By Kumar M. Tiku
There are many divergent views in the current debate about Kashmir and the end of its Special Status under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Cuckoo News does not endorse any particular view on this issue but wants to provide a platform for thoughtful expression of such views, from the different – often opposing – sides. Journalist Kumar M. Tiku, an expatriated Kashmiri Pandit, has a complex perspective on the history….
Sitting thousands of miles away amid the rather salubrious climes of Amman, I woke up to the news of new pronouncements in the Indian Parliament whose tectonic resonance, you can be sure, will haunt us – not just Indians but citizens of the world – for decades to follow.
For well over six decades, the Constitutional provision of Article 370 guaranteed the state of Jammu and Kashmir its special status in the Union of India. A ‘temporary’ provision that, over the years had been so diluted and yet so thoroughly abused that it was seen to be well past its best-by date; its continuation no more than a fig-leaf assurance to assuage the rampant anti-India sentiment in the strife-torn valley.
Concurrently, the state was stripped of its territorial integrity by bifurcating the state into two federally-administered Union Territories. By the same evening, the government had successfully steamrolled a parliamentary sanction for its jaw-dropping chutzpah in undoing the Indian border state, reorganizing the state into two puny Union Territories.
And, in so doing, dealing in the most cavalier manner imaginable a body blow to the seven decades-long work in bridging the trust deficit between the people of Jammu and Kashmir and those of mainland India.
The announcement was made just nine days shy of what would be India’s seventy-second birthday as a free nation, handing the Prime Minister a major talking point for his eponymous Independence Day speech.
Ladakh, so strikingly disparate, has been part of the state for no reason other than the fact that it belonged to the same erstwhile Maharaja’s empire as Kashmir. One should not be in the least bit surprised that news of its UT status, though fraught with its own intra-provincial complexities, has been widely greeted by major sections inhabiting the Leh region in particular. Its extreme geographic remoteness, its chronic state of neglect (in terms of economic development), as well as its proximity to the Chinese border have justifiably called for a stronger federal presence.
In dismembering and downgrading the Muslim-majority, politically volatile part of the state, the right-wing National Democratic Alliance government may have done more than just reveal its complete misreading of – and ineptitude in dealing with – the festering Kashmir imbroglio; it may have also sown the seeds of violent jihadist blowback that may be difficult to contain in the weeks, months and years ahead.
Make no mistake. There is, and has been for quite some time, sufficient rationale for reviewing the continued relevance of Article 370, a manifestly temporary measure of limited internal autonomy, handed out as a confidence-building measure, in deference to the prevailing circumstances in the Muslim-majority state immediately after the division of the country in 1947 and the subsequent armed aggression by Pakistan, attempting to annex the state by force.
For almost 30 years to the day, cross-border terrorism in the state has exploited religious fault-lines and fed on local angst against monumental mal-governance and the inability of elected politicians to deliver on rising public aspirations.
I hold no brief for Mr. Modi and his andhbhakts, including a majority of my own fellow Kashmiri Hindu brethren who have of late turned die-hard BJP zealots while still licking the wounds of the searing experiences of our very own ‘partition’ from Kashmir when we had to leave our homeland in 1990 under a climate of cold fear and severe threats to our lives and to the personal safety and honor of the women in our families and community.
Nor do I nurse the slightest soft corner for the Congress Party, considered by many as India’s natural party of governance for decades, in whose days in power as a coalition partner in my state of Jammu and Kashmir, the ground was made fertile for our exodus-scale migration that took place in 1990. I feel most done in by the state-level parties like the National Conference and later the People’s Democratic Party who have systematically neglected to nurture inter-communal harmony in concrete terms beyond syrupy platitudes to the contrary, failing to protect the rights of the half-a-million strong minority of Kashmiri Pandits and leading some of the most venal and communal governments anywhere, fattening themselves on a diet of endless federal largesse and embezzlement of public funds meant for infrastructure and human development activities.
Through all these years of homelessness, and in my over 20 years of life in conflict geographies as a humanitarian worker, I have seen up close how a third of the humanity and dozens of nation-states has been laid low overnight by violent conflicts led by armed insurgencies that fester on interminably, feeding on a diet of widely-shared sense of religion-based discrimination and injustices, and the holy duty to defend their ummah against the rampaging apostates.
Over the past decades, the trans-border jihad factory has learnt to operate with spectacular success as a rent-a-Muslim-cause industry. From Wilayat Yemen, an Islamic State affiliate in Yemen and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, to other affiliates of the big IS brand in Afghanistan, Central Asia, South Asia and Africa, it is only a matter of time that we in India may inaugurate our very own long season of the jihadist soap opera.
As I observed the unfolding events in Indian Parliament, my mind went back to the night of 08 November 2016. That fateful night, in one fell swoop, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the demonetization of all ₹500 and ₹1,000 currency notes. Mr. Modi announced the decision on late night television, taking even his closest Cabinet colleagues and central bank mandarins by surprise. In an economy overwhelmingly motored by micro, small and medium-scale businesses, the announcement of demonetization led to prolonged cash shortages in the weeks that followed, and attendant significant difficulties for ordinary citizens.
To me the most troubling aspect of the sudden nature of the announcement on Kashmir is the direction in which India is sought to be taken, in manic contempt for what most Indians hold dear, the need for assimilative debate and consensus on issues of national import such as our secular identity and cultural unity as a nation. The wholly unanticipated announcement on Kashmir was a reminder yet again, that constitutional and institutional niceties matter little for this government.
Such heavy-handed non-consensual approach to even the most far-reaching decisions, holds portents of a hardening Indian state – with little interest in protecting the country’s democratic consensus – expressed mostly visibly through parliamentary debate, as a bulwark against its ham-handed ways.
The manner of introduction of demonetization and the abrogation Article 370 both signal a cocky government certain of its apotheosis. Taken together with, on the one hand, the generalized and sustained downturn in the economy, clearly evident in falling investments, disappearing jobs and the mounting banking crisis, and, on the other, the years-old focus on excessive militarization, one can piece together a picture of a panic-stricken, iron-fisted government lunging to cover up its inability to deliver prosperity or peace.
Its strategy will likely be a prolonged and proactive shock-and-awe military adventurism on the borders while seeking to coddle and expand its base by whipping up ultra-nationalist passions and the age-old, irreconcilable antipathy of the Muslims, whom this government disparages as unpatriotic and undeserving of their place in India following the partition of the country in 1947 along religious lines. Its absolute majority in the lower house of parliament and deft maneuverings in the upper house to split the opposition ranks means it enjoys a near-total sway in both houses, to ramrod any new legislation, howsoever dangerous and ill-advised, that’s in line with its political philosophy.
Clearly, the Hindu nationalist government that rode back to power in May of this year is betting big on transforming India into a quasi-authoritarian state where individual liberties and institutional democracy will matter less and less.
Memories of Life in Kashmir. Photos courtesy of Kumar M Tiku.
In my country, as the demands on the state grows, from the millions of well-educated and unemployed as well as the hundreds of millions of the ill-educated and under-fed, politics shows little stomach to take on the challenges of real governance and finally grow up. Instead, ruling dispensations, for decades without end, have fallen back on the time-tested stratagem of whipping up atavistic and ultra-nationalistic passions to garner votes. I am as disturbed and exasperated by the present lot of right-wing zealots as I had been by the previous bunch of so-called centrists. Together, through means foul and fair, they have emaciated democratic traditions and brought us as a nation to this pass.
Unlike many of my fellow Kashmiri Pandit exiles, I am unable to gloat and exult at this pyrrhic victory that signals the end of the state of Jammu and Kashmir as we know it. A long period of uncertainty and unrest awaits.
(The writer, an internally displaced Kashmiri in India, is the author of “Humans on the Run – of exiles and asylum”, published by Oxford University Press in 2018)
Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are solely that of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of www.cuckoo-news.com