In a single stroke of decisions, the Indian government has revoked Articles 370 and 35A that gave Jammu and Kashmir notional automony and split the state into two Union territories. While there are questions about the legal soundness of these decisions, their moral illegitimacy lies in the fact that none of the stakeholders in Jammu and Kashmir have been consulted.
Mainstream and moderate political leaders have been put under house arrest, all means of communication cut, curfew imposed and massive army troops deployed in the region for a few days before the government’s announcement of the decision in parliament. This means that communication among even the normal peace-loving people and their leaders is severely restricted, their mobility constrained, and no news is coming out of the region.
One must ask how would the people have taken a decision in any other part of the country if their state was converted into a Union territory status or with incidents such as the earlier use of pellet guns, which caused grievous harm to ordinary people including children and women?
It clearly shows the discriminatory attitude of Indian state towards people of Jammu and Kashmir, primarily on religious basis, and at the same time demonstrates tremendous restraint people of Jammu and Kashmir have shown in the face of adverse situations. Because of a sustained right-wing propaganda even the Indian people have come to believe the majoritarian mindset that Jammu and Kashmir unfairly enjoys some special status. A separate constitution for Jammu and Kashmir may sound obnoxious but the fact is, it is the constitution of Jammu and Kashmir which says that it is an integral part of India, not the Indian Constitution. And what privileges can people enjoy under a long-term military like rule?
There are other instances from around the country where people have asserted their autonomy. Nagaland wants a separate Constitution and flag. It believes in the idea of co-existence with India without subjecting itself to Indian Constitution. Siddaramaiah’s Karnataka government decided to have its own flag, the second state in the country after Jammu and Kashmir to do so. Bihar’s Rabri Devi and West Bengal’s Mamta Banerjee, as chief ministers, decided not to subject themselves to the prime minister of the day and violated the protocols. Tamil Nadu doesn’t agree to the three-language formula of national education policy because of its opposition to imposition of Hindi.
Article 243G of the Constitution envisions self-rule at the village panchayat level. The idea of autonomy is at the core of democracy. Rather than opposing the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, other states should have demanded a similar status for deepening of democracy. Then there are sovereign individuals within the country, like the infamous Unnao MLA from Uttar Pradesh, Kuldeep Singh Sengar, presently in news for wrong reasons, who refuse to subject themselves to the rule of law and the governments usually go along with them. His accomplices have openly fired at senior police officials of the Unnao district on more occasions than one. But that is pardonable because he has chosen to be with the party in power. We don’t feel threatened by him but are quite alarmed to see the picture of a child or woman pelting stones at security forces in Kashmir. Is the bias religiously coloured?
All this unilateral curbing of basic political and societal freedom of Jammu and Kashmir people and their leaders amounts to plain murder of democracy by the government of India. The backdrop of this draconian decision of the government constitutes the utter mishandling of Kashmir’s situation in the past five years as well as the mismanagement of India’s economy and employment over the past three years.
Recent worsening of both Jammu and Kashmir situation and India’s economy have been unprecedented in the past few decades. In fact, the emotional issue of Jammu and Kashmir is probably being used as a smokescreen to camouflage the rapid disinvestment of public sector undertakings taking place at this time.
The number of terrorist incidents, deaths of Indian military personnel and overt protests by ordinary Kashmiri people against security forces have risen rapidly between 2014 and 2019. It culminated in the imposition of President’s rule in Jammu and Kashmir in 2018. This indicates constant mishandling of Jammu and Kashmir’s political and social situation by the Narendra Modi government, growing resentment among Kashmiri people, and breakdown of communication between the central government and the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
A parallel trend has been the spiraling of India’s economy, disinvestment of government-owned firms, industrial and employment situations over the past three years (since demonetisation), which has accelerated in recent months. This grim economic story reflects in slowing GDP, rising unemployment, rising bank non-performing assets, the flight of foreign investment, rising fiscal deficit, and falling industrial outputs and consumption. Some industries, notably automobile, are witnessing absolute drops in production by 10%-30%.
In recent days, several respected industry leaders have gathered courage to openly voice their concerns about India’s economy despite the prevailing environment of fear of the present government. Experts have raised serious doubts about the economy and employment data released by the government that remains in denial about the economic situation. All this shows gross mismanagement of India’s economy and banks by the Modi government.
Spectre of nationalism
From these trends it appears that Modi government is once again trying to hide its incompetency in managing India’s economy, employment and security situations by invoking the false spectre of nationalism. Ironically, in the name of politics of nationalism, national assets are up for sale. The government’s propaganda and event management are ably supported by a lot of mainstream media and IT/social media cells of the party and its supporters. These cells specialise in creating and spreading exaggerated as well as blatantly fake news posts that fuel people’s irrational fears and emotions.
This kind of nationalism is xenophobic and parasitic as it aims to pit our own people against each other and divide them. It not only diverts our attention from the real problems of erosions in economy, employment, financial governance and basic freedoms of citizens, but also degrades us culturally and morally as a society.
It’s likely that many of the ordinary people of Jammu and Kashmir, including those who have been largely democratic and peace-loving in the midst of militancy and violence during all these decades, might now adopt hardened views against the Indian government. It’s likely that communication will break down even more and distrust will deepen. If the Indian government responds by increasing the presence of armed forces in the region, many more rounds of vicious cycle might be in store. What will this mean for the future of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of us?
Sandeep Pandey is a social-political activist. Rahul Pandey is an academic, entrepreneur and activist.