Although the country's far-right has always derived its strength from dehumanising Kashmir's right to self-determination, the "secular" parties oversaw worse atrocities against the Kashmiri people when they were in power.
Ahead of the Indian parliamentary elections, several grim commentaries appeared in a few Indian media outlets, which have retained some independence under the boa constrictor-like grip of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was re-elected by a comfortable majority on Thursday.
Narendra Modi’s second term in power, these pieces warned, would mean an end of the ‘secular and inclusive’ India. A militaristic, majoritarian Hindu nation would spell disaster for the country’s carefully cultivated image as the world’s largest democracy, however flawed. The myriad social, religious and economic divisions would only deepen. Religious (read anti-Muslim) violence would be normalised.
Nowhere does this doom-laden writing appear as ludicrous as in the disputed Jammu and Kashmir, where a 30-year-old anti-India insurgency shows no signs of abating. One of the biggest worries of these liberal commentators is that India’s institutions—executive, judiciary, academia, army—would be transformed beyond recognition in Modi’s second term. However, at this point in time, these are essentially only fears about the future of their nation. In Kashmir, such fears have been a fait accompli.
The ‘secular, socialist’ India under Congress fraudulently diluted the semi-sovereign status of Jammu and Kashmir in the 1960s. This was achieved by installing puppets to the chair of the local Assembly, who approved the constitutional frauds initiated by the Indian parliament. At one point in time, nearly all lawmakers to the Assembly were elected unopposed. The opposition was either jailed or sufficiently intimidated to give up the fight.
Several Indian leaders have admitted that elections have been a farce in Kashmir. If democracy has been so shabbily treated in such a sensitive place — now a nuclear flashpoint — by a liberal establishment, what prevents the likes of Modi from trying something more catastrophic?
In fact, the ideology of the Indian right derives quite a lot of its strength from its stance on Kashmir. When its semi-sovereign status was intact, Jammu and Kashmir had its own prime minister, had its own constitution that could enact laws independently of Indian parliament, and Indian citizens needed special permits to enter the state.
Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, the founder of Jana Sangh, the precursor of the BJP, launched an agitation. His rallying cry was that “one nation” could not have “two constitutions”. He died during detention in Kashmir, becoming a rightwing ‘martyr’ to the cause of Hindu supremacist fantasy of Akhand Bharat, an India that stretches all the way to Afghanistan on one side and to Myanmar on the other.
The Congress-led India capitulated to the pressures of the right-wing and gradually bulldozed the political autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir. Such obliteration left all other Kashmiri institutions weak, virtually the handmaidens of Indian rule. Only in Kashmir does a single individual, a governor, who is appointed by New Delhi, assume the powers of an elected government, which in the case of Kashmir means 87 lawmakers. In no other state can he make laws, except in Kashmir. Such a feral threat to electoral democracy has not been the creation of a right-wing government, but ‘liberal’ Congress.
Three major communities in Kashmir — Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists — were implacably antagonistic much before the rise of Hindu right, because the Congress-led India fomented and used religious, geographic and ethnic divisions to undermine the majority’s desire for the right to self-determination. Through its pet slogan “unity in diversity”, the liberal Indian sought to drown the nation’s differences into one coherent national identity. But the same diversity in Kashmir was used to stymie any attempt at resolution of the dispute.
In fact, Muslims, who had suffered Indian state’s brutal policies the most, were no longer Muslims but Shias, Paharis, Gujjars, Sufis and Salafis who “perceived the conflict, and its resolution, differently”.
A 25,000-strong militia comprising Hindu civilians, which is trained by the Indian army to fight Muslim insurgents, was created during Congress rule. A barbaric militia called Ikhwan, wholly comprising of ethnic Kashmiri Muslims, was unleashed on the rebellious population by Congress-led India.
None of these facts about Kashmir have percolated to the Indian masses. The Congress-led India essentially reduced Kashmir to ‘Pakistan-sponsored terrorism’, disregarding the fact that the insurgency in Kashmir was ushered in by hundreds of thousands of civilians who marched on the streets in 1990. A couple of massacres carried out by Indian soldiers, when neither BJP nor Congress ruled India, made civilian protests impossible in Kashmir.
Much of the rabid anti-Pakistan sentiment in India, the lifeblood of the right, is the product of years of untruths about Kashmir. Over the years, the right has channelled the anti-Pakistan and anti-Kashmir sentiment into subduing the ‘internal enemy’, the Indian Muslim.
It is an established fact that the BJP’s election campaigns are driven by some permanent issues: the promise of building a Ram temple at the site where a medieval mosque stood until its demolition by Hindu mobs in 1992; Uniform Civil Code, meaning no separate marital and property laws for Muslims and, importantly, laws that provide Jammu and Kashmir special constitutional status in the Indian Constitution, would be abrogated.
During the campaigning for recent parliament elections, several major BJP leaders said if elected again, the party would withdraw these special provisions, one of which bars any Indian citizen from owning property in Jammu and Kashmir. Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir fear they would be reduced to a minority within years if this law goes ahead. Several right-wing groups have filed petitions in the Supreme Court, calling for the repeal of these legislations.
If they go ahead with their plans, the consequences could be unimaginably disastrous and inevitably draw in Pakistan, which is a party to the dispute. After a Kashmiri suicide bomber rammed his car into a convoy of Indian soldiers in February this year, killing 40, the two countries came close to a full-fledged war. Both carried out airstrikes against each other. The violence is bound to increase exponentially if Kashmiris find their unique identity is being erased.
During his election campaign, the Indian prime minister sought votes for the “martyred soldiers” killed in the suicide bombing. An overwhelming number of Indians obliged. The second landslide victory could embolden him to carry out his other potentially explosive Kashmir plans, like creating settlements for ethnic Kashmiri Hindus who had migrated to various Indian states when the insurgency erupted.
The stronger majority Hindu nationalist government in New Delhi would only try to accomplish quickly, and without scruples, what the ‘secular, socialist’ governments of the past tried to achieve piecemeal. In fact, the BJP would wear any decimation of Kashmiri Muslim identity on its sleeves with pride.
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