India’s 72nd Independence Day falls on August 15, 2019. It will be a different India from the one the British awarded before they left in 1947. On Monday, India’s Home Minister, Amit Shah, revoked the special status to Kashmir — conferred on it through the Instrument of Accession (to India), a legal document, executed by Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir, on October 26, 1947. Shah also bifurcated the state. While J&K becomes a Union Territory with a legislature, which means the Centre [federal government] directly deals with it, a high-altitude part of it, Ladakh, has been declared as another Union Territory, but without a legislature.
Article 370 of the Constitution empowers J&K in such a way that the Centre must get the state legislature’s concurrence before many laws and provisions, applicable in other states, can be enforced in the region sharing a border with Pakistan. Notably, the clauses in question prevent Indians outside Kashmir to acquire property or find a job in Kashmir; although the reverse is possible.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) believes that the special status is one of the crucial reasons why Kashmir is not integrated into the rest of India. On the other hand, the liberal Opposition swears by the special status because, as the only Muslim-majority state in the country, Kashmir deserves kid gloves and that indulgence is proof of India’s allegiance to its secular promise, guaranteed in the Constitution. We will not go into the irony that Dr B.R. Ambedkar, who wrote the Constitution and a great intellectual, had reservations in according Kashmir special status as he thought it was unfair to other states.
The pace at which the system is changing is unsettling. The abrogation of Article 370 is proof that this government is keen on India’s transition from a soft state to a hard one.
In essence, the Modi government has repealed an understanding that the then — and first — prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, incidentally, a Kashmiri, had with Hari Singh. As a result, but for external affairs, defence and currency, pretty much the state would be autonomous. This was, nevertheless, supposed to be a temporary provision. That temporariness is what the BJP believes has gone on long enough, and abrogated with a presidential notification in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of parliament).
In effect, a key legacy of Nehru in the making of India has been dismantled.
Nehru, the great grandfather of the opposition Congress leaders, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, is a man Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shah specifically and the BJP in general love to hate. They believe he was mainly responsible for the creation of the two-nation theory (India and Pakistan) and the Kashmir issue. Modi visibly grates at Nehru’s mention. It is the Nehruvian idea of India, however nebulous it is, that the BJP is attacking, and perhaps succeeding in bringing it down at an alarming rate.
In the last few days, close to 50,000 troops have been moved to Kashmir. Again, last week, the annual Hindu pilgrimage to the Shiva temple of Amarnath, near Srinagar — the summer capital of J&K — was cancelled. The reason cited by the Home Ministry was a terrorist threat. Doomsayers feared a war between India and Pakistan. Thousands of pilgrims aborted their journey midway. Kashmiris went into panic-buying and hoarding of essentials. This was followed by the house arrest of popular Kashmiri leaders. It is now clear that all along, Shah was preparing the ground for the abrogation of Article 370, a kind of war by other means.
The fact that there is no real Opposition in parliament will lend most grave decisions by this government a fascist flavour. I have said before in these columns that, with the kind of strength the BJP commands in parliament (303 members out of 545), India must face up to the prospect of a single-party democracy. Still, the pace at which the system is changing is unsettling. The abrogation of Article 370 is proof that this government is keen on India’s transition from a soft state to a hard one.
Despite the Central government pouring in billions, no real development has taken place in the region. According to a recent report in the Hindu daily, ‘Jammu and Kashmir received 10 per cent of all Central grants given to states over the 2000-2016 period, despite having only one per cent of the country’s population.’ This largesse holds good for much of the past. But the people have remained poor. The state leaders, many of them dynasts, have flourished. Corruption is inspirational in its scope and magnitude. Budgetary exercises border on fantasies. Terrorism and fundamentalism fatten each other.
Shah and his friends believe Article 370 is the veil behind which Kashmir runs amok. He has gone ahead and ripped the curtain. Despite the snow-capped mountains and the clear lakes, the sights that greet his eyes are likely to be bloody.
C.P. Surendran is a senior journalist based in India.