India: A fractured nation, divided polity
After the abrogation of Article 370 and the automatic revocation of Article 35(A), the influential section of the national media wanted the Indian citizenry to feel the pain and anger of the people of Kashmir. Not just the political leaders, but media persons and the people of Kashmir themselves have, since August 5, lived in an India where democratic rights have been temporarily suspended.
If the abrogation of Article 370 was democratic, would the Union government have needed to lock up the entire valley and flood the place with uniformed personnel? The fact that free movement of people has been curtailed means that the Union government expected some kind of violent fall-out which it would have found difficult to handle.
It’s also true that the Kashmiri Pandits are rejoicing because they feel vindicated about what had happened 29 years ago on a cold January day when they were forced to leave the family under threat and intimidation and were labelled ‘kafirs.’ This was ethnic cleansing at its worst and the Pandits have been lamenting for years this forced expulsion from their hearths and homes merely because they were Hindus.
For them, the expunction of 370 is the righting of a historical wrong and they are unwilling to accept any other logic. Then we have the MP from Ladakh, Jamyang Tshering Namgyal who spoke his heart out on August 6 in Parliament. He hailed the revocation of 370 because he felt that the people of Ladakh had been treated indifferently by successive state governments of Kashmir which concentrated all development funds in the valley. His reference to “raj” (rule) versus “shasan” (governance) was politically astute because the ruling class of Kashmir have exercised their reign like monarchs despite the much touted Indian democracy. And Article 370 allowed the perpetuation of that “raj.”
It is indeed a slur on democracy when the government governing a particular state is unable to prevent non-state actors from expelling the residents of that state and that the Union government too became a passive onlooker. Historical wrongs are like undigested food that regurgitate and have a deleterious effect on the human system. In this case the impact is on the political system.
Striking down Article 370 was part of the BJP manifesto. That Jammu and Kashmir is a state divided by religion is evident from the voting pattern in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Of the six Lok Sabha seats, the National Conference won all three seats in the valley; the BJP won two seats in Jammu and one in Ladakh. The BJP had made its intentions clear about striking down Article 370 and the voting pattern depicted that. Those in the Kashmir valley voted against the BJP agenda. The people of Jammu and Ladakh voted for it.
Considering that the BJP now has a ruthless majority in the Lok Sabha and the Opposition is a divided house in the Rajya Sabha the Bill which never went through much scrutiny since not much time was given before its presentation and passing, has not become law. This led to the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Ghulam Nabi Azad stating that the people of Kashmir can be bought to vote for anything. This must have been an utterance arising from a deep sense of frustration.
While Article 370 will now be challenged in the Supreme Court, and while even constitutional experts have varying views over whether a Presidential decree is legally and constitutionally tenable, the people of Kashmir are celebrating Eid on Monday under a climate of uncertainty.
Article 370 makes Kashmir gives Kashmir a status that is unlike any other Indian state. One wonders if there is any such parallel anywhere in the world. ‘Nationalism’ which has today become a ‘bad’ word for the large number of Indian liberal intellectuals is something that is alien to Jammu and Kashmir. The state was ruled like a monarchy, where the monarchs changed once every five years. Those ruling the country today would have us believe that striking down 370 is going to speed up development but is that the development that the disparate population of J&K agree on? When the very idea of nation and state are contested how can there be a consensus on what is good for the people of J&K. And it is this ambiguity and uncertainty that the Union government has taken advantage of.
We have had several visitors to the Northeastern states since Article 370 was abrogated. The first question they ask is: “How do you feel about the striking down of 370? Do you think the special status enjoyed by the Nagas under 371(A) and the other states under the different alphabets of 371 (A,B,C,F & G) is likely to be struck down? The answer is: “We don’t know and the BJP never put that down in black and white in its manifesto.
However, there is the CAB which hangs like the sword of Damocles over our heads. If any of the privileges we have enjoyed in the past become a stumbling block to the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) then we can never be too sure that those will not be struck down. Again, because history repeats itself, there is a large chunk of non-tribal population in the so-called tribal majority states of Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland that feel they have been wronged because of the special provisions privileging tribals over them.
Quite a chunk of this non-tribal population have been overtly expressing their views on social media and we can gather that they resent the forces exodus that some of them suffered in 1979 up to 1987 in Meghalaya where they were forced to sell off property under coercion. Injustice of any kind breeds anger, humiliation and a desire for revenge. These are human tendencies and it is idealism to expect people to have moved on and forgiven the wrongs heaped on them.
The tribes have enjoyed reservation for jobs and education since 1950 when the Indian Constitution came into being, they were considered incapable of catching up with the more enlightened mainstream Indian population with a long history of civilisation. Indeed, the tribes of the Northeast would have remained as backward as some of the tribals in central and south India but for the Christian missionaries that gave us education and health care. These were the two focal areas of missionary activity apart of course from their mission of proselytisation.
No one can blame the tribals for having converted to Christianity when there were no overtures to provide them the basic education and health needs at a time when they were just emerging from the woods. True, we were labelled pagans which I consider to be a pejorative term as it suggests that all non-Christians are unworthy of being accorded the respect that humans deserve who have embraced Christianity.
The reasoning is that tribes were animists that worshipped nature and therefore were unaware of a monotheistic “God.” Worshipped. The word pagan by implication is applied to people worshipping many gods (polytheism) and hence an inferior religion. In the Middle Ages the term paganism was applied to any unfamiliar religion and the term presumed a belief in false god(s).
Perhaps a time has come for the tribes to reevaluate their statuses vis-à-vis the larger Indian population. Reservation was meant to be a short term privilege to allow the tribes to catch up. It’s a different matter that catching up requires a different kind of governance that ensures that the tribes have access to the fruits of development essentially education, employment, health care and economic opportunities. Going by these yardsticks the North Eastern states continue to lag behind, not so much due to lack of funds but because of skewed deployment of funds and large scale corruption. Successive governments in Delhi have turned a blind eye to this corrosion in the moral character of the rulers of this region and have continued to push in funds without seeking accountability and because the states have learnt how to blackmail the Centre through different means such as making “conflict” the theme for negotiation for more central funds, much of it funneled into the coffers of politicians, bureaucrats and sundry militant outfits. This has resulted in poor governance with even major arterial roads remaining incomplete after decades.
Perhaps a change of tack is called for. Governance in the Northeast can no longer be “business as usual.” The elected cannot be allowed to enjoy the perks of office without accountability. If the revocation of some of the privileges enjoyed thus far would mean more accountability and better governance which in turn would ensure competent delivery of services then that change could be like the incision of a cancerous growth in the body politic. That the Right to Information was never applied to J&K because of its special status is to me highly problematic because that is one instrument that empowers citizens to check their government.
So, yes, while we decry the suspension of democracy in J&K and the restriction on media freedom we should also not shirk away from questioning the poor governance that Article 370 has allowed and the climate of insecurity that has engulfed the Valley for decades. Some seem to promote the idea of a status quo in which infiltrators from across the border have been having a cushy time. Hasn’t this drained India of its economic and human resources? Should the government allow politics to trump over pragmatism? These are questions that should occupy our mind-space when we think J&K and Article 370.
(Patricia Mukhim is a social activist, writer, journalist and the editor of The Shillong Times. Recipient of various honours of national and international repute, she was also bestowed with the Padma Shri in 2000 by the government of India. She tweets at @meipat. Views expressed above are her own)