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August 15, 2019

Sowing the seeds of India’s disintegration

Opinion

August 15, 2019

The right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ideologues have always portrayed Pakistan as the sworn enemy of the largest democracy but the recent actions of the Modi-led government have proved that it is not Islamabad that is after the destruction of India but extremist groups and Far-Right religious parties, including the BJP, that have emerged as the real enemy. In fact by scrapping Article 370 and Article 35-A of the Indian constitution, they have sowed the seeds of divisiveness, suspicions and mistrust that will not only haunt the Hindu right-wing party but the entire political class of the country.

The decision triggered euphoria across the country with Hindu extremist groups describing it as a great triumph. Amidst this frenzy, many took to social media to share an old article of prominent novelist Arundhati Roy reminding Indians of the solemn promises made by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. In his telegramme to the then prime minister of Pakistan, Nehru had said, “I should like to make it clear that the question of aiding Kashmir in this emergency is not designed in any way to influence the state to accede to India. Our view which we have repeatedly made public is that the question of accession in any disputed territory or state must be decided in accordance with wishes of people and we adhere to this view.” (Telegram 402 Primin-2227 dated October 27, 1947 to prime minister of Pakistan; repeating telegram addressed to the PM of UK).

In another telegram to the Pakistan prime minister, Nehru said, “Kashmir's accession to India was accepted by us at the request of the Maharaja’s government and the most numerously representative popular organisation in the state which is predominantly Muslim. Even then it was accepted on [the] condition that as soon as law and order had been restored, the people of Kashmir would decide the question of accession. It is open to them to accede to either Dominion then.” (Telegram No 255 dated October 31, 1947). Nehru and Indian officials made several solemn promises about the future of Kashmir, asserting that India had no intention to annex the state.

Modi Sarkar's decision indicates that it does not have any regard for such promises. And that this could be done with other states as well. Indian-occupied Kashmir is not the only state with a special status; a number of Indian federating units have this status. Multiple states, many in the northeast, enjoy special provisions to some extent, under a different Article --371. Some of these states are Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Sikkim. In Nagaland, Article 371-A of the Indian constitution was introduced to protect Naga culture. Parliament cannot legislate on Naga religion or social practices, without the approval of the Nagaland Legislative Assembly. In Assam, there is a constitutional provision allowing the president to set up a committee of the state assembly consisting of members elected from the state’s tribal areas.

In Manipur, the constitution allows the president to form a committee of elected members from the state’s hill areas in the assembly. There are also provisions to ensure that the rights of various sections of Sikkim are protected. There are 30 seats in the Sikkim Assembly reserved for candidates belonging to those sections. In the state of Mizoram, according to certain constitutional provisions, parliament cannot make laws on the religious or social practices of the Mizos, their customary law, and ownership and transfer of land. This is unless the state’s assembly approves any such move. In Arunachal Pradesh, the governor has been given special responsibility regarding the state’s law and order situation. The governor can overrule the chief minister's decision on this front. Some of the other states such as Maharashtra and Gujarat have designated ‘Scheduled Areas’ that are governed under special provisions. This has been done to give the tribal population more autonomy.

But the scrapping of Article 370 has alarmed these states. It has also created doubts about the promises made to various castes of Indian society. Congress leaders have expressed apprehensions that the government might unilaterally modify Article 371. Union Home Minister Amit Shah, however, has told the Lok Sabha that the centre does not plan to do so and there is no cause for worry but it seems such statements cannot allay the apprehensions of states with special status.

This could especially affect the northeastern states of India that have been a troubled spot in the past. Some of them still haunt Indian policymakers. In Assam what started off as an anti-immigrant movement in the 1970s later turned into a separatist struggle. The Nagas, the Mizos and other tribal groups have also picked up arms against the Indian state in the past. Some of these states have artificial peace partly sought through promises and packages but the elimination of the special status of Indian-occupied Kashmir might force the people of this region to revisit their conciliatory attitude towards New Delhi.

This action of Modi Sarkar amounts to driving a wedge between various communities of Jammu and Kashmir. The partition of the state may have created a ripple of excitement among Buddhists, with the separation of the Ladakh region into a union territory, but it has undermined the concept of pluralism and will go a long way in denting India's secular outlook. Extremist Hindu leaders may be exultant over the success of this colonial trick but it will have far-reaching consequences for India.

The BJP and its ideological mentor -- the RSS -- believe in accomplishing plans through the force of the majority. There are widespread fears that the Indian government will try to change the demography of the valley. The extremist Hindu outfits are convinced that the threat of majoritarianism has worked. With the help of this, they managed to demolish the centuries-old Babri Masjid as Indian courts, police and army looked the other way. With the brute force of majority they orchestrated the pogrom in Gujrat. The thugs of Hindu extremist mobs not only lynched hapless Muslims but also targeted Christians, Dalits and other minorities in recent years.

Like any other religion, Hinduism is not a monolith. It also has different sects and creeds. If this philosophy of majoritarianism gets firm roots in Indian society, it will push society towards total anarchy. It is unfortunate that the hordes of fascist Hindu extremist groups are targeting Muslims and other religious minority groups and the mass majority of Indians is silent. Many of them are even celebrating this persecution. But they should not forget that Hitler's fascists and Mussolini's thugs also targeted Jews and other vulnerable groups first but later they turned against everyone. To them they were the only master race with a right to rule over the world. If the mass majority of the Indians choose to remain silent, tomorrow the liberal intellectuals, the left-wing activists, moderate writers and democracy loving workers will be the target of these fanatical bands of Hindu extremists.

India is home to 250 million Dalits, 200 million Muslims, 50 to 60 million Buddhists (though officially 8.4 million), 30 million Christians, 27 million Sikhs and 4.2 million Jains. It has over 20 official languages and 19,500 dialects. With such great diversity, the largest democracy cannot afford to bear any divisive politics. This type of politics will tear the social fabric of the country which is already very fragile owing to the communal politics being promoted by the RSS and the BJP.

If these agents of hate are not prevented from persecuting Kashmiris and Indian Muslims, then tomorrow they will target other religious minorities and the vast majority of the Indians themselves. It is to be seen if the majority of the Indians rise up and make the demand for the restoration of Article 370 or not. This is the only way out.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

Email: [email protected]

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