Abject August

By Khursheed Wani

Historically, the month of August has not been too august for Kashmir. The creation of two independent states of India and Pakistan in the middle of this month 71 years ago eventually ended the sovereignty of Kashmir and divided it into two parts. This overstretched period of political uncertainty that began with the partition seems to be endless and the resolution far from sight. This is despite the killing of tens of thousands of people in this highest militarized zone in the world.

Trade, industries and transport bodies protest over the attempts to abrogate special status of Jammu and Kashmir near Gant Ghar in Srinagar. KL Image: Mehraj Bhat

The accession of Jammu and Kashmir with the Union of India had been finalized with a rider that the internal autonomy of the region would be safeguarded. On August 9, 1953, Prime Minister Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah was deposed and humiliatingly arrested at Gulmarg where he was holidaying with his family. His sidekick Bakshi Gulam Muhammad had conspired to dethrone him at the behest of India’s Prime Minister Jawahir Lal Nehru. Sheikh’s journey from Gulmarg to Udhampur in an armoured vehicle on that fateful August day gave actual direction to the powers in Delhi and their stooges in Kashmir, as to how a Kashmiri can be shamed, dispossessed, chained and suppressed. This continued process ultimately robbed the sting off from ‘mighty’ Sher-e-Kashmir who later returned to ‘power’ with an inferior title of Chief Minister and eventually was seen on death bed through the month of August in 1982. He died clinging to the title in the beginning of second week of September.

This August, Kashmir is again mired in uncertainty. The people’s existential crisis has resurfaced. The ‘protective umbrella’ to their alliance with a big and diverse country is under threat. A bunch of people associated with Hindu nationalist organisations are out exploring a legal way to scrap the Article 35 A of the Indian constitution that secures special privileges to the permanent residents of the embattled state. Some of these crusaders who want the special privileges scrapped have ‘anecdotal evidence’ of their Kashmir lineage. The attempt is to fulfil the plot of merging Jammu and Kashmir with the Union of India. They want the accession to be converted into merger, like all princely states did when India won freedom from the British.

It is in this backdrop that unprecedented shutdown was observed in Kashmir Valley and Muslim dominated parts of Jammu and Ladakh regions on August 5 and 6. Cutting across party affiliations and classes, the people on a large scale ensured that the protest was effectively registered. The separatist groups were the first to call for the shutdown despite the fact that they do not believe in Indian constitution and have been continuously rejecting any offer of engagement within its ambit. Their justification is that the protection of the basic rights and privileges to the permanent residents of the state existed much before the Indian state was established in its present form. The unionist political parties like the National Conference and People’s Democratic Party are agitated over the possibility of scrapping of 35 A because it would result in complete demolition of their political edifices.

The crucial hearing of the bunch of litigations in the Supreme Court on August 6 ended in a timely reprieve. The Governor administration had pleaded to defer the hearing in the wake of upcoming polls for the urban and rural local bodies. Apparently the plea was not accepted and the deferment was done on the basis of lack of quorum of three judges that was required for tackling a matter related to the constitutional provisions. The bench headed by the Chief Justice, however, did not hesitate in making terse observations including the limiting the intervention of the state government and sought to wrest the entire scope of argument to the Attorney General of India. Was it tangentially aimed at other players who have joined in to defend the crucial constitutional provision? They include Kashmir High Court Bar Association, the NC and the CPM. The state government’s initial response in the apex court has been already been put under scanner. The PDP is accused of building a weak response when the party headed a coalition with the BJP in the state.

What is going to happen in the apex court on the second crucial hearing of the case during the week starting August 27, is open for debate. There are strong opinions in defense of the Article and many constitutional experts believe that the law would withstand the onslaught. Even if it does, the message to the subjects of Jammu and Kashmir stands conveyed.

After the emergence of armed insurgency in Kashmir in early 1990’s, the lines have been discreetly drawn. The separatists have waged a full-fledged campaign for the permanent settlement of Kashmir according to “wishes and aspirations” of the people. In response, the Indian state has resorted to all covert and overt means to destroy the political and armed ‘resistance’ in the region. The highest militarization and gradual disempowerment of people belonging to the majority community are the primary objectives of this sustained campaign. The sudden emergence of Article 35 A must be understood in this backdrop. This makes it a matter of existence for the people.

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