Home Digital Magazine India’s Constitutional Deception turns Kashmir into a Volcano

India’s Constitutional Deception turns Kashmir into a Volcano

Religion is once again being sought to be used as opium for the people. If the 'sorting out' of Muslims was the chief message conveyed by Modi to his core Hindu supporters, this time he is well on course to flag the 'fixing' of 'ungrateful' Kashmiris. In the three months plus period that Modi has been in office in his second coming, several measures have been taken which push India towards becoming a majoritarian and authoritarian nation.

Kashmir

Even in times of bonhomie, it has never been easy for Indian journalists to write for Pakistani publications and vice versa. Worry has always hovered behind the shoulders that a ‘line’ or perspective, not reflecting the official position of the regime in command, would be dubbed another instance of betrayal by no-gooders or anti-nationals, the current popular label in India for political heretics.

Yet, on both sides of the border, scribes are also always conscious about the ‘audience’ they are addressing; and careful to ensure they are not interpreted as drum-beaters of their government or dominant political thinking.

There is also always a word of caution from friends or professed well-wishers about writing, or not writing, for a particular paper or publication! Times couldn’t have been worse for such ‘across the borders’ writing than now. Reasons are many but its best to stick to the obvious.

The Indian government’s constitutional deception has to be understood, to comprehend why the Kashmir Valley is likely to remain a volcano, although it may remain dormant for a while because Kashmir will be a virtual security state, for a long time to come.

First, the biggest question is one of nomenclature. We call territories that are controlled or administered by respective governments differently. If one administrative unit is Jammu and Kashmir for New Delhi, the same territory is India-occupied Kashmir.

Likewise, if one particular landmass is Azad Kashmir for Islamabad, the same has been called Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) in New Delhi (the present Indian government changed this to POJK – Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir to stress its symbiotic and historical connection with the Jammu region).

So, for the purpose of neutrality, it is best if we refer to the territory as ‘Kashmir’ whenever talking about it generally, but when affixing its administrative status, it would be good to use the names the two governments use for the part under their control.

This would be more respectful of each other than using names which the international media use – Indian Kashmir or India’s Jammu and Kashmir or sometimes Indian-administered Kashmir and likewise for Pakistan.

Read more: Scrapping of Article 370: A step forward to India’s Disintegration?

The second important reason why these times are tough for writers, on both sides of the sub-continental divide, especially for those who cast a critical look at regimes in both countries, is that it is an era where, globally, people are being goaded into taking sides, leaving little space for those refusing to look at challenges and conflicts in black and white terms.

However, there is the undeniable fact that the Indian government’s decision on Jammu and Kashmir has been truly unprecedented and will make its impact felt for long. The challenge of evaluating Islamabad’s response to these developments is best left for colleagues on the other side of the divide.

But, before venturing into the realm of peering through the haze and visualizing what the future looks like for India, dystopian or utopian; it is necessary to decode what has really been done by the Narendra Modi government. Firstly, contrary to popular belief, Article 370 of the Indian Constitution has not been abrogated, but only been de-operationalized – it still remains part of the what Modi called in 2014 as the country’s “only Holy Book.”

However, it has to be understood that de-operationalization of the clause, which had in any case been diluted over the decades, by successive Indian governments since Jawaharlal Nehru’s, was essentially a symbolic ‘fig leaf’ which provided the residents of Jammu and Kashmir, especially those in the Kashmir Valley, a semblance of autonomy.

But now, this too has been taken away by subterfuge or sleight of hand with the use of constitutional trickery. Secondly, as more information comes out in the public domain – it must be recalled that the status quo altering legislation was moved by Home Minister, Amit Shah, in Parliament without prior notice and adequate preparation.

It was enacted before even officials, barring a handful who drafted it, read its fine print and comprehend the intricate changes in regulations and classifications that would result. It is now self-evident that the Modi government on critical actions remains unaware, or does not plan, where it will go beyond the first step.

It believes in the dictum of jumping into the ocean and then figuring how to swim back to the bank. The action in Kashmir is a repeat of the two most critical decisions of Modi’s first term in office.

Modi is taking the country into becoming electoral authoritarianism; where elections continue with the same fanfare that has always accompanied Indian polls, but the spectrum of debate is restricted. 

The first was the November 2016 decision to demonetize high denomination currency notes, which within hours of the announcement, sucked out more than 80 percent of the cash in circulation; causing unprecedented panic and havoc to lives and businesses of Indians (and even citizens of neighboring countries like Nepal).

The second decision was the hastily rolled out Goods and Service Tax regime in July 2017 without adequate preparation. The decision to strip Jammu and Kashmir of its statehood and reduce its status to that of a centrally governed Union Territory, too has been made without much thought about its actual status post-October 1 when the new order will become effective.

India’s federal order, among other things, has survived the past seven decades on the principle of the Centre and state governments sharing the revenue burden. Before the alteration in J&K’s status, it was categorized as the ‘Hill State,’ and 90 percent of its funds came from the Centre while the state was expected to generate 10 percent of the revenue requirement.

Read more: Revocation of Article 370: Violation of UNSC, Indian Constitution & Victory for RSS Ideology?

The government claimed that the step to strip J&K of its statehood was taken with the objective of the rapid development of the region and its people.

For this, the precondition is that the Centre’s share should not reduce. But the spoke in the wheel, discovered after the decision was taken, is that Union Territories (UT) with a legislature (as J&K is to be henceforth), albeit with token power, get 60 percent of its funds from the Centre while the local administration is expected to raise the additional resources failing which its fiscal deficit begins to rise.

India’s federal order, among other things, has survived the past seven decades on the principle of the Centre and state governments sharing the revenue burden.

It is only UTs without a legislature, Ladakh has been promised this status, which gets 100 percent central funding. Unless the UT of J&K also gets complete financing from the Centre, developments plans will be nipped in the bud. To circumvent the hurdle, it is now faced with; the government is exploring ways to create a new ‘category’ of UTs – called ‘Hill UTs.’

But this will be no solace for the people of Kashmir, a large number of whom had come to terms with an awkward relationship with the Indian state, in return for their ‘special status’ which was little but in a name.

The Indian government’s constitutional deception has to be understood, to comprehend why the Kashmir Valley is likely to remain a volcano, although it may remain dormant for a while because Kashmir will be a virtual security state, for a long time to come.

Read more: After Massacre at Gujarat, Modi’s has Programmed Pogrom for Kashmir

After claiming that “complete peace” had prevailed in the Valley in the days after August 5; more and more information has trickled out revealing the claims have not been precisely correct. There may not have been violent eruptions, but smouldering lava is flowing through much of Kashmir.

Returning to the deviousness of the Indian government – smartly it used Article 370 to amend itself. Incredulous though this may sound, the two-stage process began with amending another Article – 367 – and this was then read back into Article 370 to modify it. And, in the end, the symbolic clause was de-operationalized!

This entire process has been completed without consulting – either the people or any of their elected institutions – the Centre granted itself and Centre Parliament the power to make the decision on behalf of the state assembly or the earlier body, the constituent assembly.

Political parties which wish to stay relevant are being coerced into accepting the idea of Hindutva albeit of a different hue.

This was done by hiding behind the argument that these bodies do not exist because Jammu and Kashmir was under central rule. In normal circumstances, this process would be junked by any honorable court, especially the Supreme Court of India, that has a history of credible verdicts, which have not gone down well with the regime of the moment.

However, the apex court also has come under a cloud in recent years. Several senior judges in January 2018 leveled severe charges on the functioning and work allocation among judges. The Chief Justice of India of that time has retired, and one of the Justices who flagged the issue now presides over the court.

Read more: Mockery of Democracy: Indians Criticize Revocation of Article 370

But accusations were institutional and not personal, and these remain unanswered. Additionally, there is great support for the government’s decision outside Kashmir, and it is difficult to envisage the court going against the decision of a government, which has more than the overwhelming majority going for it and is not faced with even the semblance of opposition in most parts of the country.

However, even if the court or individually a handful judges do demonstrate spunk, the matter will be heard for at least a couple of years, both because of Centre’s delaying tactics and because of legal intricacies of the case. As a consequence, Kashmir’s political devastation would have by then become irreversible.

On paper, there is a possibility that Article 370 can be re-operationalized by a future non-BJP government. However, given the way the several opposition parties embraced the government’s decision, because of their belief that people outside Kashmir are with the government, there is little likelihood of the decision being annulled, because no party is willing to risk people’s support.

Barring BJP, Indian politics has been in the post-ideology phase for long – it’s now all about crude acquisition and accumulation of political power. In any case, the notion of soft-Hindutva has been around in Indians politics for more than three decades.

In 2014 when Modi became prime minister, the Hindutva component of his politics was veiled behind the spiel of growth and development. But as the fringe forces of his ideological fraternity began making presence felt in the mainstream, the pretense began fading slowly.

When the elections in 2019 came close, the terrorist attack on the paramilitary convoy at Pulwama, Kashmir, provided the perfect opportunity to ratchet up the hyper nationalistic narrative. Modi began equating critics within India with opponents outside the country, and thereafter accusing them of being hands in glove with forces inimical to India, especially Pakistan.

The years since 2014 has undoubtedly witnessed a significant rise in support for the majoritarian idea. From the middle of his first term, Modi was successful in marketing a perception among people – that he may have or not have many achievements to his credit in government, but he indicated that he would ‘fix’ the Indian Muslim and had indeed done so.

There may not have been violent eruptions, but smouldering lava is flowing through much of Kashmir. Returning to the deviousness of the Indian government – smartly it used Article 370 to amend itself.

This was the singular ‘success’ of the first term, and it yielded huge electoral dividends for his party, the BJP – first in 2017 in the most populous state of India, Uttar Pradesh, and later in almost the entire country during the Lok Sabha polls this past summer. But because this is now passé and will not enable him to tide over economic challenges looming large, there is a need for a steady flow of majoritarian issues.

Tossed into the political cauldron periodically, to keep the effervescent idea tingling people’s nerve ends, religion is once again being sought to be used as the opium for the people. If the ‘sorting out’ of Muslims was the main message conveyed by Modi to his core Hindu supporters, this time he is well on course to flag the ‘fixing’ of ‘ungrateful’ Kashmiris.

Read more: In plain words: What are Articles 370 and 35-A?

In the three months period, that Modi has been in office in his second coming, several measures have been taken, which have pushed India towards becoming a majoritarian and authoritarian nation.

Modi is taking the country into becoming electoral authoritarianism; where elections continue with the same fanfare that has always accompanied Indian polls, but the spectrum of debate is restricted.

Political parties which wish to stay relevant are being coerced into accepting the idea of Hindutva albeit of a different hue. Like most decisions of Modi, the one on Kashmir has to be assessed from the perspectives of timing, purpose, and process.

Modi began equating critics within India with opponents outside the country, and thereafter accusing them of being hands in glove with forces inimical to India, especially Pakistan.

Kashmir has a turbulent past, and the matter of its integration in the Indian Union has been a bone of contention among Indian political parties; with the Jana Sangh, the preceding party of the BJP long advocating the scrapping of Article 370. Due to the self-definition that Indian chose for itself, there was always a belief that minorities in the country should never be made to feel that their forefathers were wrong in staying back at the time of partition.

Read more: Article 35-A: Indian SC defers hearing to January 2019 as IOK shuts down

For long Indians romanced one another with the “unity in diversity” slogan, but along with the icons who have been cast aside, symbolized by Jawaharlal Nehru, this credo has been replaced with belief in unitarism – it is now the era of one people, one culture, one nation, one tax, one election, and so on.

As Indian slips on the parochial path of majoritarianism, developments will have a bearing on other countries. Sadly, one cannot miss the fact that demonizing Modi alone, will fail in recognizing that most of the Indian political players failed in upholding their belief, and provided the opportunity for the BJP to emerge from the margins to becoming a legitimate political force.

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay is a Delhi-based author and journalist. His books include, Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times and The Demolition: India At The Crossroads. He writes columns in leading Indian papers and websites, appears as commentator on various TV channels. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

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