The de facto abrogation of Article 370 and 35 A on August 5, 2019, sought, in effect, to equate Kashmir’s mainstream political forces with the separatists.
At one stroke, those in Kashmir who have stood by the accession to the Indian Union—and often bled for it—and those who have been seeking either independence or merger with Pakistan were labelled common culprits.
Indeed, mainstream leaders much more so. This for the reason that their stakes in the legitimising constitutional provisions of “special status” within the Union of India were recognised to be foundational to their politics. Thus, their principled allegiance to the republic came to be their undoing.
However the state peddled the falsehood that these parties and leaders had lost all credibility and traction among the people, they were the ones on whom the heavy hand of the state fell. We still have no answer to the question: if these leaders were all defunct, why did they have to be incarcerated?
But, of course, the state knew what we know—whereas the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party chiefly may have often had to face the disaffection of sections of the people for being close to “India” at all, there has remained a widespread recognition that in standing by the “special status”, it is they who had till that day in August 2019 given to Kashmiris a constitutional space in excess of wholesale assimilation and merger with the Union of India.
A litany of compromises notwithstanding through the decades, forced on them more by the sleight-of-hand repeatedly practiced by successive Central governments, if Kashmiris’ sense of a distinct history and identity had largely remained undented, this owed in large measure to the politics of the mainstream parties.
The government of India was, therefore, no fool. It knew that if anyone could resist its undemocratic and, according to many legal luminaries, unconstitutional appropriation of the erstwhile state, it would be the mainstream parties and leaders. Indeed, in the Public Safety Act (PSA) justification for the arrest of Omar Abdullah, the government said as much—that he had the prowess to sway mass opinion, and so must be locked up.
Contrary to all its propaganda, therefore, the mainstream parties and mass opinion came to be conflated in the actions the state took in Kashmir on August 5, 2019. Nothing underlines this reality more eloquently than the fact that attempts by the state to spawn crony politics in the Valley can be seen to have come a bad cropper.
For months now, there has been speculation as to what course the leaders of mainstream parties would take, once released from custody.
It redounds to their conviction that they have refused to be pushed ideologically into the separatist category, and resolved now to do the only honourable politics they can do, namely to stand by the impugned Articles and accession with the Union based on the terms that were codified therein. What irony that those who seek still to hold on to the revoked covenant of being part of the republic should be viewed by the constitutional state as the chief antagonists of a politics that seeks “integration”.
Were the state truly convinced that it has achieved that integration through the draconian measures of a year or so, it would have no reason to be wary of the mainstream leaders and politics any more. In all likelihood, this is precisely what the government of the day will proclaim, but what a hollow claim that must be.
If the revocation has in fact alienated Kashmir and Kashmiris en mass, it has not brought much joy to Kashmiris in Jammu province and Ladakh either, as residents of those regions have come to realise what they stand to lose.
The Nagaland situation
Voices can be heard to ask how is it that the government of India can be in talks with the armed separatists in Nagaland, willing to negotiate even such demands as a separate flag, and a separate constitution, and gung-ho about having taken away those privileges from Kashmiris through subterfuge and clampdown, privileges that were duly enshrined in the impugned Articles to which the constitution and the government have long been parties.
Is it not remarkable that Th Muivah of the NSCN (I-M) could have made an Independence Day speech from the heart of Delhi, to speak of Naga sovereignty, and “co-existence” not “within” but “with” India, while those who still, after all that has happened, in Kashmir never tire of proclaiming their allegiance to the republic should have been silenced and put away.
How is it that the government of India can be so gingerly with an armed separatist group (often termed a terrorist outfit) in Nagaland, and so draconian with nationalists in Kashmir who have stood up to fellow-religionists in Pakistan from the very inception of Indian Independence? Does demography, after all, have to do with this blatant disjunction?
It remains to be seen what course the reiterated resolve of mainstream parties in Kashmir will—indeed, can—take, given the equally die-hard resolve of the majoritarian rightwing to quash that politics as an enemy worse than any other. So much will no doubt depend on how the masses in Kashmir evaluate and respond to this turn of events.
And, in that context, it might become a thing of great interest to see how Kashmiris in Jammu and Ladakh ponder this new development, and to what extent Kashmiri mainstream leaders can build an opinion and a movement that is as inclusive and democratic, and as peaceful in expression as ought to be.
One positive consequence of the revocation of special status has been to bring out the facts pertaining to the economic and developmental indices of the erstwhile state, and show up the erstwhile state’s status thereof as among the country’s best performing. This has debunked conclusively fake news disseminated on that account. Indeed, a more recent write-up by Haseeb Drabu—someone who was a member of the BJP-PDP coalition cabinet—makes known further astonishing (astonishing to Kashmir-baiters) statistics about how, in comparison to other Indian states, the erstwhile Jammu & Kashmir had been way ahead.
Psychologically, with the joint resolution of the mainstream parties which, most significantly, includes the Indian National Congress as well, something may have come alive that has been presumed to have died an efficient and unlamented death.
We may remind ourselves, in the meanwhile, that the petitions challenging the dilution of Article 370 and 35A still remain to be adjudicated by the top court. It must be every well-wishing Kashmiris and Indian’s hope that when the matter comes up, the honourable judges would assess what it is in concrete and analysable economic, social, and political terms that the revocation has or has not achieved, besides of course pronouncing on the constitutionality of the move in the first place.
May democracy return wherever and however it continues to be atrophied across the republic.