In 1994, three years after a violent insurgency had erupted in the state of Jammu & Kashmir, a historic delegation set off to defend India in the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) meet at Geneva. Pakistan had tabled a resolution against India on human rights abuses in Kashmir.
It consisted of the oddest collection of members. A Congress left-of-centre regime governed in Delhi, but a Hindu right-wing leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee led the delegation. He was partnered by the Congress’ Muslim Foreign Minister of State, Salman Khursheed, its Sikh Finance Minister, Manmohan Singh, and the former Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah of the National Conference — who was ousted barely a few years ago by the same Congress party in Kashmir!
This unlikely motley crew representing every rival shade of Indian opinion fought together with their backs to the wall in a hostile climate like lions. They finally came home triumphant, having defeated Pakistan’s attempt, and received “the kind of euphoric welcome usually given to victorious cricket teams.”
That united, rainbow coalition and its collective triumph would be impossible today for two reasons.
First, the effective removal of Article 370 is a leap so far, deep and unthinkable in its careless obliteration, that no Kashmiri can align with it much less defend it without putting his life in danger. Similarly, any principled Congress-wallah who knows his history understands that alignment is impossible despite the tsunami of popular support. This popular sentiment is a misleading barometer of the massive and rippling impact this step will have for decades to come.
Second, the high moral argument that 1994’s collective delegation could make with its diverse, multifaith, multiethnic composition, can never be made again. Article 370 formed the core of their pitch and was the shared space that allowed all of them to be comfortable with their united commitment. Fully secure in its strength, they could keep their heads high and their convictions resolute. Despite the insurgency and separatism and the human rights issues, it was this commitment India had made and kept, to a Muslim majority state, that would swing any final argument.
This supposedly ‘iron-clad guarantee’ of protection is what persuaded Kashmir to go against the tide and choose to accede to India in 1947. It is on record that the Pakistani leadership of 1947 refused this protection. So, like any community or state, the Kashmiris assessed their options and – based on this future protection of 35A and 370 – made a choice. The heartfelt, illogical, risky choice as a Muslim majority state, to align with a Hindu majority country at the terrible, bloody time of Partition.
The 1947 Indian leadership also ensured the accession had the full support of its popular leader so that no one could say later it was a feudal decision that lacked the people’s will – a clear popular mandate to back the legal one, was something intensely and deeply desired then.
Unlike the Northern Areas of Pakistan Administered Kashmir in 1994 that only had a quaintly named ‘Political Agent’ redolent of the colonial past and no people’s representation in the form of an Assembly or Chief Minister, or its so-called Azad Kashmir that stifled local leadership; we could boast of a proper democratic process. Deeply flawed, but still, democratic. This process had a Kashmiri at its head, even if he had been a victim of Delhi’s toppling games. And as proof of the pudding – there he was in the Indian delegation, daring the Pakistani Kashmiri delegation to produce a single Kashmiri who could debate with him in Kashmiri. They couldn’t.
Unlike Pakistan Administered Kashmir whose Gilgit and Baltistan were already under severe demographic threat from retired Sunni Punjabi Army officers and several others who settled in droves in the beautiful mountainous region of K2 (and effectively started a violent, still running Shia-Sunni sectarian conflict), we could hold our heads high and say the Kashmiri’s culture, language, home and lifestyle was under no threat from a majoritarian influx. It remained protected and supported. We had stuck to our commitment, made on paper and in public, and multiple times in speeches, writings and announcements.
Article 370 (and India’s staunch commitment to it) allowed all three wildly disparate leaders with wildly disparate constituencies and agendas to put their heads and hearts together for one cause – India and its vast, diverse peoples, united and strong as one country.
After August 5, 2019, as any Indian who has had the satisfaction of a genuine, old-fashioned argument with a Pakistani with facts and figures that really count, will know; the high moral ground that we have always stood on has crumbled forever beneath our feet.
It’s hard not to think of the Pakistani bureaucracy crowing in relief and glee at this astounding self-goal. The biggest obstacle in their ideological war for Kashmir has been removed by India itself.
We are today a mirror image of Pakistan (a Hindu version) shoving and pushing each other on the same level. Nothing more or less. We have reneged on our solemn, written commitments. We have removed the one single thing that separated India’s Kashmir from Pakistan Administered Kashmir. We have muzzled the Kashmiri’s voice in his own house.
In many ways, Amit Shah is right. The Kashmiris have been short-sighted, selfish and power-hungry in extremes. They have done many things he has accused them of – withheld Panchayati Raj to avoid devolution of power and resources, withheld the right of residency from women who married outside, played fast and loose with reservations, held the majority of the vast monies that the Centre has sent their way instead of spreading them equitably etc. Much like the UP, Tamil, Bihari or any other political class in this country, they have thought of themselves first.
Yet there is a reason why even previous BJP governments didn’t kill the golden goose just because it didn’t lay eggs. The broader Indian political dispensation, not ideologically driven, understood that in the larger scheme of things – this was small change. Political expediency was no substitute for seasoned statecraft and the long game. Chanakya couldn’t be sacrificed at the altar of newbie ambitions.
These important goals could be pushed through, as they eventually were (Panchayati Raj and RTI were both brought under J&K state law) or altered by the courts (women’s rights) etc. Manoeuvrability and manipulation for political goals are hardly alien to the Shah-Modi brand of politics. It is part of their DNA like any other political party. Yet to secure these, an invaluable instrument in India’s armour has been destroyed.
When the dust settles and this new reality becomes evident, it will dawn upon us – as Brexit dawned upon the British Leavers, as Iraq dawned upon President Bush after his victory speech and as climate change and gun control will dawn upon President Trump. The greater war lies ahead and it is a long one. Brace yourself.