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Prime Minister Modi is a man in a hurry. He is in a hurry to demolish the Indian state that 15 governments before his had built with painstaking care. Among nation-states, it was unique for its tolerance and easy accommodation of diversity and the freedom it gave its diverse people to seek their futures within its boundaries.
The keystone of this arch of tolerance was Article 370 of the Constitution, which gave a special status to Jammu and Kashmir. Article 370 gave legal recognition to the Instrument of Accession. This ceded sovereignty to the Indian state over Kashmir only in the four subjects mentioned—defence, foreign affairs, communication and currency. Further integration with the Indian state could be proposed by New Delhi, but had to be accepted by the state legislature, which had the right to declare itself a constituent assembly whenever the need arose.
Over the next four decades this integration proceeded smoothly. The Delhi agreement of 1952, signed with Sheikh Abdullah, integrated Kashmir’s economy with India’s by freeing trade and movement of people from pre-1947 restrictions. Between 1956 and 1994, 47 presidential orders were issued after gaining the concurrence of the state government that extended 94 of the 97 subjects in the Union list, containing 260 of the then extant 395 Articles of the Constitution to Kashmir.
Kashmiri nationalists complain that this was done by puppet governments in Kashmir. But only a limited number were political. Most had to do with industry, trade and transit, education, social welfare, labour laws, the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, the division of tax revenues, the devolution of plan grants...and were initiated by the state government. Verily, in the intensive discussions with Mrs Gandhi’s emissary, G. Parthasarathy, that preceded Sheikh Abdullah’s return to power in 1975, the Sheikh found only four clauses that he wanted amended.
In the ’60s and ’70s, Article 370 became the model for the peaceful integration of tribes in Assam and the Northeast. Five articles were added to the Constitution, granting similar rights to the Nagas of Nagaland, Mizos, remaining Naga and other tribes of Arunachal Pradesh and, earlier, to the Garos, Khasis and Mikirs of what became Meghalaya.
Modi must have had people in his inner council who understood the pivotal role that Article 370 had played in integrating India almost entirely through consensus, with a minimal resort to force. What was the need to amend it now, in a way that showed brutal contempt not only for Kasmiris, but also for the Constitution? Ostensibly, the government’s goal was to end the limitation of citizenship rights to those who belonged to the state in 1947 and their direct descendants. This had created an anomaly by which Hindus and Sikhs who settled in Jammu after independence were citizens of the country but not the state. In reality, both the haste and the contempt reflect the RSS’s determination to enforce the cultural homogenisation of India—the essence of its Hindutva doctrine.
The proof of this is not only the government’s readiness to turn every living Kashmiri against India by moving 45,000 additional troops into the Valley and jailing not just ‘separatists’, but also leaders of the mainstream parties. It is to be found in the amendments to the Unlawful Activities Prevention and National Intelligence Agency Act carried out in anticipation of this move, that give blanket powers to the police to crush dissent even in speech or writing, by an Indian citizen anywhere, by designating him a terrorist, seizing all his assets and imprisoning him for years (as has happened to five alleged Maoist sympathisers arrested in June 2018) without bail.
These were rushed through both houses of Parliament in a day, without advance notice, to prevent the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha to defeat it. Only after it had made these preparations did the government take the unprecedented step of making the President, who swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, break it!
Modi and his home minister have clearly learned no lessons from either science or history. The very first is that if you put a cork in a bottle and keep heating the gas inside it, the bottle will explode. In the next months Kashmiris will cling to the hope that the SC will strike the presidential ordinance down. If, for some reason, it does not, every last Kashmiri will turn against India. Indigenous terrorism will bloom, and the more the government uses force to crush it, the more will malcontents from other parts of the world rush to launch a jehad in Kashmir. There is no sunlight at the end of this tunnel. The bright point of light we might see at the end of it one day could be the beginning of a nuclear explosion.
Author is a veteran journalist and writer. Views expressed are personal.