A year on in Jammu & Kashmir: more fears than cheers

 By Harsev Bains

August 5 marked the end of a year since the infamous steps were taken in parliament to nullify Article 370 of the constitution that provided for special status to the state of Jammu & Kashmir and the damaging legislation which dismembered the state and created in its stead two union territories (1) – Jammu & Kashmir on the one hand, and Ladakh on the other. At one stroke, the Hindutva rulers reneged on the promise made to the people of Kashmir at the time of the accession to India in 1947 that J&K will be accorded autonomy.

There was widespread jubilation in the BJP camp and its leaders made explicit statements that next in line for full integration with India were POK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) and Aksai Chin. The euphoric reverberations sounded by the BJP and its cohorts immediately after the shredding of Article 370 of the Constitution of India, did not last long, however.

Home minister, Amit Shah, was triumphant as he pushed through the illegal constitutional amendment and legislation in parliament, humiliating the people of J&K and doing away with the only Muslim majority state in India. This dastardly deed was done by converting the state into a vast prison – around 40,000 troops were deployed, a 24-hour curfew imposed across the state, people confined to their homes, all communications (including internet, mobile phone and television) cut off and the media shut down. Leaders and activists of political parties, except the BJP, and other public personalities were arrested, either under the draconian Public Safety Act, or, detained in their houses without written orders.

The Modi government strategy

The strategy that the government had adopted was: to muzzle the voices of the people and put the leadership of major political parties in detention.

Primarily, these were the leaders who have stood with the J& K’s integration with the Indian State, taking an oath of allegiance to uphold the Constitution of the Republic of India. Former chief ministers, ministers, sitting MPs, former MLAs of the J & K legislative assembly were arrested or put under house arrest. Prominent among them include: Mehbooba Mufti, Farooq Abdulla and his son Omar Abdulla, Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, Saifuddin Soz. Mehbooba Mufti continues to be in detention. Along with them there were thousands of people including lawyers, civil group activists and journalists etc., who were kept under detention for a long time.

The second part of the strategy was to win over a section of the people, especially those who were elected in local bodies, juxtapose them on to the erstwhile mainstream political leaders and project them as true representatives of the people. The mainstream political parties and their leadership were discredited through an incessant campaign unleashed by the BJP and its social media cell. One of the salvos was that a few ruling party families have usurped all the benefit of special status to Kashmir and they have amassed phenomenal wealth and all most of the grants aided from the centre is absorbed by them.”

The home minister of India Amit Shah was emphatic in stating that democratic governance had been absent in Kashmir as the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments that recognise and protect local government had not been implemented in the state; but with the nullification of the J & K’s constitution, local [government] bodies would be strengthened and would be able to govern themselves democratically. This was an absurd argument and falsifying the reality.

One year on

One year after shredding Article 370, has democracy been introduced into local bodies in J & K, and Ladakh too?

In Jammu “nothing has happened”, according to Talib Hussain, one of the delegates who met with the home minister of India after the nullification of J&K to discuss democratic participation. No efforts have been made to rejuvenate local governance and the Jammu government resembles a tamasha (pageant) run by the bureaucrats. He says people are being treated as praja with their raja, as subjects of the ruler, who sits in Delhi delivering sermons. “As the year has gone on, we have lost the sense of citizenry,’ he says. The people of Jammu who initially welcomed the change in the status are now repenting for their mistaken stance.

The most scathing indictment of the one-year rule comes from Khursheed Malik, a former local government chair, who unsuccessfully contested an election to be a Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) for the BJP party in the Kashmir valley. Khursheed says the past year has been a sham for the local authority governance, even if that is what the BJP wanted to promote to counter the mainstream parties. The BJP has been ruling J & K virtually alone over the last two years and there is no moral authority that prevails in the valley, he added. The party is treating the state of J & K as a colony and those who believed that the local government bodies would be empowered have been proven fools, he argues.

For Narender Singh Raju, former Mayor of Jammu, “the situation has gone from bad to worse.” Even the British bureaucrats during the colonial era would have been dwarfed by the present bureaucracy in the region: they have usurped unlimited powers, Narender argues. The Jammu region will also see demographic change. Nearly 0.4 million domicile certificates have been issued by the BJP-led government in the region and this has serious implications for the native and traditional communities residing in Jammu. He says the people of Jammu were not against providing domicile to outsiders but the Himachal Pradesh state model (which prohibits the sale of agricultural land to non-residents) should have been adopted.  

In the plateau region of Ladakh the situation is not much better. After the initial jubilation at being granted the status of a union territory, now there are more fears than cheers. There are fears that the changes brought in land and domicile issues that will ignite a movement akin to the north eastern part of India, with demands of secession and terrorism leading to alienation and loss of faith in BJP/RSS rule.

Showcasing nationalism

The Modi regime may be celebrating this past year and using it as a showcase of its pro-nationalist agenda. But on the ground, the reality is that the party and the government have miserably failed to gain even a single supporter. But more than that, the people of the region have lost in terms of resources and in their rights to be a citizen of this country. 

In this throttling of democracy and democratic rights, the Modi regime has set new records. The internet was shut down for months. Even after a year, Kashmir has only limited access to an unreliable 2G network. The clampdown badly affected the economy and commerce in the state. With the second lockdown due to the Covid 19 pandemic, the livelihood of farmers and ordinary people has suffered crippling blows.

The pandemic-lockdown is being utilised to push through measures to reshape Jammu & Kashmir as a union territory. Reduction of seats for the truncated assembly has been initiated; a new domicile policy has been enforced by which persons from outside J&K can get domicile status which will enable them to get jobs and buy land. This is the beginning of a project to change the demography of the valley.

The attack on J&K, which was initiated a year ago, should not be seen in isolation. It was a precursor to the heightened onslaught on democracy, secularism and federalism initiated during the second stint of the Modi government.

The next legislative step after dismantling Jammu & Kashmir as a state was the adoption of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in parliament and the repression let loose against those protesting against the CAA and the National Register of Citizens across the country.

The authoritarian regime has been reinforced by the extensive use of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and sedition law. The use of the Public Safety Act in J&K foreshadowed this.

A media policy was announced which is nothing but a brazen attempt to intimidate the media and gag journalists. Lawsuits against journalists followed in J&K, where two journalists are in jail under the UAPA.

The warning is clear: the secular and democratic forces in the rest of India, the rights of states and secularism will all meet the fate of J&K.

Violation of state secularism

August 5 was chosen as the date for “bhoomi pujan”, ceremony of the Ram temple at Ayodhya. This date was chosen deliberately – the demolition of J&K and the building of the temple at the site of the Babri Masjid – are both part of the core agenda of the Hindutva forces.

The prime minister Narendra Modi laying the first brick in the foundation ceremony of a religious place of worship is a violation of the secular principle of the state.

Thanks to the judgment of the Supreme Court – it was based on dubious grounds – the building of the Ram temple at Ayodhya in the northern state of UP has been legitimised. The court, which held the demolition of the mosque “as a serious violation of law”, sanctioned the building of the temple, giving primacy to the faith of the majority. The same Supreme Court has not found the time to give a verdict on the constitutional amendment and legislation which illegally tampered with Article 370 and dismantled a state. This is another instance of judicial evasion.

The onslaught of the BJP/RSS Hindutva forces must be unitedly resisted in India and abroad. It is not enough to merely seek the release of political prisoners and restoration of democratic rights. This is a compromising stand. The fight for democracy, secularism and federalism requires a clear-cut stand – statehood along with special status for J&K must be restored.

Harsev Bains is National vice President, Indian Workers’ Association GB (Established 1938)

Photo: CC by Kashmir Global

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