India’s reputation as a democracy hangs in the balance
The latest decree by the president of India, following a resolution in the upper chamber of Indian parliament, to make Indian constitutional clauses safeguarding the special status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir ineffective, to bifurcate the state into two and downgrade both to union territory from full state status, is a very big one in the context of historical political developments and ongoing long politico-military turmoil.
There are special statuses of various degrees for many other peripheral Indian states such as the north-eastern states, Himachal Pradesh, Goa, Uttarakhand, etc.
The general approach of a rational state which is infested with insurgency is to pacify the population through political and economic concessions or rewards, with a view to reach a certain level of practicable peace and stability for that part of the country. Normally, this is a protracted process and a rational state is expected to have patience in dealing with such problems which are -- Kashmir surely is -- often quite complex with multifarious dynamics.
Strangely, the BJP government of India is walking in the reverse direction. There are striking similarities in the harshness in of the BJP government’s handling of the Kashmiris with Israeli dealing of the Palestinians.
The principal agendas
However strange it may seem, mean and immoral agendas can be sensed in this quite extreme step. This action of ultimate land grabbing, reducing Kashmiri people to almost nothing, appears to be more for gaining or solidifying popularity for electoral purposes rather than any actual intent to help solving the problems of Indian Kashmir.
It’s obvious that this step is going to aggravate the situation in Kashmir and increase the plight of ordinary Kashmiris. More bloody clashes between Indian administration and security forces on one hand and Kashmiri political forces and insurgents on the other are likely to take place. But the Hindu nationalist BJP is ruthless when it comes to gaining mean political benefits.
When, in 1947, British India was partitioned to create Muslim majority Pakistan and Hindu majority India, the rulers of the princely states were given the choice to join either India or Pakistan. Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir didn’t join either of the countries and wanted to be independent. In September 1947, right after the independence of India and Pakistan, the western districts of the state revolted against the Maharaja’s rule and they, along with the Pashtoon tribesmen from the Frontier Province of Pakistan, invaded the Kashmir valley.
The Maharaja asked for India’s help. India agreed but with the condition that the Maharaja signs the instrument of accession with India and the latter obliged. Indian forces drove out the invaders from the main valley and two-thirds of the state went under Indian control and one-third under Pakistan. China occupied sparsely populated northern part of Ladakh from India in the China-India war of 1962.
Liberal Sufi Islam was pervasive in Kashmir. The popular Kashmiri political leader Sheikh Abdullah was in favour of the state joining India with the guarantee of high autonomy, despite the fact that the Maharaja and the Jammu Hindus were hostile towards Muslims of the state. He and his party’s support in favour of Kashmir joining India was, albeit with special status, critical and Kashmiri people supported it.
The importance of Article 370
This special status was reflected in the instrument of accession as per which India would only control the defense, foreign affairs, and communication of the state and all other matters were to lie with the state government.
The content of the instrument of accession was incorporated in Indian constitution as Article 370.
Also, the constituent assembly of the state was empowered to decide whether Indian government can abrogate Article 370 or not. The Indian constituent assembly put Article 370 in the temporary, transitional, and special provisions chapter of the Indian constitution. But the constituent assembly of Jammu and Kashmir dissolved after making a constitution for the state and without taking any decision on whether to vest the authority to abrogate Article 370 to the Indian government.
Thus the article became a permanent component of the Indian constitution. To change it legally, another constituent assembly of the state had to be elected and a resolution to this effect obtained from it.
But this was not done in the recent scrapping of the article; neither was any elected government of the state consulted on the matter.
This raises a big question about the constitutional legality of the step. It is a betrayal of the trust that Kashmiri people and the mainstream political parties put on India during the accession. As the BJP government claims that this step is liked by Kashmiris, why are they not calling a referendum on this?
In terms of practical condition, Kashmir is one of the most militarized places on Earth. Hundreds of thousands of Indian troops are practically occupying the state for about three decades now. And with the moderately pro-Indian mainstream parties alienated by the Indian government through this unilateral scrapping of Article 370, there is hardly any acceptability of Indian authority left in the main population centre of the state -- the Kashmir valley.
Even in strategic considerations, this act by the Indian government was unnecessary.
Indian Home Minister Amit Shah and National Securirty Adviser Ajit Doval have ordered an unprecedented and complete shutdown of the state. More intense, rigorous, and protracted insurgency and political upheaval in the valley might ensue and international sympathy towards the Kashmiris could grow.
India’s international reputation as a democracy will diminish significantly. India might very well be on its way to becoming a full Hindu majoritarian state.
Sarwar Jahan Chowdhury is an opinion contributor.