A lot has already been written about the possible motivations of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah when they made their decision to revoke the special status that Jammu and Kashmir had enjoyed since Independence and partition the state into two Union Territories.
Beyond the subjugation of seven million people in the Valley, denying them their fundamental rights, blacking out most means of communication, arresting thousands of people, gagging the media and betraying the sovereign commitments made to the people of Kashmir, the decision is also seen as a precursor to many actions the Bharatiya Janata Party wants carry out in its second term.
But if the party wants to build a temple in Ayodhya on the site of the demolished Babri Masjid, to abolish reservations in educational institutions and government jobs for members of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes and hold simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and State Assemblies, much will depend on how it manages Kashmir.
Not only will the government be waiting to see how Kashmiris will react when the curfew is relaxed, it is also watching how the rest of the civil society responds to its assault on democracy. Will civil society look at the legal attack on Kashmir as a sign of a process that will spread across the country?
One thing is clear: what happens in Kashmir will define what will happen to India’s democracy.
Equally important for the BJP is what is happening in the Narmada valley. For more than 35 years, the Narmada Bachao Andolan has been highlighting the flaws in the manner in which the Sardar Sarovar dam project across the river has been conceptualised and how the rehabilitation policies have failed nearly 41,000 families in the reservoir alone. Nearly a million people have been directly or indirectly displaced by the project’s vast canal network, the areas acquired for compensatory afforestation and more.
Today 32,000 families are left in the Narmada valley with no rehabilitation. There are no plans, or land, for to rehabilitate them, even though this has made a condition by a government-appointed tribunal. There is a dam wall of resistance, which the BJP government has failed to break.
That is why they have decided to drown the villages. Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani has announced that the dam will be filled to its full reservoir level of 138 mts by October. This will submerge the areas in the backwaters, displacing even more people. The government has made this decision despite voluminous documentary evidence of its colossal failure in rehabilitating thousands of families.
In an attempt to forestall this, Narmada Bachao Andolan leader MedhaPatkar has been on an indefinite hunger strike in the valley since August 25, even as her health deteriorated precariously on Sunday.
While villages are flooded and residents left with no place to go, Prime Minister Modi expressed his delight at the dam being filled.
Why is filling the dam, drowning the villages and flushing people out like rats important for Modi and Shah?
During his Independence Day speech, Modi announced that Rs 100 lakh crores will be invested in infrastructure projects. These include five industrial corridors, which will have an impact directly or indirectly on 43% of India’s land mass, by way of land acquisition or the actual infrastructure for these corridors; the Sagarmala project, which will upgrade 12 major ports and 185 minor ports, affecting 3,600 fishing villages; the Bharatmala plan to build 65,000 kms of highways; the plan to improve 111 national waterways; and the project to build 100 Smart Cities across the country.
The areas where these projects are conceived are thickly populated. It would not be surprising to expect resistance from the people who will lose their homes, lands and their livelihood.
If the government obviously believes that if it is able to break the back of Narmada Andolan, despite its long history of struggle and widespread popular support, it can break any resistance.
Narmada and Kashmir thus become the testing grounds for the government. People in both the valleys have, for decades, attempted to withstand the excesses of the state. How the rest of India reacts to event here will script the future of our democracy in the years to come.
Joe Athialy is a social activist in Delhi.