For an Indian who seeks to make sense of the current turmoil of politics, it is only natural to turn for guidance to the Mahabharata. When, during the general election of 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was likened to the arrogant Duryodhana, there was outrage at what was considered an offensive comparison.
However, to me, it seemed that there was some justification in it. After all, as the epic proudly tells us, there is nothing in the world that is not in the Mahabharata. In August 2019, after the manner in which Article 370 that gave special status and notional autonomy to the state of Jammu and Kashmir was emasculated, it is worth considering the pairing in the epic of Dhritarashtra and Duryodhana.
The blind king Dhritarashtra, unable to oppose the ambitions of his favourite heir, accedes to the plan to hollow out Article 370. The people are not consulted. Stealth and trickery are used. All communication channels are suspended. Opponents are arrested. A huge security operation is mounted. Custodians of the Indian Constitution are co-opted. A region is demoted from state to a Union territory. A jingoistic national discourse is set into motion. Raj dharma is redefined. Political will alone prevails.
In this episode, one sees similarities with Duryodhana’s attempt to take over the lake (not Dal surely?) that was guarded by Gandharvas for their king Chitrasena. In the battle that ensued between the Gandharvas and the Kauravas, conventional weapons as well as illusion and wizardry were employed. Duryodhana was captured and could only be saved by the intervention of the virtuous Pandavas. But where are the Pandavas?
Who will speak?
In the epic, Sanjaya, the narrator to Dhritarashtra, realises that he must say what the blind king wishes to hear. The yearning for fame, power, and glory have made the king blind. Bhishma, who today could have counseled otherwise, unfortunately lies on his bed of arrows, dismayed by the adharma that he sees about him. His loyalty doubted, his person ignored, he remains silent.
With Sanjaya and Bhishma both unavailable, someone has to speak up. Who will? Vidura. But who is Vidura? Along with with Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Prem Shankar Jha, I, sirs, wish herewith to submit my humble application for the above post.
I begin by offering my deepest respects to Rishi Vyasa.
In the days to come, the legal case on Kashmir will wind its way through the Indian Supreme Court as law, reason and politics – not necessarily in equal measure – will seek to determine whether the abrogation of Article 370 was constitutionally valid. The court will opine on the merits of the argument offered by the government that the prime minister is the cabinet, the cabinet the president, the president the governor, the governor the state assembly, and the state assembly the people.
It will examine whether Article 2, which allows for promotion of a region or Union Territory to a state, also allows for demotion of a state to Union territory, a process that results in a significant loss of rights and authority. It will also look at Article 3, considering whether President Ram Nath Kovind should have solicited the views of the state assembly before the boundary of a state could be changed. It will review the federalism question and determine whether the action undermines the Constitution’s the basic structure.
Since these will be extensively debated, let me shift to a discussion of the political issues involved.
As the Bharatiya Janata Party’s stock rises, and as the feverish nationalist celebrations die, a new politics will remerge. The first realisation will be that we have handed both Pakistan and the militants an issue whereby Kashmir, which was a page three conflict, has now become a page one dispute.
As Kashmir moves from an emergency situation to normalcy (whatever that implies), curfew will be lifted, the massive troop presence withdrawn, communications restored, elections to the new Union territory held, the diminished assembly convened, and residents allowed back onto the streets, people will re-enter politics.
They will, however, not follow the script written by our shahenshah. They will be sullen. They will be unified in their opposition to the Delhi imposed political order. This happened after Emergency was lifted in 1977. The people of Kashmir will be susceptible to inducements from across the border. They will demand maximum freedom. A politics of protest will increase from stone pelting to something far worse. Youth will be involved. Women will be involved. Seven million people will act in unison. The future looks grim.
Having delegitimised the political groups within Kashmir – such as the National Conference, the Peoples Democratic Party and others who supported the Indian political order – the jodi will be badly placed to deliver on their promises that the abrogation of 370 was done to bring about genuine development of the state. What will be the instruments that deliver this development?
If 30% of those employed in the territory work in the government sector, and since this group feels betrayed, it is hard to imagine that they will deliver the promised benefits willingly and joyfully. Similarly the local police forces, demoralised by the arrogance of a security establishment that takes its orders from Delhi, will hardly try and win over a population hostile to the Delhi duopoly.
Thirdly, while the government is making efforts to attract private corporations to invest in the state, and while the consulting firm Ernest and Young has prepared a road map for investment, will such investment actually emerge? After all, the staff of these companies, concerned with their children’s education, family health, housing and security, will have to function in a hostile environment. Do we know how much investment flowed into Jammu and Kashmir after the October 2012 meeting between Rahul Gandhi and Ratan Tata and Kumarmangalam Birla in Kashmir University?
And even if corporations do invest because of coercion by Delhi, will the investment be on a significant scale to be able to address the employment crises in the state? Investments take three years to fructify and to buy peace with jobs. What will happen in the interim period? Why has big industry not invested in a big way in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, states ruled by the BJP?
Many questions. Few answers. Lots of bluster. And from where will the investment come during this current phase when net investments across the country are at a 14-year low?
But the list above comprises only secondary questions. The primary question is whether any Indian state has been able to develop without the dynamism of a political process? Can a state without the participation of regional and local leaders, competitive parties, aspiring politicians who promise to “bring development”, non-party political formations (or civil society), protest movements such as those on the environment “bring development”? Will the promised development come from the policies made by the big five global consultancies to which Niti Aayog has sold its nationalist mind, when they are made sans the instruments of delivery?
History shows that in states where no political process exists, cronyism and kleptomania flourish. Since there is no political process in Jammu and Kashmir, and no possibility of a democratic one emerging in the new future – the fledgling stuttering democracy of the state having been delegitimised by a stroke of the president’s pen – how will the Delhi durbar make good its promise? Or even how will it exit its folly?
Duryodhana had the Pandavas to extricate him from the battle for the lake with Chitrasena. Will the Supreme Court be the Pandavas and oblige?
Peter Ronald deSouza is a former Director of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla.