Who benefits from the abrogation of Article 370?

In this piece Waseem Makai argues that the abrogation of Article 370 from the Indian Constitution helps the pro-freedom movement in Kashmir in two ways: by further delegitimizing pro-India politics in Kashmir and through BJP’s communal agenda which brings Indian and Kashmiri Muslims together.

The abrogation of Article 370 was so much of a historical blunder, from an Indian perspective, that it pushed historian Ramachandra Guha to equate it with the demolition of Babri Masjid. In this short essay, I will try to underline two major reasons as to why the decision of BJP government to scrap Article 370 is impotent to breed anything cheerful for India. The decision to rip J&K off its special status has to be placed into the context generated by the developments that followed the abrogation, clubbed with the prevailing communally charged up political climate across India. On doing so, one finds the India state loosing at all of the fronts, prominent among these being de-legitimization of pro-India politics in J&K and infusion of communal anxieties into the minds of Kashmiri people at the hands of BJP leadership and its followers.

The state and fate of the pro-India politics in Kashmir:

This is for the celebration of Hurriyat in the valley, primarily the stalwart Syed Ali Geelani, who stand vindicated in their long held position towards India. What has underpinned their stance is the ‘olive branch’ of special status which the pro-India parties used to bargain with the public for their votes, stands expunged. During the 2015 assembly elections, both BJP and PDP made substantial use of this olive branch. During the election campaign, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, former chief minister of J&K dared BJP. “PDP will be rock solid wall when it comes to defend the special status of Jammu & Kashmir. No one will be permitted to degenerate its special position, he said. During a Public rally in Doda, Mehbooba Mufti accused BJP of polarizing the state on “communal lines” to “gain political mileage”. “Doing so, it (BJP) is playing with the fire”, she said.

Now witness the paradigm shift on the occasion of oath ceremony when the PDP forged an alliance with the BJP. Mufti said, “PDP forged alliance with BJP out of conviction and not convenience…..We want to make PDP-BJP alliance a turning point in history…..We want to connect Kashmiri people with rest of India….” PDP’s master-mind and Mufti’s close ally, Haseeb Drabu, started one of his articles by noting that “The BJP wants to abrogate it (Article 370). All the regional parties, in rare union, want to defend it”. The same very defender of Article 370, who supposedly made people aware of BJP’s evil design to erode it, became the co-architect of BJP-PDP alliance. For this, he was duly rewarded. He was made the finance minister of the state, later on ousted with humiliation.

Trading fear in return of votes is something that runs generic among the politicians of the J&K. Even the new comers like Shah Faesal were not unbeknownst of this card. During the recent parliamentary elections, Shah Faesal shared a news item on his Facebook account headlined: “BJP leads in Burhan’s and Musa’s Tral” with a caption ‘Thanks to Boycott’. What he meant actually was support him and keep BJP at bay. The thought is already well penetrated among the masses that pro-India politicians are nothing but pawns in the hands of New Delhi and are used to portray a democratic picture to the world.

A.G.Noorani’s account states that when Vajpayee was fed up with Farooq Abdullah, he created PDP. Betraying the historical realities, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed once claimed “Kashmir was the only state with Muslim majority that accessed with India with its own consent”. How was he compensated for his services by Modi when he (Modi) addressed to him (Mufti) on a public platform and said, “I don’t need anybody’s advice on Kashmir issue”.

When Tahir Sofi of Baramulla was killed by the Indian army in a very peaceful atmosphere, Omar Abdullah cried his eyes out in the assembly. “I don’t have any control over what Army does”, he said later. During the uprising of 2016, Mehbooba blamed Omar by saying that it was him who introduced pellet guns into Kashmir. To this, Omar Abdullah responded, “if I had this prerogative, as CM, to introduce pellet guns, then you must also, as CM, have the same prerogatives to get it banned”. The point both made was they were nothing but pawns and had no say either to introduce or ban the lethal weapon.

Having said so, the politicians from mainstream still had some say to allure masses on different accounts, making them believe that they had a considerable capacity to change things for the good. As politicians belonging to each stratum are now languishing in jails or confined within the walls of their homes, any novel claim to restore ties with India is surely going to enjoy little currency. Even if BJP manages to install a new front by throwing some proxies to the dice, it would be a herculean task for them to generate the political mileage that is required to build a façade of normalcy and democracy. All in all, the undermining of the pro-India politics is inversely proportional to the success of pro-freedom politics.

The Communal Politics:

Much before the hell of partition broke lose in 1947, the communal side of Hindus of India had started to propel on the scene. In 1882, Bankam Chandra Chattopadhyay wrote the fiction “Anandmath” in which he had put forth the vision for a Muslim-Free Bangal. The same “Anandmath” that gave India the national song ‘Vande Matram’ and subsequent ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ slogan which steeped in the hues of Hindu nationalism. He called Muslims the ‘bearded degenerates’ undermining their contribution in the Sanyasi Movement on which the novel was loosely based. He added through Jnanananda, the most accomplished disciple of Satyananda, that “for a long time we’ve been wanting to smash the nest of these weaver birds, to raze the city of these Muslim foreigners and throw it into the river - to burn the enclosure of these swine and purify Mother Earth again! Brothers that day has come!” When “Anandmath” first found space on bookshelves in the early 1880s, writes Ziya us Salam, the Muslims were no longer the rulers, the last of the Mughals having been vanquished over 25 years ago. The passing of political power from the hands of the Muslims to the British meant that Chattopadhyay did not have to look over his shoulder while portraying Muslims as asuras.

Nearly 90 years ago a journal called “Hum Panch” came into being with a five-fold mission on the cover – Hindu Sangathan (Organization), Shuddhi Sanskar (Culture of Reconversion), Achhootddhar (Removal of Untouchability), Samaj Sudhar (Social Reform), Hindi Prachar (Spread of Hindi) and a motto on its cover page that openly spelt out its goal of restoring the dignity of Hindus, saving the Hindu name, bringing Hindu rule of India and waking up Hindus from their slumber. Hindu Panch would focus on reports of Muslims attacking and abducting Hindu girls and widows, carrying highly objectionable columns like ‘Choti Banam Dadhi’ (Brahmin Tuft versus Muslim Beard) where Muslims would be derided. What “Hum Panch” sought to achieve through goals like Hindu Sangathan and Shuddhi Sanskar in 1920s is sought to be done by the Katherias and their appeal for Hindu sangathan besides various ghar wapasi campaigns in Agra.

In over 90 years, nothing has changed, except the communal mindset is getting unbridled day by day and enjoying apparent impunity. It was a continuation of this mindset of which the upshots were felt recently. As the aftermath of Pulwama attack, Kashmiris became the target of Hindu mobs across the country. A combatant suicide bomber had attacked a combatant convoy and latter avenged the incursion through launching surgical strikes but unarmed and non-combatant Kashmiris were thrashed, abused and kicked out of their residential places. A violent mob cordoned off the girls hostel in Chandigarh which had Kashmiri girls hoarded inside. Two colleges in Dehradun had to issue official statements that they wouldn’t admit Kashmiri students in their colleges henceforth.

Frequent incidents of lynching in broad daylight and denial of justice to the victims adds to the apprehensions of Muslim residents of Jammu and Kashmir. Between May 2015 and December 2018, at least 44 people — 36 of them Muslims — were killed in 12 Indian states, according to Human Rights Watch. In the same period, about 280 people sustained injuries in more than 100 such incidents in 20 states. Pahlu Khan’s case, in the words of Harsh Mander, was a chronicle of acquittal foretold.

Pehlu Khan had listed six men in his statement in hospital before he died. The police did not follow the legal requirement of obtaining a certificate from a doctor that he was fit to give the statement, enabling the court to discount it. Months after the lynching, says Mander, NDTV reporters captured on secret camera the main accused, Vipin Yadav, bragging. “We kept beating him (Pehlu Khan) up for one and a half hours,” he told the undercover reporters. “First there were 10 people, then the crowd swelled”. But this video was neither authenticated, nor presented before the court. The victims were not even made to identify the accused.

In the backdrop of this communally stuffed landscape, Kashmiris were at the receiving end of obnoxious and misogynistic comments from BJP’s elite leadership. While addressing a gathering about Article 370, Vikram Singh Saini, a politician from the ruling BJP, said the party workers were “excited” by the change as they can now marry “fair girls from Kashmir”. His statement was met with applause. A report by TRT said that: “Article 370 changes embolden misogynistic trolls in India” post abrogation. The top searches on Google in India were ‘Kashmiri women’ or ‘how to marry Kashmiri women’. ‘Kashmiri girl pic’ topped the Google trend list in India. A whole new sub-genre of songs emerged about getting Kashmiri daughter-in-laws and buying land in valley, most of them being cringe pop.

Such humiliating and derogatory treatment at the hands of Indian leadership and masses is definitely going to squeeze any little space that was availed by Pro-Indian coterie in the valley. Hence, the pro-freedom sentiment that has been simmering over a long period now has found one more justification for its stand of resentment. The fate of Indian Muslims is wretched. So shall be ours. This has changed the political equation in the valley to a large extent. It has evoked the relevance of two-nation theory anew and made the Muslims of India comply with the Kashmiri Muslims on a common ground. The Muslims living in India who would boastfully claim “We are Indians by choice, not by birth” are now facing the existential threat in their homeland.

On witnessing the assault on the very Muslim identity of Kashmiris, it has set the bell ringing for them too. The recent verdict on Babri Masjid too was a rung in the very same ladder which finds at its top a project of Hindu Rashtra. Notable constitutional expert Faizan Mustafa, in an interview to Huffington Post claimed: “It can be said that the ruling in favour of Ram Lalla was passed on the basis of an inconclusive ASI report because the Court had simultaneously admitted that the report does not conclusively state that a Ram temple existed under the Babri Masjid. Based on these observations of the court it seems, religious belief was given prominence”. Retired Supreme Court Judge Ashok Ganguly also lamented that “minorities have been wronged”.

As a natural concomitant of it, the gap that earlier used to exist between the Muslims of Kashmir and the Muslims of India seems to get replaced by a sense of belonging, who are apprehensive of a common enemy. Yes, the response of Kashmiri Muslims will be according to their own political settings and that of Indian Muslims, in a different framework.

Tailpiece:

The entire process to usurp J&K from its prowess, even though symbolic only, was aimed to change the demography of it and through that wash off its disputed character. But, given the volatile conditions of valley and fueled by different new factors mentioned above, this seems only a pie in the sky. Kashmir was not an issue because of its special identity; it just provided more sanctity to it. Earlier, the movement for right to self-determination was operating in a given setting, now it will be ushered into a different mode. This is not the end. It is just a paradigm shift.

Views expressed in this piece are authors own and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Wande Magazine.