Analysis: A wretched day for Democracy: Revocation of the Special Status of Kashmir
Published: August 8th, 2019
Editor’s Note: With permission, this essay is reposted (with the editor’s minor revisions and explanatory notes] from CounterPunch. It explains, from the author’s perspective, how recent events have shredded the understanding of Kashmir’s rights within the Indian Constitution. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – abbreviated RSS – is an Hindu nationalist, paramilitary volunteer organization widely regarded as “right-wing” – and “parent” of India’s ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The India that Jammu and Kashmir acceded to in 1947 had chosen democracy, secularism, and socialism as its goals. Although the Praja Parishad, predecessor of the RSS, was determined to foist a solution of the entire Kashmir issue along communal lines even prior to 1953, and its leaders had been vocal about their views, it was heartwarming that India had chosen democracy and secularism as its goals.
Democracy does not, however, merely mean conducting elections every five years. It is, substantively, a way of life and a way of thinking. In a democracy, the majority will prevail, but it is equally incumbent on the majority to respect and defend the legitimate interests and sentiments of minorities and to alleviate their apprehensions.
The greatest test of the success of Indian democracy lies in the extent to which its minorities feels secure and content.
It is good that some parts of the population of the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) are emotionally integrated with mainland India, but this joy is lop-sided as long as the Muslim majority of the J&K does not equally share this happiness.
In 1947, our predecessors opposed the principles of the “two-nation” theory. We thought Muslims were part and parcel of India’s history, past, and future, and we were of the firm conviction that every inhabitant of this country must be given a sense of participation.
In light of the State’s complex political history, it has always been all the more pertinent to ensure that Muslims felt satisfied with their relationship with India — politically, morally, and emotionally — because that aspect of the problem was either ignored or swept under the rug for 70 years, with the result that the secular character of the nation was undermined.
First, the special status for Kashmir as envisaged by the Constitution of India was not a favor but an acknowledgment of the special circumstances that constitute a part of our past and future.
Second, the special status was not meant for Kashmir province alone, and those who opposed it have jeopardized their own interests.
Today, there is a growing demand in BJP/RSS strongholds regarding reconsiderations of state-center relations. It is surprising as well as painful that some short-sighted people are impatient to surrender their rights and privileges to the center. What is amusing is that all this is done in the name of so-called national unity and emotional integration.
I believe that in a federal set-up the best way for emotional integration and national unity is not the over-centralization of powers but decentralization leading to restoration of power in the hands of the federating units which acceded to be a part of the federation of their own volition.
In light of the present over-centralization, India is gradually tending to a unitary rather than a federal state. This trend is not a good omen for the solidarity and integrity of the nation.
[Editor’s Preface to the following: According to Wikipedia, Article 370 of the Indian constitution gave special status to the J&K region, allowing it to have a separate constitution, a state flag and autonomy over the internal administration of the state.” Article 35 A has allowed the J&K legislature to define the state’s permanent residents.]
I seriously doubt that the revocation of Article 370 and 35 A will strengthen the foundations of democracy and secularism in Jammu and Kashmir, nor will the distrust between Kashmiris and India be alleviated.
The Indian Constitution has been blatantly violated and the ideals it enshrines forgotten. Forces have arisen which threaten to carry this sad and destructive process further still.
The Indian Constitution sought to guarantee an independent judiciary, an honest electoral process, and rule of law. It is not surprising that many other countries have drawn upon this constitution, particularly the chapter on fundamental rights. The constitution provided a strong framework, and it was for those who were responsible for the smooth functioning of institutional mechanisms of government to implement constitutional provisions, so they impacted institutions.
When talking about the constitutional aspect, the Praja Parishad, predecessor of the RSS, always wanted Article 370 expunged. Kashmiris always maintained that the special position accorded to the State could alone be the source of a growing unity and closer association. The Constituent Assembly of India took note of the special circumstances obtaining in the State and made provisions accordingly.
Political parties in Kashmir only wanted to deliberate upon our future and to find out ways and means to extricate ourselves peacefully from the mire we have fallen into, with the cooperation and goodwill of India and Pakistan — not treating either of them as our enemy. But even this is not permitted to us. No good can come out of this.
Today, it does not take a skeptic to question whether articles in the Constitution of India, which pledged to protect the fundamental rights of citizens, have a real impact on institution building.
It is a wretched day for democracy!
NOTE: The original story link for this commentary is: https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/08/08/a-wretched-day-for-democracy-revocation-of-the-special-status-of-kashmir/. Dr. Khan is the author of several books, including ‘Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism,” “Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Khan has served as a guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.