This article was first published on Daily O.
The government of India committed a day light robbery on the trust of the people of Kashmir.
First, the government seems to have lied to its citizens that the large amount of security movements, evacuation of tourists, shutting down of schools and colleges were because of external terrorist threats and had nothing to do with the long standing fear and suspicion of removal of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. On Aug 3 the J & K Governor met regional leaders and assured them there was no such move. Considering what happened from night of Aug 4, he was either blatantly lying or was himself kept in the dark. From midnight on Aug 5, government imposed a communication shut down in Kashmir, mobile and broadband internet services, telephone lines, cable TVs were all shut down and section 144 imposed. Practically, the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir including the mainstream political leaders were put on house arrest without giving any explanations and justifications. The next morning, behind the back of Kashmiri people, the government used various Constitutional and Parliamentary mechanism to ruthlessly and mercilessly do what has been unthinkable for decades to the people of Kashmir, something they were ready to die for, something against which they begged and pleaded the government – abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution. The government didn’t stop at this, it divided the state in two parts and stripped it away of the status of State and reduced it to a union territory or as P Chidambaram accused, “reducing states to “vassal” and “colonies” of the central government.”
It would be sometime before we get know whether the actions would stand the test of legality. A series of cases are likely to be launched and the first such petition is already filed. Legal opinions both for and against the move have emerged. Justice (Retd) K. Chandru of Madras High Court is of the opinion that the government’s action are not legal while Justice (Retd) AK Ganguly of Supreme Court said there is nothing unconstitutional.
Whether the government broke any law or not, they certainly broke people’s heart and trust. In an ideal democracy the State is supposed to be the caretaker of not just our rights but also our emotional needs, like happiness, love, trust, insecurities. In our moment of fear it is supposed to hold our hands and tell us, “Don’t worry.” But State took away, from people of Kashmir, something they held closest to their hearts. To whom will Kashmir turn now?
It is being argued that whatever the government had done is for the benefit of Kashmir and its people. Be that as it may, even if a cancer patient has no other means of survival except an amputation, she should be informed and her consent should be obtained before the procedure. Imagine you visited the doctor for some tests and the next thing you know is that you are waking up in a hospital bed with your legs amputated, and people around you are dancing and bursting crackers celebrating your loss.
That’s what Kashmir is feeling like today.
Abrogation of Article 370 has been one of the corner stones of BJP-RSS’s political journey for over four decades, and it was also part of the 2019 BJP manifesto, but it was never clear, why was it such an important issue? One of the reasons cited by Amit Shah is that Article 370 was apparently responsible for keeping Kashmir poor and underdeveloped. But his argument seems to be not backed by data, as several Hindi belt states ruled for long by BJP lag far behind Kashmir in development index. Next argument could be ‘love and concerns’ for Kashmiris but that is hard to believe too because if somebody you loved had a special privilege, you won’t celebrate it when they lose it in a brutal way against their will while they being locked and gagged, even if it was for their benefit.
BJP and allied groups are celebrating across India. BJP’s Raman Malik said on a TV debate, “This is Diwali for us.” Another BJP MLA said, “We can now marry fair Kashmiri girl.” What can possibly explain these celebrations except that these leaders are thinking Kashmir is now open for exploitation with ‘marry’ being an euphemism for loot and plunder and ‘Kashmiri girl’ an euphemism for land and natural resources? Has there been any message that they truly love Kashmiris?
For decades Kashmiris have been vilified in India. They have been seen with suspicion, fear and hate. Every time there has been a terror attack the common Kashmiris were hounded as if each one of them was a terrorist. Post Pulwama attack of Feb 2019, Meghalaya Governor Tathagata Roy instigated anti-Kashmiri hate by asking people to “boycott everything Kashmiri”. No action was taken against the Governor.
Such celebrations implies that BJP was never interested in Kashmiri people, but only interested in the piece of land. Rahul Gandhi has rightly said that “This nation is made by its people not plots of land.” If Kashmir is to be fully integrated and developed, the BJP should have first tried to win the trust of Kashmiris by way of ballots. But they failed in that attempt having done poorly in the state assembly elections. An attempt to form government by an unholy coalition also failed and governor’s rule was applied. After 6 months of Governor’s rule, President’s Rule came into force in December 2018. State elections were expected to be held along with May 2019 general elections but they were avoided apparently for ‘security reasons’. It now seems this was a clever ploy from the very beginning. One year after dissolving the State assembly a Constitutional trickery is done to eliminate the State altogether snatching away from people of Kashmir their right to elect their own representatives.
This is demonetization redux. An unimaginably difficult decision is unleashed upon citizens and their sufferings are dismissed as minor glitches for the greater good. We now know there was no greater good in demonetization rather economy is struggling to recover the shock.
From demonetization to Kashmir, Modi has trampled people’s trust like a ruthless mammoth and marched on to personal and political glory. Media and ‘bhakts’ cheer this because they think ends justify the means. If anybody criticizes the ‘means’ they are immediately labelled as an enemy of India who doesn’t want to address the ‘ends’. Nobody is allowed to have a conscience that is against the populist mob mentality which is cleverly called ‘mood of the nation’ or ‘pulse of the people’.
Modi’s pattern to justify his rude, ruthless, merciless means to meet an arguably justifiable goal is always the same. Exaggerate a particular problem and find a person or family or community to blame and vilify. As a run up to 2014 elections scams and corruption were exaggerated and Gandhi family was blamed; during demonetization a hype was created about black money and perceived ‘rich people’ were made target of hate; Presently a post-truth narrative is created that all of Kashmir’s problems are due to Article 370 and Muftis and Abdullahs are corrupt enemies. It is easy to hate people than structural problems. So the masses are fed a propaganda that corruption or poverty or terrorism isn’t part of a system that needs change but creation of just one family or community, and once PM Modi will heroically defeat that one enemy everything will be magically better. So when Modi takes the ruthless path to destroy the perceived enemy his supporters cheer him, and mock and abuse anybody who objects the methods on humanitarian grounds.
Today, the BJP leaders and right wing Hindutva groups are bursting crackers and dancing, completely devoid of empathy for Kashmiris who are still not able to communicate what they feel. For three days parents and children across India have not been able to speak to each other. What will happen if somebody falls sick, somebody on death bed, will they not even be able to see or hear their family members for one last time?
Ironically, the PM has tweeted in five languages spoken in the territory to communicate with its people and congratulate them for their liberation, NSA Ajit Doval is sending what seems like carefully shot staged videos to assert that Kashmir is normal, and non-Kashmiri people are trending on Twitter ‘Kashmir Welcomes Change’ – all this when real Kashmiris are still in communication black out.
This is truly a Kafkaesque nightmare India is witnessing today.
I only write, couldn’t do anything more to protect the civil liberties of the Kashmiri people.