Yatra (pilgrimage) was cancelled. Hindu pilgrims, tourists and non-Kashmiri students of professional educational institutions were asked to return home. All educational institutions have been closed and all major political leaders (including former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti) have either been placed in custody or shifted to government jails. The Valley, under curfew and with no internet connectivity, is silent while there is jubilation in Hindu-majority Jammu and in Buddhist Ladakh.
How does one make sense of the ramming through of this event, referred to, depending upon where you stand, as a ‘bombshell’, ‘shattering’, and a ‘milestone’? What are the implications for the Indian nation and its politics and society?
The first question is easy to answer. The BJP, with its phenomenal success in the 2019 elections, has fundamentally fulfilled its historical-ideological agenda. With the massive democratic mandate it received from the citizens of India, it has realized its goal of one nation, one India. As early as 1952, the Bhartiya Jana Sangh (the earlier incarnation of the BJP) and its local counterpart in Jammu, Praja Parishad, carried out its Kashmir satyagraha (movement), demanding full integration of the state with the Indian union. The death of Shyama Prasad Mookherjee (who had entered the Valley in violation of the permit requirement and was immediately arrested) in May 1953 dealt a serious blow to the Parishad and the rest of the Sangh Parivar, the Hindu nationalist fraternity. However, their slogan, Ek desh main do vidhan, do nishan, do pardhan, nahin chalega, nahin chalega (in one country, two constitutions, two flags, two chiefs will not work, will not be tolerated) was to remain the consistent weltanschauung of Jammu’s Hindu nationalists. It has formed an essential component of their election manifestos.
After revocation of Articles 370 and 35A, Home Minister Amit Shah tweeted that there will be no “do nishan, do samvidhan" (two flags, two constitutions) in J&K. Ever since its resounding victory in the 2014 elections, the BJP had set its goal to be the dominant political party, nationally and regionally, by expanding its political footprint in all states in India. It perceives this to be an essential tool to implement its Hindu ‘rashtra’ nation-building agenda. As of July 2019, it has formed governments in thirteen states and shares power in another six states. Jammu and Kashmir was to present an immense challenge to the BJP’s making inroads into the Valley. The BJP has been eager to form a majority government in the state without any coalition partners but found it impossible to realize this goal with the present structures of assembly seats (37 in Jammu vs 46 in the Valley). In 2014, its mission 44+ (seeking 44 assembly seats out of 87) was not realized. And it is highly unlikely that the BJP could have formed a majority government in the state at this juncture. Under these circumstances, the most the BJP could have expected was to participate in a coalition government.
The bifurcation of the state makes complete sense. In the newly created Jammu and Kashmir union territory, the BJP will most probably ensure that Jammu gets the same number of seats as Kashmir in the legislative assembly, thus allowing Jammu to participate equally in governance. This also explains why the BJP did not consider a trifurcation of the state: under no circumstances would the Valley have voted for the BJP.
What is amazing is that all this was done with half-truths and misinformation about the issues of citizenship laws and development in J&K. It has been often mentioned in the last few days that the revocation was done to provide gender equality and to give women of the state the same rights to acquire property and seek employment as their counterparts in the rest of India and the male permanent residents of the state.
It is indeed correct that until 2002, the state of J&K had interpreted the Permanent Resident requirements in such a way that female permanent residents who married a non-permanent resident lost their status as citizens of the state. However, in 2002 the J&K High Court, in a majority judgment in State Versus Dr. Susheela Sawhney, declared that a daughter of a permanent resident marrying a non-permanent resident will not lose the status of permanent resident of the state of J&K. What remains problematic is that the permanent resident status of these married women does not pass on to their descendants.
Similarly, with regard to development of the state, there are half-truths being circulated. The state’s poverty figures, according to the government’s statistics 2011-12, show that poverty levels are much lower in the state, compared to the Indian average (10.4% to 21.9%). Rural households fare better in income levels, compared to many other states. As many as 18.03% of rural households have a monthly income of Rupees 10,000, compared to 8.29% at the national level. The same differential appears in terms of employment. But, the state does suffer high rates of rural illiteracy and infant mortality, inferior status for women and lagging industrial and infrastructure development.
The implication of revocation of Articles 370 and 35A are widespread. The Modi government has ushered in a ‘New India’, an ethnic majoritarian India which erases differences, dissent and consultation. In correcting what it considers the mistakes of Indian post-partition history, it has undermined Indian democracy and eradicated the innovative multicultural, federal constitutional design which had brought about a reconciliation of differences and similarities within one nation.
By blaming Jawaharlal Nehru for his historical blunders (taking the issue to the UN and promising a plebiscite), Shah and the Sangh Parivar have completely misunderstood the intent behind the special provisions for J&K. Through Articles 370 and 35A, the Indian state had simultaneously embraced and denied its differences from the Kashmiri society. It recognized the cultural and political identity of the Kashmiri population, yet it asserted that the similarities between Kashmir and the Indian state were based on democratic rights and principles. Nehru and others, at the time of the promulgation of Articles 370 and 35A, were trying to achieve a delicate balance between formal and informal nationalism. No doubt, this historical entente, recognizing both the cultural and political identity and similarities (socialist, democratic) between the people of Kashmir and the Indian state has seen ruptures over the last seven decades. Yet, the idea of a multicultural democratic India was to remain the national symbol. Sadly, the BJP actions have replaced it with Hindu majoritarianism.
The space for minorities, particularly Muslims and the tribal population in the Northeast, has shrunk. Jammu has a majority Hindu population (62.6%) but a substantial Muslim minority (33.5%), generally living in poor and backward districts. This minority has consistently voted for secular parties, while shying away from the secessionist politics of the Valley. Without a doubt, they are going to now face Jammu’s Hindu hegemonic politics. Outside J&K, Article 371 which gives constitutionally and legally a differential constitutional status and powers to the tribal communities in acknowledgment of their distinct culture and practices would also appear to be in jeopardy. If, in the name of security, the BJP can, with one stroke, undo the federal asymmetry which was a product of the unique circumstances pertaining to the accession of J&K state to India, with a complex set of legal and constitutional mechanisms, the same can be done to the Northeast special powers, but with greater ease.
The Valley, although at present under a complete lockdown, is quiet. But its resistance is deep and mass-based. Moreover, it is a place where both past events and collective memory play significant roles, never quite effacing what came before. August 5 will be added in the memory of Kashmir Muslims along with other events such as the July 13 Martyrs Day (in memory of 21 Kashmiris killed in 1931 outside Srinagar Central jail by troops of the Dogra Maharaja); October 27 -Occupation Day (signing of the Accession Treaty); February 11 and 19 Martyrdom Anniversaries of Butt (hanged on February 11 in 1984), Afzal Guru (hanged on February 9, 2013) and Burhan Wani in July 2016. Kashmiri Muslims have been extremely proactive about protecting their special status and their collective identity. The consequences of all this cannot be anything but the increasing alienation of the Valley’s Muslims and their deepening distrust of Indian democracy.
(The author is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Victoria, Canada. She can be contacted at email@example.com)