Narendra Modi’s Prime Ministership, among other things, will be remembered for his twin mega-decision: Demonetization in 2016 and the bifurcation of Jammu Kashmir into two union territories – Ladakh and Jammu-Kashmir (the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, 2019). He has shown the world what a 56-inch chest actually means! Demonetization was supported only by BJP supporters (bhakts as they are mockingly referred to) and was widely criticised across the spectrum of opposition parties. However, the abolition of the special status given to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 has been supported by many an opposition leader. The Congress party is virtually split in the middle. The younger leaders have shown how shaken they are by the Modi mania in the grassroots.
Why are some opponents of BJP and apolitical individuals supporting the move? Some valid reasons are – (a) It strengthens Indian sovereignty as Jammu and Kashmir will directly come under the Indian Constitution and its citizens will now have Fundamental Rights. (b) The Indian Penal Code will replace the Ranbir Penal Code of Jammu and Kashmir, (c) Jammu and Kashmir had long been used by terrorists to launch attacks on India, (d) the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir was ill-leveraged by radical groups to undermine Indian nationhood, (e) the sense of separated-ness between India and Jammu and Kashmir always seemed to persist if not increase (f) Kashmiri pundits were long overdue for being vindicated, (g) the special status did not do any good for the welfare of the people in Jammu and Kashmir, (h) India needed stronger constitutional authorities to deal with separatists and (i) it is a symbolic victory over anti-India Pakistani feelings. The invalid reasons are – (a) a Muslim dominated state in a Hindu majority country is a pain if not humiliation for some hardliners, (b) the Muslim Chief Minister must be reined in somehow.
Whether or not the Indian government can solve the Kashmir issue through this move will only be known in times to come as Home Minister Amit Shah himself has stated that history will decide if the decision to repeal the constitutional provision was right or wrong. But the BJP government will have to live with some serious objections raised against the decision.
The method with which the operation was carried out has left a deep wound in the conscience of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. It was done by arresting regional leaders, putting in place a curfew and cutting off all modes of communication. Sashi Tharoor tweeted, “Why would leaders be arrested overnight despite having done no wrong? If Kashmiris are our citizens and their leaders our partners, surely the mainstream ones must be kept on board while we act against terrorists and separatists? If we alienate them, who’s left?” This question will come back to haunt the BJP if India fails to win the Kashmiris in reality. As Rahul Gandhi wrote, a nation is made by its people, not by plots of land. If the people of Jammu and Kashmir remain emotionally alienated, it will hardly serve the purpose of strengthening sovereignty and peace in India. Winning Kashmir and losing Kashmiris is hardly a democratic move. Indianizing wounded citizens can be harder than one thinks.
In fact, such an approach can have an adverse impact on the very concept of nationalism.
The second issue will be the legality of the move. There are differing voices of constitutional experts on the legal validity of the Presidential Order limiting the scope of Article 370. A.G. Noorani says, “It is utterly and palpably unconstitutional. After the dissolution of the [J&K] Constituent Assembly in 1957, the power [to abrogate] Article 370 vanished.” Former secretary-general of the Lok Sabha, Subhash Kashyap, says “As [J&K] is under the Centre’s rule, Parliament can be interpreted as the legislature of Jammu and Kashmir. So, no concurrence is required from the state government to make changes.”
The third issue is the danger of majoritarianism defining India’s sovereignty. Technically, Indian sovereignty ‘has traditionally been’ accommodative, which allowed for asymmetrical federalism arrangements. Some north-eastern states enjoy a special status. Nagaland is a stark example. Sikkim has its own protective Article 371 F. If ‘true India’s sovereignty’ means that any Indian citizen is allowed to buy land anywhere within India, Sikkim has not yet accepted Indian sovereignty. Our Old Laws are not applicable to other parts of India.
The Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s assurance has been taken seriously by many of us. Perhaps he is honest to the core of his heart. However, his personal statement has a limit. First, his statement is not the law. Nehru had said similar things about article 370. In fact, Nehru had also said that Sikkim should never be annexed. Every Sikkimese remembers how he abhorred the idea, comparing it with the meanness of shooting a fly with a bullet. But a political dispensation came into being which no longer respected Nehruvian thought and went on to merge Sikkim with India. Now, the political dispensation has become so different that, not only does it not respect Nehru’ ideas, but it goes even further and demonizes him. The time may come when what Amit Shah says today may sound contrary. India has proved a point that no one can stand the brute power of majoritarianism. If a majority government in the future decides that Sikkim and other states should no longer be allowed special privileges and status, what other power can challenge that, let alone stop it?
The concept of one nation, one law is just as overpowering to smaller states with special status as it is appealing to the rest. The concept of ancient Bharat, which, to a large extent triggers contemporary Indian nationalism, if given a free run can bulldoze smaller historical anecdotes. In the context of the massive ancient India meta-narrative, the rise and fall of smaller princely states can merely be footnoted. If that India of the past, although it was politically a notional entity, be actualized today, many constitutional articles safeguarding the special status of certain states will go. Whether such a political dispensation will come sooner or later, only time will tell.
Amit Shah’s assurance has been taken seriously by many of us. His personal statement, however sincere, has a limit. Nehru had said a similar thing about article 370. Nehru had also said that Sikkim should never be annexed. Every Sikkimese remembers how he abhorred the idea, comparing it with the meanness of shooting a fly with a bullet. But a political dispensation came which no longer respected Nehruvian thought and went on to merge Sikkim with India. Now the political dispensation has become so different that, not only does it not respect Nehru’ ideas, but it goes even further and demonizes him.
By Jiwan Rai, the author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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