A deceptive calm has prevailed in Kashmir since the Narendra Modi government revoked Article 370 along with Article 35 A of the Constitution of India that gave the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir a special position within the Indian Union. If anybody is thinking that muted reaction is a sign that Kashmir’s majority have accepted the change, they are simply out of touch with reality on the ground. An upheaval was expected, of course. Why didn’t it happen? I will come to that.
Talk to anybody in any walk of life, you will realize, with a vengeance, that the revocation of Article 370 has alienated people as never before. Kashmiris see it as wishvasghat by those claiming to be devotees of Bhagwan Ram who gave up everything, including his claim to the throne, to redeem a promise, that too made by his father.
The princely state of Jammu and Kashmir joined the Indian Union under a solemn agreement called the Instrument of Accession whereby Maharaja Hari Sing ceded defence, foreign affairs and communications to the Indian Union while retaining the state’s internal sovereignty or autonomy. The Indian political class has unilaterally broken that solemn agreement.
The apologists of the Centre’s move say that Article 370 was, after all, a temporary provision. But they put a wrong interpretation on its temporariness. Article 370 reflected the agreement between the Jammu and Kashmir state and the Indian Union. The Accession itself was subject to ratification by the people of Jammu and Kashmir. It follows that only the people of Jammu and Kashmir had the legal and moral authority to decide whether to modify the terms of Accession. But the Indian Union usurped this right and unilaterally broke the agreement.
This has demolished all trust if there was any. It has caused widespread disaffection among people. Furthermore, it has pushed the pro-India parties like Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference (NC) and Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) to the wall while giving the separatists a shot in the arm.
People in Kashmir say that Jammu and Kashmir being the only Muslim-majority state in Hindu majority India should have been treated with the utmost care and positive discrimination. The Indian government has instead chosen to effect demographic change so that Jammu and Kashmir loses its Muslim-majority character itself.
The domicile law brought by the Centre makes way for non-locals to buy property in Jammu and Kashmir and more than that have the right to vote for the Assembly. The locals fear they might become aliens in their own land. Ironically, Jammu and Kashmir’s Muslim-majority character has been threatened at a time when the BJP government is driving India towards a Hindu Rashtra.
The unilateral move to revoke Article 370 is a grim reminder that an agreement between two unequal parties has little chance to stand, the stronger party being ever ready to break it, at will.
The Government of India argued that the abrogation of Article 370 would help in stamping out armed resistance in Jammu and Kashmir. It was a false argument. The security forces have, for several years, had an upper hand vis a vis armed militants. There used to be as many as three thousand militants active in Jammu and Kashmir until a few years ago. Now, there are a couple of hundred. What we saw in recent years is that unarmed people engaged the security forces in the streets every now and then. It had all the characteristics of a public uprising. The protestors often threw stones while the police and paramilitaries used firearms. The use of pellet guns by the paramilitaries has left a large number of young boys and girls and also kids fully or partially blinded.
The then home minister, Raj Nath Singh promised, at a press conference, that pellet guns would be used only rarely. But he was soon contradicted if not over-ruled by a subordinate officer who said the use of pellet gun would not stop.
Coming back to the point, the Government of India made a false argument that Article 370 promoted the armed conflict. Whatever little militancy we had before August 5, 2019, has continued till this day. Hardly three months ago (in May), the militants killed five soldiers, including a Colonel in a firefight. The security forces, for their part, have killed many militants. So, the situation is almost unchanged. But if militancy is a state of mind, the revocation of Article 370 has created a whole generation of militants. They may or may not pick up the gun. But no one can predict how long the lull will last.
The communications lockdown that accompanied the revocation of Article 370 last year was, according to many observers, a major reason for people not taking to the streets. These observers say the people feared that if they died in large numbers, the world outside would never know about it. Coupled with this was the belief among many people that the Centre was ready to crush any resistance with full military might.
After the Pakistan Prime Minister, Imran Khan’s speech in the UN General Assembly, many among the separatists pinned their hopes on Pakistan. Pakistani leaders have been reassuring the Kashmiri people that they won’t be let down. Ordinary people in Kashmir, sympathetic to the separatist cause, take these Pak leaders at face value. But some are sceptical.
The removal of Article 370 has immediately caused an existential crisis to the pro-India political parties in Kashmir, mainly the National Conference and the PDP. People wonder whether the leaders of these parties were too incompetent to understand the Modi government’s game-plan or whether they simply collaborated. A tweet put up by Mehbooba Mufti on Aug 4, 2019, gave details of a resolution adopted at an All-Party meeting at Farooq Abdullah’s Gupkar residence. Known as the Gupkar Declaration. It read: “That modification, abrogation of Articles 35 A and 370, unconstitutional delimitation or trifurcation of the state would be an aggression against the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.”
Social media posts by some ordinary people suggest that these leaders were detained only to give them a face-saving. In any case, their domain of politics – which was the middle ground between those wanting complete merger of Jammu and Kashmir into the Indian Union and those wanting its secession – has suddenly disappeared. So these parties have to redefine their role.
As of now, they come across as a confused lot. For instance, Omar Abdullah recently said he would not contest elections to the Assembly as long as J&K was a Union Territory. But the very next day, he indicated that his party would very much be in the poll battle. In an interview with The Indian Express, he said: “I am a mainstream political operative. Not only will I vote but I will also hope that my party will galvanise people to vote. I just won’t be voting for myself for a while.”
The PDP has not come up with any plan of action, either. Asked about the scope, if any, for the mainstream parties like the NC and PDP, Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter, Iltija Mufti, who has become active on media and social media platforms in recent months, told The Indian Express: “Well, they obviously obliterated that ground, they lumped us with the Hurriyat. But nothing lasts forever? When you see the course of history, it is never linear.” She then went on to say: “How do you know there won’t be a revolution here? It is not a lab experiment where BJP feels they can control everything. They haven’t been able to that. Clearly the narrative has slipped out of their hands.”
What Ms Iltija says is, at best, vague.
The PDP began its journey in the late 1990s as a semi separatist party but ended up as a coalition partner of the BJP. The BJP broke its alliance with the PDP before making its onslaught on Kashmir.
If pro-India groups face the worst, the separatist leaders have done no better either to inspire their followers. This is another reason that their followers are looking directly to Pakistan and the wider international community. Some expect a military confrontation between India and Pakistan. But, others rule out such a possibility, saying that Pakistan is beset with its economic woes. Observers warn that if ordinary Kashmiris, supporting the secessionist cause, get disillusioned with Pakistan, history may take a different course altogether.
Most leaders of the Kashmiri Pandits who fled the conflict in Kashmir Valley in the 1990s have cheered the Indian government for revoking Article 370. But in a surprise development, an organization of migrant Pandits called Reconciliation, Relief and Rehabilitation has demanded the restoration of Article 370. It made an appeal to Prime Minister Modi and the Home Minister: “The people of Jammu and Kashmir are your own people, love them. As a good gesture, confer special status on J&K.” It impressed upon parliamentarians to understand the wishes and aspirations of the people (of Jammu and Kashmir).
This voice, though feeble, is a good one for amity between Kashmiri Muslims and the Pandit community; the two have drifted far apart in recent years.
The average man in the Hindu majority Jammu region welcomed the removal of Article 370. But the prospect of outsiders taking away jobs from the locals has caused them immense concern.
(@ayhussain is a freelance journalist; formerly North India Correspondent of the BBC, he also worked with the Times of India. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Kashmir Life.)