The Hindu-supremacist government of India, headed by Narendra Modi, has just carried out a coup of India’s constitution and with Kashmir’s autonomy. Jammu and Kashmir has been “put in its place”: stripped not only of its nominal autonomy but even of its status as a state of the Indian union, and summarily demoted to a “union territory” administered by the central government.
In preparation for this stealthy move, 35,000 troops were flown to Kashmir Valley, which was already one of the most militarised regions of the world. Following the government’s announcement, 8,000 more paramilitary troops have been deployed to the same region.
The people of Jammu and Kashmir have no access to phones or internet. And the leaders of their parliamentary parties, as well as human rights activists and trade unionists are all under arrest. For three days and counting, Kashmir’s newspapers have not been published.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its parent organisation, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, have long maintained that Article 370 is superfluous to the Instrument of Accession binding Kashmir to India, and is a result of a blunder by India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. These claims are easily disproved.
In August 1947, “princely states” could choose to remain independent or to accede to either of the newly independent nations – India and Pakistan. The Hindu ruler of the Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) chose initially to remain independent. But when J&K was threatened by Pakistani forces and tribal militia in October 1947, Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession with India.
This legal pact gave Indian parliament the limited powers to legislate only on matters of defence, external affairs, and communications of J&K. The instrument explicitly stated that it did not bind J&K to India’s constitution. The glue which finally did bind J&K to the Indian constitution was Article 370, which promised the state a considerable measure of autonomy. As late as 2016, India’s Supreme Court has held that Article 370 is for all purposes a permanent provision.
Today, that glue binding Jammu and Kashmir to the Indian constitution has been summarily dissolved, without any pretence of democratic consultation or consent of the people or elected representatives of Jammu and Kashmir.
The BJP and RSS have long propagated that Article 370 gave Kashmir a pampered “special status” that was the source of disaffection among its people. The fact is that under India’s constitution which is committed to federalism, many other states have laws giving them “special status”. In the case of J&K, Article 370 had been, in the words of constitutional scholar AG Noorani, “reduced to a husk through political fraud and constitutional abuse”. “Those who cavil at Article 370 of the Indian constitution and the ‘special status’ of Kashmir constitutionally,” said Noorani, “ought to remember the ‘special’ treatment meted out to it politically. Which other state has been subjected to such debasement and humiliation?”
For the people of Kashmir, the decades since 1953 have been a long saga of successive betrayals, accompanied by the most horrific abuse of human rights. The fig leaf of democracy, “autonomy” and “special status” which India had held up as its alibi for Kashmir in every international forum, has been arrogantly ripped away. All that remains is naked, open subjugation of their will.
Those celebrating this move as a “victory” over the disobedient and disaffected Kashmiris should pause to think. This move is the first step in the direction of junking India’s secular, democratic, federal constitution, and turning the country into a Hindu nation, which will model its treatment of minorities on Israel. The totalitarianism now on open display in Kashmir will soon be felt in all of India.