For the vast majority of the people of Kashmir, the agony continues with no end in sight. Dribs and drabs of the reduction of oppressive measures, like restoration of landline telephones that few people have, treated by the credulous Indian media as restoration of normalcy, cut little ice with the local populace; they are akin to the rolls of toilet paper that Trump tossed out to hungry and ailing Puerto Ricans in the aftermath of hurricane Maria. For many of the thousands arrested and even those subsequently released, their plight is becoming truly Orwellian. As a condition of their release they are made to sign a bond that they will not make any public comments or issue statements or make public speeches or participate in a public assembly related to recent events in J&K. They have to deposit ten thousand rupees as a “surety” that they will forfeit if they violate these conditions. In addition, they will have to pay a fine of forty thousand rupees for any violation of the bond plus face a renewed term of imprisonment. In short, for the people of Kashmir the rights of freedom of speech and assembly guaranteed by the Indian constitution have apparently been abrogated as well as Articles 370 and 35A. The judiciary has so far done nothing. The Supreme Court has kicked all the cans related to constitutional issues of the Kashmir imbroglio down the road. Even petitions of habeas corpus, not to speak of other fundamental rights, have been blithely postponed by the court. The creeping fear induced by the current pattern of authoritarian rule at the Center seems to have infected all the elements of the state, the executive, the legislative and the judiciary.
In fact, as this apparently senseless repression that has turned Kashmir Valley into a vast open-air jail grinds on, some have started to ask what the point of this whole exercise is? The reasons trotted out by the Indian regime of integrating the Kashmiris more closely with the rest of India, bringing the fruits of economic development to the state, etc. are silly to the point of being non-serious. Only those willing to be deluded, which apparently includes many of India’s middle and upper classes, would believe them. They should have asked themselves a few simple questions like: Is arresting thousands of Kashmir’s political, business, and intellectual leaders under draconian “laws” like the Public Security Act and carting them off to jails in distant parts of India a strategy to win the hearts and minds of the Kashmiri people? Or is it a means of endearing India to the people of Kashmir? Will the additional tens of thousands of Indian military and paramilitary forces on the streets of Srinagar and other towns lead the Kashmiris to identify themselves with their jailers? Common sense would suggest that the response to oppression is resistance not the opposite but common sense is a rare commodity in the minds of those easily swayed by hyper-nationalist rhetoric. However, on the international stage, the Indian government’s defense of its actions is not playing too well despite the Howdy Modi hoopla and the tortured logic of Indian bureaucrats and politicians. At the recent hearings in Washington, DC before the US Congress, the Indian government’s justifications for its actions in J&K were shredded by specialists like the Kashmiri-origin academic Dr Nitasha Kaul who brilliantly exposed the falsehoods being perpetrated by the Indian regime on the situation in Kashmir.
There is speculation that the real reason underlying the action is to consolidate Hindutva by teaching a lesson to the only Muslim majority state in the country and, by extension, to the Muslim population of the rest of India. In this recounting, the message from the ruling BJP to the Kashmiris is: we can take away your privileges embodied in constitutional provisions such as 370 and 35A at the stroke of a pen, in fact we can take away your entire state as well and chop it into a few insignificant pieces and we can do all of this since we have the required majority in the Parliament to meekly assent to our orders and we can order the military and police to lock all of you up and take away your means of communication. This message gibes well with the Citizenship Amendment Bill that the BJP regime has been trying to legislate in the last year as well as the noises being made in BJP ruled states like UP to set up Foreigners Tribunals to determine which of their inhabitants are “genuine” Indian citizens on the lines of the exercise being conducted in Assam. The assumption underlying the message is that “we” know who are not genuine Indians and “we” will teach them that true India is a Hindu rashtra, and Indian nationalism is glorification of the Hindu Nation.
This year 2019 is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, a man whose life was ended by a bullet fired by a man who was a votary of Hindutva. While Modi has tried to appropriate Gandhi to his own ends, it is no secret that Gandhi is openly loathed by the mass of Hindutva’s followers. It is perhaps fitting that the majority of Kashmiris have adopted, in effect, the Gandhian tactic of passive non-cooperation with the Indian state by disengaging themselves as much as is possible from the state’s attempts to enforce “normalcy.” For example, the schools are now open but empty; parents have stopped sending their kids to school. The reasons given vary: some are afraid that their kids could be harassed by the military personnel, for others it is a protest against the Indian state. Shops are open only for two or three hours in the morning. People are prepared to suffer losses to demonstrate their complete repudiation of the government’s dictates. It appears that with all the military it has poured into Kashmir, the government is itching for “terrorist” violence to occur so it’s response will justify the state’s measures. Peaceful non-cooperation is more effective in denying the state legitimacy of its actions. How long it can continue, however, is difficult to foresee at this point.
Meanwhile, there are some indications that a part of the broader Indian public is becoming tired of Modi’s strident nationalist rhetoric. It is no secret that the Indian economy is in bad shape. Growth has slowed and unemployment is reaching the highest levels seen in almost half a century. It is widely acknowledged by competent economists that the Modi government has mis-managed the economy. Demonetization was a disaster and the introduction of the goods and services tax, GST, was no better. Rural distress is particularly acute as evidenced by the growing number of farmers committing suicide.
Do the recent elections in the states of Maharashtra and Haryana, in which BJP managed to eventually cling to power but with a significantly reduced majority show that hyper-nationalism is, perhaps, approaching its sell-by date? Surgical strikes on terrorist launchpads will not lead to a rise in agricultural product prices or avert farmer bankruptcies. Vendettas against opposition politicians such as the jailing of former finance minister P. Chidambaran may prompt newspaper headlines but will not avert bank disasters. Prosecution on charges of sedition of those criticizing the government will not cause jobs to open up for the millions of the unemployed. Will the looming economic crisis finally cause a disconnect of the Indian people from the politics of Hindutva?
Vinod Mubayi and Raza Mir are co-editors of the monthly INSAF Bulletin