“Mr Abdullah, you want that India should defend Kashmir. You wish India should protect your borders, she should build roads in your area, she should supply you food grains, and Kashmir should get equal status as India, but you don’t want India and any citizen of India to have any rights in Kashmir and Government of India should have only limited powers. To give consent to this proposal would be a treacherous thing against the interests of India, and I, as the Law Minister of India, will never do so. I cannot betray the interests of my country.”
The quote above, attributed to Dr BR Ambedkar by vice president Venkaiah Naidu in an op-ed published on 17 August by The Hindu, in the context of the abrogation of Article 370, has been the source of much controversy. The quote itself — reportedly taken from SN Busi’s volumes on Ambedkar’s interventions in the Constitutional Assembly debates — has been contested, as Busi in turn said the original source of the quote was the RSS activist Balraj Madhok.
However, the Article 370 abrogation and the attribution of this quote to BR Ambedkar have enabled the opening up of diverse Ambedkarite positions on the issue.
Capturing these differing positions is essential to understand the diverging positions of Ambedkarite politics in the country, based on the nature of the Ambedkarite discourse and the aims of its political practice. In this column, we’ll examine the positions of the BSP, Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, and the positions of intellectuals associated with the Kerala Dalit Panthers, to understand three distinct articulations of Ambedkarite politics.
The abrogation of Article 370 was opposed by the Congress, TMC, DMK, MDMK, CPI (M) and RJD while it found explicit support of AIADMK, AAP, BJD, BSP, SP, Shiv Sena and YSRCP. The question of why the BSP took such a stance can only be placed in the context of its goal to capture ‘national’ politics, as arguments were made along lines of security, economic growth and inclusion into the ‘progressive laws’** of the Indian state.
In contradiction to such an Ambedkarite stance of the BSP — a party which claims its legacy as the largest Ambedkarite movement — Prakash Ambedkar of the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi argued against the abrogation of Article 370 as unconstitutional, as there was no consultation with the state assembly, which is the ‘legal’, constitutional way of doing anything with regards to Kashmir. The abrogation was a forced inclusion through a ‘political’ act.
Prakash Ambedkar argued that Amit Shah “while moving the resolution to scrap Article 370, said Article 370 (1) will stay but sections 2 and 3 will go. The provision of Article 370 (1) states that the Indian government will not go against Article 370. So even if sections 2 and 3 are removed, Article 370 (1) stays, (which means) you (Centre) need to have a dialogue with local assembly, government”.
AG Noorani and other Indian legal scholars have argued along the same lines of the unconstitutionality of the abrogation by tracing the history of the legal developments in the context of Kashmir.
The Bill of Accession was signed with the confidence that the state would be provided the autonomy that it was promised. However, the history of interactions with the Indian state has forced several changes to the provisions of autonomy which were changed arbitrarily, and the abrogation of Article 370 can be seen not as an ‘event’ that somehow changed the entire dynamic of the relation between India and Kashmir, but rather only as an explicit visible marker of the invasive interventions of the Indian state by resorting to ‘presidential declarations’ (Noorani and Noorani, 2012).
There are Ambedkarite movements and Ambedkarite positions beyond the frameworks of party politics that attempt to understand this beyond nationalist and even constitutional-legal frameworks of ‘human rights’ and ‘autonomy’ — the binary along which Indian scholarship has articulated the Kashmiri conflict over the decades, since Independence.
Intellectuals associated with the Dalit Panthers in Kerala understand ‘Kashmir’ as a ‘political’ problem of contested nationalisms that has been reduced into a geopolitical debate between India and Pakistan. K Ambhujakshan, the leading voice of the Kerala Dalit Panthers today, has articulated the idea of the Kashmiri conflict as a question of ‘occupation’ by the Indian state. Ambedkarites influenced by Periyar quote him with reference to the issue, to articulate the idea of self-determination. Such an articulation is derived from the Ambedkar’s own stance that India is not a single nation, but rather that each caste and community are a nation unto themselves, and his own attempts to articulate a distinct identity for Dalits [being] different from the Hindu national appropriation of Dalits into the Hindu fold (Ambedkar, 2014).
Having looked at the various Ambedkarite positions on the issue, it’s important to locate what Ambedkar himself has said about this.
Ambedkar suggested that there be a zonal plebiscite in the region with each of the three distinct regions — Jammu ( Hindu-dominant), Kashmir (Muslim-dominant), and Ladhak (Buddhist-dominant) — getting to decide whether or not they want to be with India, or with Pakistan, implying a second Partition:
“The issue on which we are fighting most of the time (with Pakistan) is, who is in the Right and who is in the Wrong. The real issue to my mind is not who is in the Right but what is right. Taking that to be the main question, my view has always been that the right solution is to partition Kashmir. Give the Hindu and Buddhist part to India and the Muslim part to Pakistan as we did in the case of (Partition of) India. We are really not concerned with the Muslim part of Kashmir. It is a matter between Muslims of Kashmir and Pakistan. They may decide the issue as they like. Or if you like, divide it into three parts; the cease-fire zone, the Valley and the Jammu-Ladakh region and have a plebiscite only in the Valley. What I am afraid of is that in the proposed plebiscite, which is to be an overall plebiscite, the Hindus and Buddhists of Kashmir are likely to be dragged into Pakistan against their wishes and we may have to face the same problems as we are facing today in East Bengal.”
He articulated such a position in the post-Partition context, which was seen as the culmination of two contesting (Hindu and Muslim) nationalisms. However, post-Partition and decades after, there have been explicit articulations of ‘Kashmiri’ nationalism beyond the binary of Hindu-Muslim nationalism of India or Pakistan.
Kashmiri positions as positions of contesting nationalisms can be divided into broadly three categories: The first and most dominant being the imagination of Kashmir as an autonomous nation along ‘secular’ lines — this is an imagination that has been heavily cracked down both in Indian-occupied Kashmir by the Indian state, and the Pakistan-administered territories of Kashmir by the Pakistani state. The second strain of nationalism is associated with the stance of the political parties that participate in the ‘democratic’ framework of the Indian state and includes all the mainstream political parties of Kashmir. The third strand of this contested nationalist imagination emphasises on a militant struggle against India to join Pakistan, as Kashmir is a Muslim dominant region and autonomy is seen as geopolitically, economically and even politically unrealistic (Tavares, 2008).
However, in the context that Kashmiri nationalism is the most dominant strain, and one that articulates ‘self-determination’, there have been growing attempts to understand the conflict along such lines in academia today.
Kashmiri intellectuals and diaspora — as a new phenomenon in global academic spaces — are attempting to produce a global idea of Kashmiri nationalism as a struggle against occupation, and to trace the idea of an imagination of nationalism prior to Indian Independence or Partition. There have been attempts to draw parallels with Palestine, with such a global articulation of an ‘oppressed nationalism’ that with the abrogation of Article 370, has transformed from being an occupation into a settler colonial project (Tavares, 2008).
In such changed contexts, it’s important to contextualise Ambedkar and reclaim his insurrectionary politics to reinterpret current politics.
Such an insurrectionary position would be to stand by the ‘principle’ of Kashmir’s right to self-determination much like Ambedkar stood by the ‘principle’ of the Muslim right to self- determination and the struggle for Pakistan — even if there was no clear idea then of ‘how’ such a claim would come to fruition (Kamble and Dhavaleshwar, 2014). The details of the UN resolution having no such ‘category’ for a plebiscite that would enable self-determination, the question of zonal plebiscite in the context of the growing rift between Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh are only details once the fact that ‘Kashmir is occupied’ is agreed upon.
Ambedkar cannot be merely understood as the sum of his writings or the historical person that he was. Rather, ‘Ambedkar’ as a tradition is an emancipatory text open for interpretation and even is a ‘method’ of thinking about questions of nationalism, democracy and liberation.
To claim such an Ambedkar is essential at this moment of Indian nationalism, when it is showing its explicit exclusions and its forced, imperial inclusions.
Note from the author —
** While the parliamentary articulation of the BSP was along nationalist lines of security, integration and economics, however, there were articulations of Dalit politics along the lines of the provision of citizenship to the Valmiki community, in the context that they were not state subjects of Jammu and Kashmir till then and quotas of reservations are higher for the Indian state as opposed to provisions under Article 370. However, the question of how an ‘occupation’ can expand the idea that the abrogation of Article 370 is ‘progressive’, in an attempt to bring Jammu and Kashmir into the ‘progressive’ framework of the Indian state for women, Dalits and the queer, has been questioned.
Ambedkar, BR, 2014. “Annihilation of Caste.” Igarss 2014.
Busi, SN 2016. Dr.B.R Ambedkar: Framing of Indian Constitution Volume 4, pg 472.
Kamble, Ramesh, and CU Dhavaleshwar. 2014. “Ambedkar’s Views on Indo-Pak Partition and Social Concern.” International Journal of Research in Commerce, Economics and Management.
Noorani, AG, and AG Noorani. 2012. “Accession to India.” In Article 370.
Noorani, AG. 2002. “Human Rights in Kashmir.” Economic and Political Weekly.
Noorani, AG. 2012. Article 370: A Constitutional History of Jammu and Kashmir.
Puri, Balraj. 2015. “Jammu and Kashmir.” In State Politics in India.
Tavares, Rodrigo. 2008. “Resolving the Kashmir Conflict: Pakistan, India, Kashmiris and Religious Militants.” Asian Journal of Political Science.
— Images via Wikimedia Commons