The Narendra Modi government’s decision to do away with the special status of Jammu and Kashmir vividly illustrates the essentially undemocratic nature of Hindutva politics. The Modi government and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) believe the massive majority they command in the Lok Sabha has given them the right to impose their will on the people.
This belief stems from the peculiar nature of our democracy. The BJP swept North India in 2019 to muster 303 seats in the Lok Sabha. Yet it couldn’t win a single seat in Kashmir, where a militant secessionist movement is now nearly three decades old. The state’s myriad problems and the endemic political instability are rooted in the Valley. It is the Kashmiri Muslims who either want to redefine their relationship with India or break away from it, not the people of Jammu and Ladakh regions.
Yet the party ruling at the Centre did not even consult the Kashmiris, let alone take their wishes into account. Nor is it that they voted for the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha; the party didn’t win a seat in the Valley. From this perspective, the Modi government’s decisions did not have the consent of Kashmiris and is, therefore, undemocratic.
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This means that a veritable Hindtuva-on-steroids can target a section of people anywhere in India, regardless of whether or not they have elected a BJP MP. Their rights can be quashed, their wishes ignored. Their discontent either ignored or stamped upon ruthlessly. As in Kashmir so in other parts of India, the BJP can deploy troops in an area before taking decisions inimical to them.
It is, in a way, democracy through the power of the gun.
Hindutva’s faith in this form of democracy is also precisely why most Bills enacted in the ongoing session of Parliament were not referred to a Select or Standing Committee. These were passed without legal scrutiny, without trying to build consensus on them. This was the fate of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019 and the amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. In other words, the BJP is unwilling to dilute its Hindutva ideology, regardless of the social conflicts it may cause.
The Modi government’s surreptitious moves on Kashmir undermine the federal principle. State governments should quake at what might be in store for them. Perhaps they will draw solace from the BJP’s ambition to spread its footprint all over India. But states sending six or seven MPs will have reason to worry. Given the wide support the BJP now commands in North India, it will not matter to its leaders whether the people of electorally less significant states are alienated because of the Modi government’s decisions.
Indeed, the Hindi heartland is driving Indian politics. It is also true that the Hindi heartland is caught in a swirl of Hindutva. This has had a demoralising impact on leaders of regional outfits. They don’t wish to be perceived as opposing Hindutva, lest they are accused of being anti-Hindu. For instance, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was first off the block to announce support for the government’s decisions on Kashmir. With Uttar Pradesh as its only playground, the BSP fears its opposition to the Modi government on Kashmir could dash its hopes of revival.
No less shocking—and contradictory—was the stance of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who gratuitously offered support to the BJP when its leaders hadn’t even been asked for it. Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are due to face an Assembly election in just a few months. After four years of berating Modi, even mocking the surgical strike the government claimed to have taken against Pakistan in 2016, Kejriwal seems to have veered around to the view that opposing the government on Kashmir could tag him and his party anti-Hindu and anti-India, the two terms that are now increasingly synonymous. He presumably thought that the label could mar the party’s electoral fortunes.
Kejriwal’s is indeed a myopic view, from which other regional leaders, too, seem to suffer. If the status of Jammu and Kashmir can be reduced from State to Union Territory, the Modi government can very well enact a law to deprive Delhi of the Assembly it has. Will Kejriwal then take to screaming about the “murder of democracy”? It will unlikely have resonance among Delhiites, whose political identity isn’t rooted in regional or linguistic affinities.
The BJP’s dominance of the Hindi heartland has only exacerbated its majoritarian tendencies. In fact, even in the 1960s, the sheer number of Lok Sabha seats in the Hindi heartland had its politicians believe they had the right to impose their culture and political ideas on other parts of India. This psychology was reflected in a debate in the Lok Sabha on whether Hindi should be used solely for communication between the Centre and the states.
When an MP declared that Hindi should have a privileged status because it is spoken by more Indians than any other language, DMK leader CN Annadurai remarked, “If we had to accept the principle of numerical superiority while selecting our national bird, the choice would have fallen not on the peacock but on the common crow.”
The BJP, however, believes numerical superiority can turn Constitutional immorality into Constitutional morality. The change in the status of Kashmir overturns the sovereign guarantee given to its people that their accession to India is of another order.
The BJP numerical superiority, in turn, is based on the use of Hindutva to polarise Hindus and Muslims in the Hindi heartland, which is where the horrific politics of Partition was played out in the years before 1947.
When the British decided to conduct elections to 11 provincial legislatures in 1935-37, the Congress, the Muslim League and a slew of provincial parties participated in the polls. Despite its claim of representing Muslims, the Muslim League polled less than 5% of their votes.
Its deplorable performance prompted the League to argue that the Hindu majority of undivided India would swamp Muslims and suppress their religion and culture. They had evidence to furnish—a series of Hindu-Muslim riots had taken place in Bihar and the United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh), both ruled by the Congress. They argued that the movement to ban the slaughter of cows, which was also afoot then, was aimed at subverting Muslim culture.
The League’s propaganda against Hindu chauvinism gained tremendous ground among Muslims, who plumped for Jinnah and his two-nation theory in the 1946 provincial elections, inexorably leading to the Partition of subcontinent. It is to this memory of 1946-1947 that former chief minister alluded to in her tweet on August 5:
Today marks the darkest day in Indian democracy. Decision of J&K leadership to reject 2 nation theory in 1947 & align with India has backfired. Unilateral decision of GOI to scrap Article 370 is illegal & unconstitutional which will make India an occupational force in J&K.
Mehbooba, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah, and leaders of parties which participate in elections will lament the turn of events in Kashmir, at what they will describe as “India’s betrayal”. The Modi government’s decision will reduce them and the middle path they have treaded upon—neither siding with Pakistan nor demanding independence, but wanting a just settlement of the Kashmir problem—to irrelevance.
However, the Modi government’s decision on Kashmir will have the Hindi heartland as well as states like Maharashtra and Gujarat rejoice and celebrate. This will put pressure upon Muslims outside Kashmir, who have not identified with their co-religionists there. Yet the turn of events in Kashmir will worry them incessantly, largely because it will be followed by the publication of the National Register of Citizens in Assam and the day-to-day hearing of the Supreme Court in what is known as the Ayodhya matter.
It will seem to Muslims that the Modi government is insistent on realising Jinnah’s dark fantasies.
Ajaz Ashraf is a freelance journalist in Delhi and author of The Hour Before Dawn. Views are personal.