For Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), history defined geography in 1947. On 5th Aug 2019, that geography became history.
Going Back Into History
On 26th Oct 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of Kashmir executed the instrument of accession to India. The princely state ceded control to the Union of India in matters of defence, foreign affairs and communications while enjoying special status under Article 370, including its own state constitution and a separate flag.
The instrument broadly provided that “terms of the accession shall not be varied” unless accepted by the maharaja, disallowed making of laws to acquire land in the state “for any purpose”, and also held that no future Constitution of India could be imposed on the state.
This was 1947 and the circumstances were hardly of the maharaja’s choosing. Pashtun ‘tribesmen’ and Pakistani mercenaries were knocking at the doors of Srinagar.
When the Indian Constitution came into force on 26th January 1950, J&K was listed as a Part B state, only to be included through a subsequent amendment under Article 1, as India’s 15th state – an irrevocable “territory of India”. Article 370 continued to be in force. Article 35A was added through a presidential order in 1954, defining who qualified as a permanent resident of J&K, laws regarding property purchase, ownership of properties by permanent residents, etc.
In the 70 years that followed, this ‘crown’ of India blessed with nature’s beauty, bounty and beautiful people has been the bone of contention between India & Pakistan. Thrice the two nations have gone to war, each time returning to a stalemate and status quo. Sometimes, we lost vital ground captured through soldiers’ blood due to political bungling or capitulation. Pakistan on its part continued to pursue its strategy of ‘bleeding India through a million cuts’ by proxy war and sponsoring of terror outfits. Who gained from this is not clear; perhaps the Pak Army who found their raison d’être in keeping this pot on boil.
Who lost is however very evident. The average Kashmiri who wanted to live in peace and get access to jobs and better opportunities for their children, never found escape from the endless cycle of violence and bloodshed. Caught in the crossfire, two generations of Kashmiris grew up staring down gun barrels at an economy in ruins.
This set up a perfect breeding ground for separatism and extremism. Loyalties were split between the iron-fist rule emanating from Delhi (often softened by ‘winning hearts & minds’ campaign of the Indian Army), and separatists and Pak-sponsored outfits fomenting terror and civil unrest against authority. Their own elected leaders, through whom any change in the status quo was to be enacted, failed to bridge the gap between autonomy and Indian control promised by the ‘temporary’ provisions of Article 370. The only lasting solution – a political one – continued to elude the state.
Geography Becomes History
That status quo crumbled 5th August 2019 with Modi government’s ‘surgical strike’ on Article 370, rendering it defunct while scrapping Art 35A and splitting the state into two Union Territories (UT) of J&K and Ladakh. The UT of J&K will have a legislature while Ladakh will not have one.
The legislation breezed through Rajya Sabha with a 2/3rd majority and is hardly expected to find any resistance in the Lok Sabha where BJP has total dominance. An opposition, headless and disoriented after Modi 2.0, watches on like a deer caught in the headlights. Few sound bytes of criticism and alarm were quickly drowned in the din.
With a communication blackout and hordes of additional troops and paramilitary forces pushed into J&K, it is difficult today to assess the sentiment of the average Kashmiri at ground zero. The long-term implications of this move is yet to be fully comprehended. Historians and avid Kashmir-watchers aver that celebrations would be premature and unsound. That hasn’t stopped the bhakts from rejoicing on the streets.
Surgery Without Anaesthesia
This government’s appetite for the spectacular over substantive has been on display since 2014 from sudden, sometimes reckless moves like demonetization. Black money and corruption that was purported to be attacked through demonetization landed a kick on the belly of poor and middle-class folks while crony capitalism continues unabated. Intelligence failure that allowed the Pulwama attack was answered with cross-border air strikes as a general election loomed. Economy and industrial output continues to languish in the face of high-decibel announcements.
Public opinion has been whipped into a frenzy that brooks no debate or disagreement with government policy, veiled as they are in seemingly noble intentions. How can one possibly disagree with an attack on black money (demonetization), cross-border air strikes on terrorists camps, a foreign policy blitzkrieg through ‘hugboat diplomacy’ and oratory that mesmerizes? All this while, the opposition lies decimated, unable to match the multi-pronged, high-calibre ‘weapons of mass mobilization’ the BJP government led by PM Modi has unleashed.
Rahul Gandhi, and in turn the Congress party, has been reduced to something that resembles Rajesh Khanna with his stubble walking aimlessly in the song “zindagi ke safar mein guzar jaate hai jo makam” from the 1970s Bollywood movie ‘Aap ki Kasam’. They are literally choking over the by-products of their own UPA’s 10-year rule marked by pacifism and status quo.
Only history will reveal the long-term implications of setting aside Art 370 and downgrade of a state to a UT. History has a way of revealing itself with much more nuance than obtained through the nasha provided by social media channels.
A few thoughts on this occasion, not in any particular order, are penned below for wider reflection by fellow citizens and policy makers:
The basic idea of India – that of inclusivity, diversity and secularism – must remain sacrosanct always
Any move towards majoritarianism or autocracy runs against the founding principles of our nation state.
Humility is a virtue, more important in success than in defeat
If there is any sense of victory in the recent actions of our government, it should be tempered abundantly with humility. The government’s first duty is towards the safety, security and freedom of its citizens. Nobody should be left feeling marginalised.
Public communications must not only be focused on fostering inclusiveness, it should be seen as such
Dissent should not be seen or received as anti-national. The brazen toxicity flowing through social media channels should be doused with informed discourse on the pros and cons of this move.
We must let go of the idea fast gaining traction in our society that ‘you are either with us or against us’
Deep engagements with all stakeholders and dissenting voices must replace shallow chest-thumping and sloganeering. The trolls must be reined in. Many hide behind obscure names and pour vitriol into public perception.
Stop labelling people with catch phrases that galvanise mobs and reduce intellectual discourse to a joke
Is it fair to label people with differing opinions as ‘cocktail circuit’, ‘sickular’, ‘tukde tukde gang’, pseudo-liberals, pseudo-intellectuals, etc? Are we being patriotic by encouraging such divisive thoughts? Remember, blind adulation of one man’s ideology set against an almost intellectually & financially bankrupt society contributed to the holocaust and WWII.
The people of J&K need our empathy, support and unconditional love now more than ever. So do other minorities who may feel threatened with recent developments
India does not live in the cities. Large swathes of India still belong to native communities that have special provisions under the constitution. These have been put in place to protect their unique identity, traditional sources of livelihood and prevent exploitation by vested interests. The J&K example should not be extrapolated without careful consideration of native interests.
Lastly, and most importantly.
If ever there was a greater need for Operation Sadbhavana or ‘winning hearts & minds’, it is NOW
Do not drag those in uniform into polarised debates centred around government decisions. The armed forces are the state’s last bastion – meant to protect national interests against external threats. A lot of olive green, white and blue blood has been spilt over the last seven decades in implementing the nation’s writ upon its own people in J&K. It is easy to view the current developments as a victory or vindication of sorts for the armed forces. There cannot be any victory for the armed forces against its own people. That is for banana republics. The armed forces of India have always been above politics. The gun must always be trained at the enemy, never at our own. Remember, our words can sometimes hurt more than bullets and shells.
May our brothers and sisters of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh find lasting peace, access to more jobs and opportunities, a landscape free of fear and terror, and embrace the warmth and affection of a billion fellow citizens of India, now and going forward. It is the government’s bounden duty to facilitate this.
Together, let us reclaim the paradise that was lost to bullets and pellets. May history be kind to us.
©KP Sanjeev Kumar, 2019. All rights reserved. Views are personal. Cover photo of Ladakh courtesy Offbeat Tracks, an experiential travel planner founded by an army brat and avid traveller. Image used with permission.