The situation in Kashmir is getting scarier by the minute as the government increases troops concentration right after it took the unprecedented step of cancelling the Amarnath Yatra mid-way. It has asked tourists and non-local students to leave the Valley immediately in view of the “prevailing security scenario.”
As new fear-inducing orders are floated, denied, then floated again, the situation in the Valley and in the Chenab valley and Pir Panjal regions of Jammu province is alarming to say the least. To the people here, their apprehensions of a change in the state’s special constitutional status, in the form of abrogation of Article 35-A and Article 370 seem to be coming true. There is even conjecture about a possible trifurcation of the state.
The troop concentration and other measures suggest that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, its security advisors, and the Army’s top brass have set the course for what they call “full integration” of Kashmir.
The people of the state will resist this, but the central government may unleash a volley of suppressive measures to crush them. State repression has shaped and influenced Kashmiri lives over the last three decades. As a result, the general view in the Valley is that they will deal with whatever lies ahead and continue to resist.
The Indian state, through such assaults, forges a repressive dialectic. In this dialogue, which Kashmiris are made to choose between silence and death. Remember George Orwell’s prophetic lines, “Poetry might survive in a totalitarian age, and certain arts or half-arts, such as architecture, might even find tyranny beneficial, but the prose writer would have no choice between silence or death.”
As all pleas for engagement go unheard, it is clear that the only means New Delhi favours in the state are military. It is as if the lives of Kashmiris and setting the state afire with misgiving and resistance do not matter.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah are certainly emboldened by their massive mandates in two successive general elections. In the 2019 election, their plank was Kashmir, terrorism and Pakistan. Now its coterie of advisors, generals, policy makers, and much of the pliant mainstream media, has seemingly convinced the Sangh Parivar that they can now abrogate Kashmir’s special status. The real aim is to induce a demographic change in the Valley, a long-overdue design of the Sangh Parivar. The Jana Sangh founder Syama Prasad Mukherjee, in the early 1950s, had advocated for such measures.
The fears of an all-out assault on the special status of the state are not recent. During its three-year alliance with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the stage was set for the abolition of the special status when Goods and Services Tax (GST) and the Statistical Bill was made applicable to the state in 2017.
After extending these laws, the BJP and Sangh leaders had gloated. Jitendra Singh, Sat Sharma and Ram Madhav, to name a few senior members, called it a “beginning” for “full integration” of the state with the Union of India. Significantly, then Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had invoked Mukherjee’s slogan: Eik vidhan, eik pradhan, eik Nishan, or one law, one leader, one symbol, as coming to its fruition.
Along with Article 370, Article 35-A is considered an article of faith and a question of life and death by Kashmiris across shades of political opinion in the state. Mainstream leaders, ordinary citizens, businessmen, civil society and student groups in all three regions – Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh -- and even the separatists agree on this and have said that mass agitations would follow if Article 35-A is abrogated. But the BJP government is paying no heed.
Clearly, the central government is not keen to find a solution to the Kashmir issue or bring peace to the state. The Sangh Parivar does not respect constitutional republicanism and the idea of secularism. This will inevitably have a fallout on India’s claim over Kashmir, which rests on secularism and constitutional republicanism. It is happy to enact its repressive policies in Kashmir to the extent of completely altering the nature of Kashmir’s association with India.
Historically, India has always had to impose its nationalist disposition in Kashmir but after 2014, this imposition scaled dangerous heights. This is especially so in light of the BJP and Sangh Parivar’s modus operandi in the rest of India. Now, after 2019, the ideals of constitutionalism, democracy or republicanism are eroding rapidly in all of India. Now lynching and venomous discourse along communal lines, infused by the Sangh Parivar’s ideas, are the new ‘normal’.
It is now a republic where cows and cow urine are deliberated but not dying farmers or jobless workers or the Kashmiri children who have been blinded by pellet guns.
In the Sangh’s inverted version of rule of law, which is in consonance with Orwellian dystopias, FIRs are registered against the dead victims of terrorist violence in the name of cow protection, and not against those who commit murders.
Of late, harsh steps such as the passage of amended Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and now the Israel-style assault on Kashmir should be seen in the larger context of India turning authoritarian.
All autocratic regimes have a chronic disdain for the mere idea of dissent and when their tyranny gets aligned with religion and nationalism, it is the dissenters who face the worst.
Authoritarianism and nationalism are being tied to the idea of the Indian republic today, a dangerous course that threatens to make democratic norms redundant. This is being done all over India, but there is no more fertile a site to enact this than the besieged Valley.
The government has repeatedly resorted to create binaries, no matter how fragile and imaginary. Violence is freely unleashed on beef-eating minorities everywhere in the country; but the same minority with a gun, a stone or a dissenting voice is cynically manipulated to justify the very same binaries. The oppression of Kashmiris in the name of nationalism is becoming even more aggressive and violent.
Manufacturing hyper-nationalistic discourse helps the Sangh Parivar continuously create enemies out of nowhere. It is herding dissidents into submission and its leaders continuously brag about being hall-bearers of Indian nationalism. Such is the impunity that they have elevated bigots, communalists and even a terror accused to fight elections and become lawmakers.
The terror of cow vigilantes and lynch mobs has increased in recent months, ever since the election verdict. Their purpose is to disseminate a state-sanctioned and hyperbolic definition of nationalism that excludes all critics. In Kashmir, these plans can be enacted with much more viciousness. The Sangh’s method is a more blatant, rigid and violent assertion of the general Indian attitude towards Kashmir and Kashmiris. The BJP is following this lethal blueprint. Together, they want to remind dissident Kashmiris of their submission and to symbolically India’s assert India’s desire for the territory but not the people of Kashmir. The repressed Kashmiris are only asking: till when, and for how long?
Basharat Shameem is a blogger and writer based in Kulgam, Jammu & Kashmir. The views are personal.