Kashmir after Article 370: State's existential crisis worsens as it grapples with idea that Centre has dissolved mainstream politics
While a majority of news channels in India continue to portray a picture of Kashmir that is far from the ground reality — with some running exaggerations and blatant lies, the actual circumstances have forced Kashmiri newspapers to just four pages
For seven decades, India's right-wing had resented the so-called special status accorded to, among other states, Jammu and Kashmir — also the only Muslim majority state in India
The abrogation of the special status had been one of its foremost demands and the promise of delivering it an integral part of the right-wing election manifesto
The bureaucracy that was largely seen as neutral in the politics of the region may now find it difficult to escape the hostility
For seven decades, India's right-wing had resented the so-called special status accorded to, among other states, Jammu and Kashmir — also the only Muslim majority state in India. The abrogation of the special status had been one of its foremost demands and the promise of delivering it an integral part of the right-wing election manifesto.
On Monday, 5 August, as Union Home Minister Amit Shah was about to deliver on the promise, several hundred kilometres away in Kashmir, those who stood by India even during the peak of the armed separatist movement when thousands of gunmen flooded the Valley, trembled as they remained glued to their television.
As a section of the country celebrated the "integration" of Kashmir with India, in the Valley, it has once again reaffirmed that the discourse of national integration is about the land without its people. Far from taking the people of the Valley into confidence, most of its unionist politicians were placed under house arrest while restrictions tantamount were placed on the movement of people since 5 August.
It is being said that when Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of the need for winning "everyone’s trust", a subtle reference to the country’s minorities that are increasingly the target of mob violence by supporters of the party in power, he perhaps did not refer to the Kashmiri unionists, who are already cornered by militants and a large chunk of the society hostile to their politics. "We even had out foreheads smeared with their colour," said a former minister referring to the alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party after the 2014 state Assembly election, "Just as Modi discarded old bank notes, today he has discarded the mainstream in Kashmir."
However, it isn’t just the unionist politicians who are faced with an existential crisis. Despite a nearly-100,000-strong police force — the bulwark of the fight against militants and itself comprising largely local Kashmiris, several thousand paramilitary troops were flown into the state to deal with a possible rebellion from within the police force. In the run-up to 5 August, word had spread in the Valley that police personnel, barring officers and their guards, were being asked to deposit their weapons while being given lathis instead. Since 5 August, deployments of police personnel have largely been unarmed and discernibly demoralised.
The police force was already suspect in the eyes of other security agencies and its leadership was virtually cleansed of Kashmiri officers in a little over the past year. The policies and actions, some police officials feel, is so driven by contempt for separatists that it is willing to overlook the protection of those who fought the militancy in their homes and risk eventually delegitimising the last of those who called themselves Indians in Kashmir. "New Delhi is again leaving nationalists in imminent danger," said one officer.
Still, the bureaucracy that was largely seen as neutral in the politics of the region may now find it difficult to escape the hostility. As 5 August drew nearer, a string of orders issued by the government were leaked on social media and were promptly termed fake by senior bureaucrats and police officials but eventually turned out to be true, will extend the people’s mistrust to this arm of governance. "Generations of Kashmiris to come will not trust the administration anymore, whatever little they did is gone now," said a young postgraduate in Srinagar. A unionist political activist who also expressed fears of a bleak future and essentially the "death of mainstream politics" added, "Those in the current administration will probably always carry this stigma, they will never be forgiven."
While a majority of news channels in India continue to portray a picture of Kashmir that is far from the ground reality — with some running exaggerations and blatant lies, the actual circumstances have forced Kashmiri newspapers to just four pages. Half of these cover classifieds for cancelled weddings. Rubbing salt in the collective wound of Kashmir, newspapers informed Kashmiris of the “solemn commitment” the Government of India made afresh to the people of Nagaland, through the governor, over fears the state’s special status may face the same fate as that of Jammu and Kashmir.
That Kashmir is the “sacred cow” of Indian politics was noted in a declassified report by the United State’s CIA in as early as April 1954, seven years after independence. “Nothing produces a greater furor [sic] than the suggestion that the Indian government is weakening its line on Kashmir”, it said.
One of the arguments put forward by the Centre in favour of scrapping the special status is that it will usher in development and improve the economy. In Kashmir, however, development and a better economy are seen as bogeys that have been used time and again in furtive bids to woo the people.
As pointed out in a recent book analysing governance and corruption in the state between 1947 and 1989, titled What Happened to Governance in Kashmir, authored by Srinagar-based Aijaz Ashraf Wani, development has failed to address the alienation of the people with simultaneous actions in bad faith and the institutionalisation of misgovernance and corruption to maintain control in the region for the short term.
The book also clears the air over the alleged discrimination of the Hindu-dominated Jammu region, another argument in favour of scrapping the state’s special status. “As long as Kashmir continues to be a disputed territory,” the book concludes that governance in the state, “especially in the Valley and other Muslim-dominated districts of the state, will not mean more than containing the conflict by any means—more foul than fair".
In his inaugural speech to Constituent Assembly on 5 November, 1951, Sheikh Abdullah had defended the accession as having mitigated “certain tendencies” to see the Indian Union become a religious State “asserting themselves” and stabilised relations between the Hindus and Muslims of India. “This would happen”, Abdullah said of India taking religious overtones, “if a communal organisation had a dominant hand in the government, and Congress ideals of the equality of all communities were made to give way to religious intolerance”.
Nearly seven decades later, the Congress has been reduced to an anomaly in a Parliament where Muslim lawmakers are heckled with slogans of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and the state’s special status that was already diluted has been completely revoked. In another address to the state’s Constituent Assembly in 1952, Sheikh Abdullah, arguable the key figure in making the accession happen, described the Article and the special status as the “basis of our relationship with India” and the possibility of scrapping which would “not only constitute a breach of the spirit and letter of the Constitution, but it may invite serious consequences for a harmonious association of our state with India".
Following the scrapping of the special status, anger and anxiety is palpable in Kashmir — which is currently bracing for the harvest season in its orchards, not knowing whether the produce will reach markers and if the Valley will erupt after restrictions are lifted — as discussions now revolve around demographic changes that is perceived as imminent.
While one section of Kashmir feels betrayed by the government’s decision, the other mocks it saying. ‘I told you so’. In just a matter of minutes, not only were promises once again broken, India’s allies and advocates in Kashmir once again humiliated and left in the lurch, the mistrust of Kashmir in New Delhi once again reaffirmed, but possibly a new direction was given to the seven-decade-old conflict as pan-Islamists imploring people to stop looking towards the international community for any support and shun democracy stand vindicated.
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