Indianising Kashmir, at gunpoint

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By Aijaz Zaka Syed

“Maine aisa Hindustan kabhi nahin dekha!”

In six words, Farooq Abdullah may have captured the trauma and acute sense of betrayal of his people. The three-time chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir broke down like a child during a media interaction at his Srinagar residence.

The National Conference leader and son of the late Sheikh Abdullah, the Lion of Kashmir, has every reason to feel betrayed. After all, three generations of the Abdullahs have spent their lives batting for India.

Indeed, if it had not been for the leadership of Sheikh Abdullah, Kashmir in all likelihood would have been part of Pakistan in its entirety.

It was Sheikh Abdullah, the tallest of Kashmiri leaders and the hero of the popular struggle against the despotic raj of Maharaja Hari Singh, who in his wisdom chose to go with a secular India, rather than a Muslim Pakistan, when the British left the subcontinent.

Abdullah was won over by his friend Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister and a fellow Kashmiri, and his assurances vowing to respect the Kashmiris’ autonomy and their unique identity. More importantly, Nehru promised Kashmir the right to choose its destiny at a later date, under the watchful eyes of the United Nations.

To reassure the Kashmiris and safeguard their interests, the Indian leadership introduced Article 370 in the Indian Constitution that promises to protect the special character and identity of India’s only Muslim majority state that borders Pakistan and nearly half of it remains under its control.

It was in the spirit of those promises made to the Kashmiris that not only J&K had its own Constitution but its ruler was known for many years as Wazir-e-Azam or Prime Minister. Both Nehru and Home Minister Sardar Patel believed that Article 370 and other assurances given to the Kashmiris were essential to keep the state with India.

All those historic assurances by India’s founding fathers to the Kashmiris have been struck down and swept away with the stroke of a pen by the current Indian leadership, through a curt, 2-line presidential order and a resolution moved in Parliament.

Narendra Modi and Amit Shah — ever eager to “out Modi” Modi – couldn’t just stop at scrapping Article 370. They had to utterly humiliate, dispossess and strip away the last vestiges of Kashmiri dignity and self-respect by dismembering their beloved homeland and downgrading it to a Union territory — more like a colony — to be directly ruled by Delhi through a puppet lieutenant governor.

No wonder the Kashmiris are so outraged and feel outrightly cheated. In the words of Shah Faesal, a young and bright Kashmiri who topped India’s elite civil services examination and gave up a plum government job to join politics, the Kashmiris have overnight turned from Indian citizens to Indian subjects.

More than the decision to abolish Article 370 and carve out the Himalayan paradise, over which India and Pakistan have gone to many bloody wars, it is the manner in which the whole thing has been staged, using the overpowering force of the Indian state and throwing the entire Kashmir into a lockdown that is most frightening.

No debate, no deliberation and no consultation with opposition parties, let alone the Kashmiri stakeholders. Only self-righteous dictation from the top in the world’s largest democracy.

But then this has been the signature style of this regime. It believes in delivering shock and awe from time to time, no matter what the long-term costs and consequences for the nation’s peace and wellbeing.

What really matters is the sense of faux euphoria and feel-good majoritarian machismo such actions generate in an increasingly chauvinistic polity. Of course, it helps if they can deflect the public attention from diversions such as the deepening economic woes, unprecedented unemployment and the acute crisis facing India’s desperate farmers.

From the disastrous demonetisation to the “surgical strikes” across the border, this is how this regime has operated. Dangerously reckless, politically shortsighted and totally oblivious to the consequences for the country’s future and stability.

A complex melting pot of a country that once took great pride in its diversity, tolerance, and democracy is being recklessly transformed into a majoritarian and totalitarian state of one religion, one community and one culture. Or in the portentous words of V D Savarkar – Hindustan, Hindi, Hindudom.

The Hindu Rashtra of saffron dreams is finally here. And it shows itself in its open war on India’s dispossessed Muslims on every front – from declaring them ‘illegal’ and stateless in states like Assam to bulldozing draconian laws like the UAPA and the one criminalising triple talaq.

The move on Kashmir is part of the same agenda and psyche. How dare a Muslim majority state exist in the Hindu Rashtra asserting its own identity and demanding its historic due!

Under the BJP, the Indian state has reduced itself to a jackboot, as Pratap Bhanu Mehta puts it in Indian Express: “This is a state for whom the only currency that matters is raw power. This is a state that recognises no constraints of law, liberty and morality. This is a state whose psychological principle is fear. This is a state that will make ordinary citizens cannon fodder for its warped nationalist pretensions.”

There couldn’t have been a better time too. The party of power has enough numbers in Parliament. And there’s utter chaos in the opposition ranks.

A nearly bankrupt Pakistan, on the other hand, is preoccupied trying to keep itself afloat. The rest of the world is even more indifferent. China’s continuing persecution of its Muslims and Israel’s brazen capture of Jerusalem haven’t even drawn a whimper from the world community. Even those profound resolutions from the OIC have long disappeared.

But if the BJP thinks it can get away with murder using its brute strength in Parliament and locking away the entire population of Kashmir, it had better think again.

If the history of the past 70 years is any guide, the Kashmiris would not take this humiliation and dispossession lying down. You cannot rub away the identity and existence of a people as proud and free-spirited as the Kashmiris. Kashmir is an idea. Kashmir is a state of mind. You cannot kill it using jackboots or wish it away no matter how much you detest it.

Right now, the Himalayan state is like a powder keg, waiting to blow up anytime. It has been simmering for decades in anger and frustration over the un-kept promises of Delhi and the overwhelming presence of overbearing security forces in the state for the past many decades. The long years of unrest and insurgency have claimed more than 100,000 lives. Thousands more remain unaccounted for.

A more sensible government in Delhi would have done everything in its power to win over the Kashmiris with love and empathy. Instead, the BJP has chosen to light the fuse of the tinderbox called Kashmir. The BJP wanted to “integrate” Kashmir into India at gunpoint but it may end up totally squandering it.

To quote Mehta again, the BJP thinks it is going to Indianise Kashmir. Instead, we will see, potentially, the Kashmirisation of India.

An economically exhausted Pakistan may be down and out but it’s unlikely to accept Modi’s “mission Kashmir” without a fight. Prime Minister Imran Khan has so far been very combative, raising the spectre of a nuclear conflict.

A dangerous nuclear conflict is indeed a frightening possibility now, considering China has also involved itself in the dispute. It has angrily protested Delhi’s Kashmir moves. After all, Beijing also claims parts of the state that has been so thoughtlessly fractured by the Modi-Shah duo.

This may be the beginning of the end.

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Aijaz Zaka Syed is an award-winning journalist and former editor. Email: Aijaz.syed@hotmail.com. Twitter: @AijazZaka

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