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Jury is out on whether the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A by the Government of India is a masterstroke or a monumental folly, having brought about a situation in Kashmir where political dialogue and autonomy have been removed from the agenda. A “special status” enjoying entity has been reduced to the rank of a centrally ruled/administered area. Abrogation was brought about arbitrarily without bothering to take the J&K Assembly’s consent, as required under constitutional law. Let alone local people having any say in the matter, they have been imprisoned in their own homes and their everyday life strictly regulated to ensure that they remain silenced. While the Bhartiya Janta Party government tom toms “Digital India” and pushes for bringing more and more areas under digital transactions in India, in J&K government snaps internet and mobile telephony at their whim and fancy,for varying lenghts of time, thus crippling business, profession, banks, educational institutions, and ennumerable everyday chores etc where net connectivity has become vital.

As a result, Indian rule in Kashmir opens a new page of oppression in which people can not assert themselves or protect their interests and their well-being. As a result, the choice for people in centrally administered Kashmir is reduced to choosing between a rock and a hard place: to submit to the new facts on the ground where they are marginal players, or to persist with their resistance.

It is apparent that Indian move has boosted the ranks of separatists by the demolition of almost all pro-Indian political parties in Kashmir. Their leaders are discredited and under detention. They are no longer considered useful in the new ‘arrangement’ being put in place, unless they agree to terms offered by the Indian government. What is alarming is that the Indian army, which hitherto had maintained that military can only restore authority but solution requires political initiative, has now submitted to the government’s demand for coercively silencing the Kashmiris. All this enables the BJP to push its ideological agenda, including to usher in demograhic transformation of Kashmir. What remains to be seen is that while repression will mount and people suffer, which way will people’s shared history and lived experience of suffering propel them to move?

Making of a new Crisis

In all the scenarios which the policy and decison-makers have factored in as well as prepared for, there is just no way they could have or can predict with any degree of certainty exactly how will people react, knowing only that, they will. BJP has assured its new and old camp followers that the government will manage everything and that the world community cannot browbeat India, because government’s way to abrogate the provisions is the “permanent solution” India is looking for.

It is one thing to lock down people for weeks & months, block all communication and dangle the carrot of incremental relaxation, but what happens on the ground may be entirely different. Did the authorities factor in that people may just opt for passive resistance? That more than armed militancy people may actually prefer a non-violent mass manifestation, because of the formidable force deployment by the government and the relentless operations/crackdowns being carried out? What happens if the government uses strong arm measures against such non-violent manifestations, which a comunally dogmatic and power drunk government is programmed to do. Will it not boost insurgency as well as attract inimical forces waiting to cash in on Kashmir’s sullied waters? Augmented repression will queer the pitch for the government to “manage” J&K. And longer it takes to declare “normalcy”, which in Indian parlance means peace brought about through the barrel of the gun, international public opinion as well as Indian opinion, which is right now high on a cocktail of jingoism & bigotry, will make the situation turn sour for the Indian rulers.

Arguably, the government having taken the step to turn Kashmir into a virtual colony ruled by New Delhi, can also back-track to make amends and change tack. A strong right wing government, facing a weak opposition and a media willing to do its bidding, for instance has the opportunity and the capacity to do so. Unfortunately, the step the right wing BJP government has taken leaves no room for back-peddaling. Having invested in “full merger” of Kashmir they are more likely to take it to its logical end. And now that the forces of jingoism have been unleashed, all kind of scenarios are openly being discussed in corridors of power, while there are few takers left in India for autonomy. As for Kashmiris who went through the experience of witnessing their autonomy erode, and are living through its abrogation now, know that autonomy has run its course. As a result there is no middle ground available or even possible. Middle ground matters to authorities when the going gets rough and the government has to revise its approach. This opportunity is no longer available.

The premature celebration across the country over abrogation of Article 370 and 35A for Jammu and Kashmir reflects how far the country has regressed. There is little concern shown for imposing collective punishment on Kashmiris, reducing them to status of conquered people, forcing them to stay indoors under curfew, detentions of 2300-6000 activists including 173 leaders, and thousands of youth earlier targetted for being ‘stone pelters’ are once again being summoned to the police stations and detained where they are reportedly beaten and threatened with dire consequences. Local media has been silenced, and fake news put out by officials propound. Any local reporter daring to file stories about protests, clashes, use of pellets and bullets and/or casualties is told to be wary of the consequences. All this against an extraordinary deployment of 950,000 soldiers, or a million strong force to manage & control eight million Kashmiri Muslims i.e. one armed soldier for eight unarmed Kashmiri civilians.

In other words, beautiful Kashmir has been made ugly by the obtrusive presence of armed soldiers, roads covered by concertina wires, bunkers, checkposts and camps visible all around and forces carry out aggressive patrolling, knowing that they are free to inflict pain and impose a heavy cost on local population. That this may impact negotiations currently nearing finishing line between GoI and the Naga groups especially National Socialist Council of Nagaland(Ishak-Muivah), has not dawned on government supporters. Especially, when NSCN(IM) in a recent letter to the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently reiterated its demand for a separate flag and a constitution, in order to clinch the deal. These are precisely the symbols of autonomy which J&K had so far enjoyed and now been revoked.

Overwhelming majority of Indians do not care for the sanctity of sovereign agreements (Instrument of Accession), constitutional gurantees (Article 370) or even the political fallout of a decison based on a dogma. As for democracy and people’s rights, less said the better, because people are prisoners in their own homeland. Furthermore, elections in the union territory of J&K can take place only by 2021, because Union Home Ministry can formally ask the Election Commission to begin the process of delimitation of electoral constituencies, only after October 31, 2019. Delimitation exercise, says the EC, will itself take a year. In the name of “national interest” not just casualties, but suspension of constitutional freedoms, and even lies are considered kosher.

Arguably, most nation-states pursue this path where laws do not matter, rules are meant to be broken, repression is the preference and forcing people to submit to majoritarian diktat, the norm. Except, circumstances have changed and we are living in 21st century and not in 16th,17th,18th,19th or even 20th century. J&K is an unresolved dispute between India and Pakistan dating back to partition, and UN has been seized of the matter since 1948. India could not prevent the fact that UNSC has after a 50 year break brought the Kashmir Question back on its agenda. And India has to ride the coat-tails of US (and to a lesser degree France) to blunt criticism of its Kashmir folly because on its own it lacks the clout and pelf to shut everybody’s mouths. And now that UNSC is seized of the matter, coming months and year s will see heightened activity by Indian diplomats to damage control. If situation remains as grim, the pressure will grow and prove troublesome for India.

Autonomy as Figleaf

The fact is that autonomy as provided in Article 370 of Indian Constitution got eroded through the very aegis of Article 370 decades back. From merely three subjects in 1947 to 295 on which centre could legislate prior to abrogation, marks this journey of erosion. The last vestige of autonomy was the status of Permanent Resident, Article 35A, which prevented alienation of land and protected jobs for locals. Except jobs were few to come by and armed forces are in control of 100,000 acres of land.The central government owned public units violate land laws & even High Court’s ban on construction for instance in Gulmarg, Bhabha Atomic Research Corporation went ahead with constructing a guest house for their personnel. Thus the proverbial “shell” of the hollowed out Article 370, was retained to cover-up the fact that it has been New Delhi which ruled over J&K ever since Sheikh Abdullah was arrested in August 1953.

In other words, what began as erosion of autonomy under the Congress, BJP and other governments since 1953, now stands abrogated and local population is thereby reduced to a status of ‘subjects’, in this republic of citizens. It is the formal dimunition of the people through abrogation which we today confront. Needless to add this sets a dangerous precedent for India as a whole where any other local community which falls foul of the government can end up losing its status as citizens and can be reduced to a new form of subjecthood/adversary.

Its worth noting that a truncated J&K is also a New Delhi ruled territory where central government has now full control over land, law and order, de-limitation, fiscal policy, administration etc. To celebrate this humiliating transformation of J&K from formally enjoying “Special Status” to now being reduced to a UT where local population stands dis-empowered, marks India’s entry into world’s roster of tyrannical State.

Meanwhile, the Union Home Minister had boasted in the Parliament that the dispute over J&K is now confined to recovering territory occupied by Pakistan and China. Around the same time India’s foreign minister informed hisChinese counter-part that there is no territorial claim being advanced by India by abrogating Article 370 and 35A and that they continue to respect the Line of Actual Control with China and the Line of Control with Pakistan.

The BJP government claims that abrogation of Article 370 and 35A will end terrorism and separatism and usher in development. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The seeds of separatism were sowed in 1953 itself from when autonomy began to be eroded. Its abrogation today means that there is not even a talking point for any political dialogue, because as far as Hindutva is concerned, abrogation has solved the problem.

As for the claim of “development” the question to ask is whether any meaningful investment can come to Kashmir, if the situation remains unstable and risky. Will investors find the recurrent snapping of internet connectivity and mobile telephony conducive to carrying out their business? To also believe that Indian corporate houses who show great reluctance to invest in India will somehow show their ‘capitalist animal spirit’ in a conflict ridden Kashmir with highest frequency of internet snapping in the world, is a misconception. While J&K moves to host its first investor summit in November 2019, in early August the central government shelved a Rs 1500 cr project to build a dry port in Kashmir, which was awarded to Dubai Ports Group in February 2018.

Besides, economic rationale for this dimunition of Kashmir too is based on fraudulen grounds. Authorities cut internet links, block highways, ban LoC trade, restrict movement of cattle and its sale, impose curfew on will, carry out cordon and search operations. So it is not autonomy but the tag of “Disturbed” area with continued military suppression which blocks economic recovery. In the name of cutting links between “terrorists and their masters” the entire net and mobile connectivity has been snapped. Its like cutting one’s nose to get at a fly. As a result when connectivity can be snapped at whim and fancy of the authorities, it is difficult to envisage thriving bussiness. Recall that it took the Narednra Modi government nearly two years to announce and then release funds for rehabilitation and reconstruction after the devastating floods of September 2014. That brought to front how the Kashmiri society came out to rescue and provide relief to victims of flood for months. So there are multiple ways in which authorities themselves are responsible for blocking economic recovery. Therefore, why would Indian corporate houses risk investing money in a militarily unstable region like Kashmir?

Freedom to screech

Officials also play down the contradictions that are also coming to fore. For instance in Ladakh as well as Jammu local leaders and activists who welcomed abrogation of Article 35A (which protected the land and reserved jobs for locals) are now raising the demand for a domicile status for the locals to protect their land and jobs. Many of the leaders espousing this move have been detained in Jammu. What this means is that a people, primarily the lower castes Dogra Hindus, Dalits and Muslims who acquired land rights, thanks to the radical land reforms under Sheikh Abdullah’s regime (1948-52), are chary of losing their much coveted land and job opportunity to outsiders. Moreover, the fact that Jammu based parties and their leaders have demanded that their land and jobs be protected lends legitimacy to Kashmiri desire to protect itself and restrict land and job grabs by outsiders. This provides a bridge between the two regions and the two communities.

It is worth remembering that the feudal elite, who exercised power under the Dogra Hindu rule, found itself displaced from position of power and pelf which they had enjoyed under Maharaja’s Rule, replaced by those who were once “subjects” under feudal rule of Maharaja. The radical land reforms removed the feudal Jagairdari system and restored tenancy rights of peasantry as well as distributed land to the landless, both Muslims as well as Dalit and lower caste Hindus. This under-cut the socio-economic foundation of feudal power wielders.So to believe that BJP can with ease bring in outsiders in Jammu, or set up Hindu settlements in Kashmir is easier said than done. If anything, threat of land alienation and heightened competition for jobs between locals and outsiders will add fuel to fire.

It is of interest to note that neither the J&K resorganisation Bill 2019 nor leaflets distributed by the Indian army in Kashmir provide much hope on protecting the land and job of local people in J&K. While the abrogation Act has taken away all powers which people enjoyed in J&K under Article 35A, especially where land and jobs are concerned, people are being offered ‘pie in the sky’. Indian Army is distributing leaflets which contain 11 points highlighting the virtue of abrogation. For instance they claim that Right to Education would be available to people of J&K, when the fact is that J&K has had this right for decades. Similarly, on health the army leaflet dangles carrot of central government’s health scheme, when the fact is that J&K has had a far better health system for decades than what Indian government announced recently.

However what takes the cake is Indian army’s take on land claiming that with abrogation the prices of land will zoom in J&K. [“Raids at night, handbills by Day:Army siege in south Kashmir escalates after special status revoked”, Ipsita Chakravarty and Safwat Zargar, 27 August, 2019, Scroll.in]. This is a clear give away that the Indian army is one with the right wing BJP government’s idea of driving people of their land, and replace locals with settlers. The carrot of high land prices is to encourage Kashmiris to sell their land to settlers.

When such a cataclysmic regression is being unveiled in J&K the Indian judiciary has buckeled under. It has refused to take up Habeas Corpus pleas, and fast-track hearing on abrogation of articles 370 and 35A, deferring it until October. With thousands of people detained on mere suspicion that they can gather atleast ten persons each and trigger protests, means that spree of detentions/arrests can carry on without fear of judiciary striking them down. Thus Judiciary’s role in giving a stamp of approval to executive orders in the past as well as inability to provide succor to victims of security forces aggression in the past, does not inspire confidence that today those aggrieved will get justice.

India’s Corporate media has demonstrated that they are no better than government propagandists who merely amplify or rationalise whatever the government wants them to propagate. Most media outlets also deflect attention by going hammer and tong at India’s ardent enemy Pakistan. Reporters working for corporate media houses defend twisting of truth and planting of fake news as necessary in “national interest”. These appear to be par for the course for a media blinded by bigotry & jingoism and represent a new cult of falsification. But it also means that it would be easy to counter their lies because they are brazen about it and flaunt it as “nationalism”. I draw attention to “Factcheck: Venkaiah Naidu used fake quote to claim Ambedkar opposed to Article 370” [ Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta, The Wire August 23rd, 2019] for one such blatant fakery promoted by the Vice President of India. He passed off something Balraj Madhok, leader of Jana Sangh wrote and attributed it to Dr B R Ambedkar, considered ‘father of Indian Constitution’. Neither his volumnious writing brought out by the Union Minister of External Affairs nor the volumes of his works brought out by the Maharashtra government contain the passage attributed by the Vice President to Dr Ambedkar. Worse still, the newspaper in which this fakery appeared did not even bother to offer an apology to its readers,when this was exposed. Most significantly, Dr Ambedkar remained staunchest supporter of plebiscite as his writings confirm.

Social media carries a mixed bag of opinions. Rightwing politicians and courtiers of the new “Dilli Durbar” give vent to their misogyny and bigotry stooping lower than low. A sitting Chief Minister spoke about Kashmiri women as though they are ‘a trophy of war’, to be bought,sold, acquired. Others from the BJP stable are waiting to grab land and gloat over the prospects of realising their predatory fantasy. In this insidious game venomous speech and action have become synonymous with “national interest” . All criminals or foul mouths need to do is to utter patriotic rhetoric, wave national flag and/or shout glory to “Mother India”, and their crimes get ‘washed away’. People led by BJP leaders supported the accused who abducted, tortured, gangraped, and then murdered an eight year old girl child in Kathua in J&K carried the national flag, shouted slogans to theglory of “Mother India”, and damned everyone opposed to them as “anti-nationals”.

Reality and Rhetoric

Rulers have a tendency to over-read their own power and influence and believe that everything can be ‘managed’. So the Government leaders and officials boast that government has factored in all possible scenarios and can overcome whatever challenge posed to them. They also believe that by the time BJP government relaxes curbs the local population will be so hungry for respite that they would be unwilling to offer fight to India. But there is need to be sceptical of this. Its worth recalling what a former Director of Centre for Land and Warfare Studies wrote:

“If some of the disaffected Kashmiri youth come out on the streets of Srinagar, Baramulla, Sopore, Kupwara, Anantnag and half a dozen other towns like they did in 1988-89, in today’s mega-media age that is dominated by the social media, it will be almost impossible to keep Kashmir by force……” [Gurmeet Kanwal, “Healing Touch Needed in Kashmir”, The Tribune, July 4th, 2019]

Indians have been sold the line that there is international support for what India has done. Others are happy that there is little international support for Pakistan. Some go so far as to rejoice that in contemporary world where big powers get away with aggression and suppression, India has now joined their ranks and from now on can get away with whatever it does to its Kashmiri Muslim population. To many this is mark of India’s growing clout.

In such amoral times when few will speak up for Kashmiris in India, the question that bedevils discerning Indians is why has the Indian government deployed nearly a million armed forces personnel to control 8 million unarmed Kashmiris? Just a month before the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A India’s official propaganda was claiming that infiltration was down, recrutiment of locals to militant ranks is now in trickles, militant numbers have shrunk, and normalcy was round the corner. But days leading upto the abrogation Amarnath and other yatras were cancelled and pilgrims and tourists were asked to immediately return home. It was officially claimed that heightened alert was on account of an impending Pak sponsored suicide attack which could target the pilgrims. Using this as a pretext the government pushed in more troops and brought their numbers close to a million soldiers,​ to bring the people to heel.

As a matter of fact, Pakistan’s room for manouver over Kashmir is limited due to its debilitating economy, dire need for financial bailout, ‘grey listing’ by FATF committee etc prevent it from doing anything adventurous, whatever the rhetoric. With infiltration low and Pakistan under severe international scrutiny there is not much it can do. The predicament for Pakistan, which is a party to the Kashmir dispute, is what it can do which will satisfy its own people, and also make a dent in the international public opinion regarding the plight of the Kashmiris. What lends strength to Pakistan’s limitations is the latest reports which claim that ‘chatter’ among militants monitored by Indian intelligence indicate that Pakistani militants are reluctant to go to Kashmir and have been “heard” saying that fighting India is the “responsibility of the Kashmiris themselves”.[“Pak based Ultras reluctant to cross over to Valley”,TNS, The Tribune 26th August 2019]. However, it is important to note that this restraint or reluctance does not apply to Al Qaeda and ISIS foreign fighters in Afghanistan. India should be worried over the likely entry of Al Qaeda and ISIS foreign fighters, because these fighters will take violence to new levels, as they make no distinction between combatants and civilians.

What should also concern Indian Army is that its engagement in internal war in J&K will carry on for few more decades, albeit with one seminal difference; it has to now deliver a military solution because there is no possibility left anymore of a political resolution of the J&K dispute. This shift carries its own risks. For all the tall claims of Indian armed forces of being ready to fight “two and half wars” [against Pakistan, China and Kashmiri insurgents], the fact is that no army, however strong, likes to face two nuclear armed adversaries while they are simultaneously confronted with an hostile population in the hinterland. If in addition, they also have to fight Al Qaeda and ISIS, then Indian army’s troubles will mount.

Its worth taking into account India’s hypocritical stance on Baluchistan. When in July last the US designated Baluchistan Liberation Army in Pakistan as a global terrorist organisation it was India’s Ministry of External Affairs which protested. The MEA informed the Indian Parliament that India has highlighted Pakistan’s human rights record before UN Human Rights Council in Geneva (the very same organisation whose rapporteurs India boycotts and summarily dismissed their condemnation of India’s miserable handling of human rights in J&K). The statement also points to Pakistan’s “targetting political dissidents and legitimate criticism in Sindh, Baluchistan and Pakhatunkhwa”.

What MEA forgot was that if Baluchistan is replaced with Kashmir and BLA with Hizbul Mujahideen, Indian MEA’s statment would be no different than a statement from Pakistan’s MEA condemning India over repression in Kashmir! Which is to say that for India to champion Baluchistan’s case is no different than Pakistan championing Kashmir’s case. With one difference, that Pakistan is a party to the Dispute over J&K, whereas India has none where Baluchistan is concerned.

Neverthless, the point is that the Indian government targets mainly indegenous groups in Kashmir because weakening them makes it easier to persude the world that Indian faces global terrorist organisation. Had the Indian government been guided by enlightened self-interest they would have realised that the lifeline offered by Indian authorities to IS or Al Qaeda can prove costly. Officials, military and civilian have publicy expressed concern over presence of 7-8000 “foreign” militants in Afghanistan. A large number are allied to Al Qaeda and IS. Nangarhar province is reportedly controlled by IS. What happens to them as and when Taliban takeover? It is a possibility that many of them will make their way to J&K posing a far graver threat. India is besides a side player in Afghanistan. Moreover, BJP has shown that it does not believe in ‘winning hearts and minds’ of people. They prefer imposing their diktat on people. Reports also tend to suggest that Kashmiri police and civil administration staff now play a marginal role. Such new facts being created on the ground will make the movement more militant and not less. A Hindutva radicalised Indian State & public opinion will meet its resistance counter-part. If the government factored this possibility and opted for such a course then its likely that they expect to derive some advantage from this. However, risk for the country and its people outweigh possible gain for BJP.

Equating Palestine and Kashmir

The conjoining of Palestine and Kashmir among people of the world will now pick up. Just as Israeli state divested Palestinians of all their rights, and denies them their history and context the Indian government has done the same. The likeness of occupation, use of false narrative, and now the plan to divest Kashmiris of their land and drive them away suggets this. Indians may, quite like Israelis, dismiss world public opinion. However, unlike Israel which is bankrolled by US, the India takes pride in projecting itself as an independent entity which takes autonomous decisions, in its own interest. This makes them vulnerable to public pressure. Israel can live without friends, other than US. But India can not survive without friends in its immediate and extended neighbourhood. Nor should the government under-estimate the influence of US and European public opinion. There are already plentiful signs that the glowing account of India’s “success” in UN or elsewhere were empty boast. For instance BJP claimed success for India in the recent United Nationas Security Council closed door meeting on Kashmir. However the fact that for the first time in nearly fifty years UNSC took up Kashmir issue for discussion means that from now on Kashmir will remain on their agenda.

Even Russia, a longtime supporter of India, referred uncharacteristically to UN Charter and relevant UN resolutions while talking about J&K. Britain too baulked at coming out in support of India and supported the idea of UNSC closed door meeting as well as pushed for a “public statement” after that. As for banking on US or France to bail India out, less said the better. While both US and France will extract their own ‘pound of flesh’, the US can not afford to leave Pakistan unmollified.India’s surrender to US over Iran in exchange for help in getting Masood Azhar listed as “global terrorist”, exhibits India’s weakness vis a vis US. And the high price India had to pay to the US for its help with listing just a single indiviual. What price will the US demand for shielding India from earning international opprobrium? Besides, US is desperate to “extricate” itself from the mess it created in Afghanistan before US presidential polls in November 2020. Thus, pressure will be on India too as time draws close, not to further queer the pitch for Pakistan, whose help is critical to pressure Taliban to enable US troop pullout. Besides, Pakistan has moved its forces to the eastern border with India and warned US that India’s move on Kashmir has made it difficult for it to single mindedly focus on Afghanistan. So is the US just offering a long rope to India to see how the pacification campaign proceeds in J&K, before it begins to exert pressure?

Anyhow, with the genie of annexation of Kashmir out of the bottle, the “nationalist” government in India may find that reality does not quite match their rhetoric at home. Triumphalism and celebration which is widespread in India will also begin to erode when it hits Indians that situation in J&K has actually worsened thanks to the decision of the BJP government.

Ironically,and for all its “nationalist” pretensions, BJP’s Kashmir policy has ended up lending legitmacy to the demand for right of self-determination voiced by the Kashmir movement. Now that autonomy is out of the way & a political resolution ruled out, only military solution is being pursued. Room for course correction has vanished. For all those opposed to this war against our own people and desirous of a peaceful democratic solution, the talking point now can only be respecting Kashmiris right to self-determination, i.e. to ascertain people’s wishes through refrendum, as military suppression and militancy escalates and transforms the landscape of Kashmir. Consequently, if Kashmir, contrary to official narrative, continues to remain “Disturbed”, BJP may find itself hoisted by its own petard and praise being showered today can turn into a curse tomorrow.

Gautam Navlakha is a social activist.


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2 Comments

  1. Congratulations, Gautam ! Brave of you to come out with a much-needed exposure of the Indian
    government’s coup in Kashmir and its imposition of military rule there.

  2. Pingback: News Letter – Countercurrents – DE LA GRANDE VADROUILLE A LA LONGUE MARGE