It finally happened. What was one of the most fiercely stated wild rumours doing the rounds in the reign of utmost eerie bewilderment to which the Kashmiri people were subjected since last few days, came out to be true. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government started increasing troops in the Kashmir valley citing some perceived “security threats”, followed by a high-level meeting between the core group of Hindutva fascist Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) central and Jammu & Kashmir leadership in New Delhi, it was assumed that the Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government may adopt some adventurism to hoodwink the masses at the hour of grave economic crisis that has slowed-down the economy. Former Jammu & Kashmir chief ministers like People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) Mehbooba Mufti and National Conference’s (NC) Omar Abdullah raised their doubts over the Indian ruler’s intention to scrap the Article 35A and Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which offered some special rights, albeit on the papers, to Jammu & Kashmir. Finally, after a tense weekend, during which the government and the BJP maintained an ominous silence while their supporters ranted over Kashmir, followed by a total curfew in the Kashmir valley, total blackout of communication through disconnection of internet, telephone and mobile services, blockage of television channels, garrisoning of the entire valley by an extra 80,000 troops, and intensification of regular persecution of Kashmiris, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who is also the BJP’s outgoing president, announced in the Rajya Sabha — the upper house of the Indian parliament — the abrogation of the Articles 35A and 370 through a Presidential declaration on Monday, 5 August 2019.
Article 370 of the Indian Constitution had allowed Jammu & Kashmir to enjoy autonomy, although cosmetic, to have its own Constitution, flag and penal code within the Union of India. The Article 370 was the foundation of the Article of Accession signed by Maharaja Hari Singh, the former monarch of the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir, in October 1947, through which India became the custodian of the autonomous state, responsible for its defence, foreign affairs and communications. The Indian government under Lord Mountbatten promised the Maharaja a plebiscite in the future to determine whether the people of Kashmir want to live in Indian Union, merge with Pakistan or secede as an independent nation. The Article 370 was incorporated into the Indian Constitution in October 1949, while the adoption of the Constitution by the Constitution Assembly in November 1949 and the proclamation of India as a Republic in January 1950 actually nullified all treaties entered by the Dominion of India. Since then, the fate of Article 370, which was modified at different junctures by the Congress party’s government to annex Jammu & Kashmir, remained uncertain.
Through the Article 35A, which was adopted due to Article 370 and the Instrument of Accession, the Constitution Assembly of Jammu & Kashmir, which was later named the legislative assembly, enjoyed the exclusive rights to define who is a “permanent resident”. Alike many inner-line permits required to travel in India’s northeastern parts, alike the restriction imposed on purchase of land and property by outsiders in hill states like Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Sikkim, the Article 35A guarded the state from influx of outsiders. Originally, the Article 35A was enforced before the king signed the Instrument of Accession for the sake of the Kashmiri Pandit community, who held higher positions in government services during the rule of the reactionary Dogra monarchy as they worried about the influx of Punjabi Hindus whose residence in the province would endanger their monopolistic control over government jobs.
Ever since its inception, the BJP, following the ideological sermons of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — the patriarch of India’s Hindutva fascist camp — its paternal body, made abolishment of the Articles 370 and 35A its electoral agenda. For years it spoke about “special rights” enjoyed by the Kashmiri people to spread Islamophobia and to incite the common Hindus with a xenophobic rage. All these happened while the Kashmiris were brutalised, stripped of their basic human rights and dignity, dehumanised, killed, raped, maimed and forced into subjugation by the Indian state. The more bloodshed happened in the valley, the more the BJP cheered and made the common Islamophobic middle class and elite Hindus, from upper-caste backgrounds, gloat over the agony of the Kashmiris. Since coming to power in 2014, the NDA under Modi unleashed a reign of grotesque state terror on the Kashmiri people to appease its hyper-masculine, toxic Hindutva-incensed stooges and rabble-rousers, who would then instigate the backward caste Hindus and ostracised Dalits and tribal people with a xenophobic narrative.
Now, when the economy is in tatters, Shah and Modi played their Kashmir trump card, alike their pre-election Balakote card to instigate a massive jingoistic wave throughout the country and use the chauvinistic cacophony to cover up its absolute failure in combating the economic slowdown, unemployment, production contraction and tax terrorism that has hurt the flow of investment. By showing that it has taken a decisive step on Kashmir, the Modi regime is not just fooling Indian hyper-nationalist urban middle class and elites, he’s also making the country a laughing stock in the international arena, as Jammu & Kashmir’s bifurcation into Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh by the Indian parliament at a time when it’s recognised as a disputed territory, can’t even stand in the international platforms. None of the major world bodies can accept this move by India, though they won’t explicitly oppose it because India has a bigger market than neighbouring Pakistan, with which it’s in a fierce battle over the colonisation of Kashmir and enslavement of its people.
So far, the Indian government had shown the enforcement of Article 370 as a valid reason for it to have the control stick of the state of Jammu & Kashmir according to the Instrument of Accession terms. The abolishment of the Articles 35A and 370 proved the point raised by Pakistan that India has annexed Kashmir against the will of its people and without the plebiscite it had promised. Despite agreeing upon the presence of militants fighting against its occupation, New Delhi never called Kashmir a conflict zone to evade the responsibility of hosting the United Nations peacekeeping force and conducting an election under international watch. Being a market-friendly economy from the 1990s onwards, India also remained immune from international condemnation and criticism, which emboldened it for years. With the rise of the global Islamophobic neo-fascist camp, led by the US President Donald Trump, it became easier for Modi and Shah to suppress the demand of Kashmiri independence by adopting the steps taken by Zionist Israeli terrorist Benjamin Netanyahu in occupied Palestinian Territory.
Now as Modi-Shah duo tried to pass on this blatant annexation of Jammu & Kashmir, its illegal bifurcation and turning it into a union territory, they committed a major legal and diplomatic blunder for India, which will add substantial force to Pakistan’s campaigns on Kashmir issue. Firstly, the Indian government nullified the Article 370 with a Presidential declaration, which is one and the only way to nullify the article. However, it’s mandatory that the President take this action upon consultation with Jammu & Kashmir legislative assembly (earlier Constitution Assembly). As Jammu & Kashmir assembly is suspended since mid-2018 and the President’s rule is enforced on the state, it doesn’t fulfil the first legal criteria. The Modi regime is directly ruling it through former BJP leader Satya Pal Malik as the Governor and has been dilly-dallying the assembly elections, the most farcical elections on earth, in the valley. Now it’s known why it was reluctant to have an election in Jammu & Kashmir, something that even the Election Commission lied about while announcing the poll dates for the Lok Sabha and legislative assembly polls in March 2019. Can this bypassing of the legislative assembly to unilaterally abolish an article, which equalises to an amendment of the Constitution, stand in the court of law? All these were done by locking up the Kashmiri people by using a sheer lie of security threat and even ending the Amarnath Yatra citing the recovery of a lone rifle in the valley! Will the Supreme Court, which earlier upheld Article 370 as an integral part of the Constitution, allow this mockery of democracy to happen?
For so long India and Pakistan have been occupying Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan, while the United Nations only looked over and didn’t force a settlement to provide relief to the people. For 72 years, the Kashmiri people have been brutalised and dehumanised by New Delhi. Their non-violent struggles were brutally crushed by the Indian government between 1950-1980, resulting in an outburst of anger in the form of armed rebellion, which New Delhi suppressed with gruesome massacres and tortures. By imposing Armed Forces (Special Power) Act or AFSPA, the Kashmiri people were stripped of their basic human dignity for years and have been subjected to immense torture and massacres. Islamophobia has been fanned ever since by the Indian state by showcasing the Kashmiri liberation struggle as Islamic Jihad to turn Kashmir into Pakistani territory. Indian narrative denied the promise of plebiscite from the 1970s, betraying the very foundation of the Instrument of Accession, yet, the international community never took cognisance of the offence, the macabre atrocities committed by the Indian state, the brutality exhibited by the Indian military, never called for an international war tribunal to prosecute the perpetrators. For the sake of the Indian market and for the sake of its cheap labour and virtually free mineral resources, the western powers, the so-called guardians of international human rights and democracy, remained mum.
Now that India has overturned the very agreement upon which its relationship with Jammu & Kashmir was founded by imposing a military junta rule on the Kashmiri people, by locking them up, by denying them even the right to communicate or express their views, how will the international bodies, including the United Nations, the United Nations Security Council, the United Nations Human Rights Commission, etc react? While they remained hyper-active on Syria when the US wanted to topple its government or on Venezuela as Donald Trump pushed his stooge to usurp power, they won’t utter many words on Kashmir, even when it’s annexed with a brute force denying its people a chance to express their views. Those who cry for Crimea, those who cry over Tibet, or for that matter Hong Kong, will have a convenient sleep on Kashmir because, after all, it’s Muslim, and India will never deny access to its markets and resources to big foreign corporations.
It’s not that the Kashmiri people will hail Shah’s declaration over a cup of Noon Chai and start showing obeisance to the Modi regime from now onwards. Before the official annexation, they had been fighting their regular street battles with the Indian forces demanding Azadi (freedom), which is the most dreaded word for the BJP-RSS because it goes against their ideology of bootlicking imperialism; even now they will continue opposing the Indian rule, albeit with an intense vigour and vitality. Article 370 or Article 35A were reduced to non-existent pieces of paper by the Indian rulers since decades in Kashmir. Their presence or absence, the Modi regime’s annexation of Kashmir or fortifications by the armed forces make not much difference to the Kashmiri people because they simply demand their Azadi and will continue their struggle for a free and democratic Kashmir. Apart from appeasing the bloodlust of the Hindutva fascist upper-caste followers of the BJP, the move by Shah will not make any difference in the real situation of Kashmir except for acting as a catalyst in intensifying the people’s struggle. Like the demonetisation drive, the reality of this step will reveal its fallacy soon.