The saffron noose

Article 35A prevented the Modi government from taking the Israel route and allowing Indian settlers into the valley

Hassan Niazi August 20, 2019

For Modi’s dream of a Hindutva state to come true, three things had to die: the Indian Constitution, Indian democracy, and the spirit of the people of Kashmir. All three hang today from a saffron noose.

The Indian Constitution gave Kashmir a special status with guarantees of autonomy. Chief among those guarantees was Article 35A flowing from Article 370. Article 35A prevented the Modi government from taking the Israel route and allowing Indian settlers into the valley. Article 370 limited the application of India’s Constitution to Kashmir, hence Kashmir’s special status. These constitutional limitations, a means to check the power of a dictatorial executive against a weak minority, were not eroded away by Modi in a subtle series of clever moves. Instead, he cut through the bone with his fascist hacksaw.

It should always be difficult to amend a constitutional provision lest it loses the stabilising force that it is supposed to provide. Article 370 attempted to do so by stating that it could only be removed or modified by a Presidential Order, if the consent of the Constituent Assembly of Kashmir was obtained. Modi had a problem: the Constituent Assembly of Kashmir had not been functional since 1957. This had led to a series of judgments from the Indian courts that stated that Article 370 had gained permanent status under the Constitution.

But neither court nor Constitution would stand in Modi’s way. With control of the executive branch, and a spineless opposition in Parliament, a Presidential Order was used to change a provision of the Indian Constitution that dealt with constitutional interpretation. The Order amended the Constitution to change the meaning of Article 370 to say “legislative assembly of Jammu & Kashmir” as opposed to “Constituent Assembly”. This still wasn’t good enough though. Modi would still need the consent of the legislative assembly of Kashmir which hadn’t been functional since late 2018. Kashmir had been functioning under Governor’s rule ever since. With no legislative assembly, the Modi controlled Indian parliament — high off their constitutional manipulations — saw fit to substitute their own consent for the consent of the people of Kashmir and allow the President to repeal Article 370, leading to the repeal of Article 35A.

This is how constitutions die. When they are stretched to their elastic limits so that they can be wrapped around the rotund fascist egos of anti-democratic leaders.

Next came the death of Indian democracy.

In the modern world, autocrats fear the internet because it allows people to learn the truth and exercise free speech. The internet has allowed people to mobilise and resist tyranny as the Arab Spring showed. This is why all countries with dictatorial regimes control the internet. Modi is no different an autocrat. He shut down the internet in Kashmir. Chaos ensued. Under Modi, India has become the world leader in shutting down the internet, having blocked it a total of 134 times last year. This is an attack on democracy’s most sacred right: freedom of speech.

The second attack on democracy, more specifically democratic federalism, came through the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act. Jammu and Kashmir are now split into two territories, both of which will be controlled by New Delhi. One with limited legislative powers the other with none at all. While Modi speaks of freeing the people of Kashmir, he takes away their democratic voice via limitations on their legislative assemblies. He says it will become another fully integrated Indian state. But how many other Indian states lack legislative powers?

And it bears repetition that the most glaring assault on democratic values is the fact that more than 70 years after Nehru asked that a plebiscite be held to determine the status of the people of Kashmir, they still await the opportunity to decide their own fate.

Finally, Modi had to kill the soul of the Kashmiri people. For that he would transform Kashmir into a killing field. UN reports document the violence that occurs under Modi’s rule. Rape is used as an instrument of oppression with even children not being spared from the horrors of a government drunk on its own tyranny; a government that sees Kashmiri Muslims as less than human. Pellet guns are used to blind, maim, and silence. Some reports have taken to calling Kashmir a “giant prison camp” an example of the “world’s first mass blinding” via pellet guns; and, a land of “mass rape”. The world shouldn’t be surprised that things like this are happening under the watch of the Butcher of Gujrat. India had the chance to prevent this, instead they re-elected Modi.

But the true way to kill the soul of the Kashmiri people is through an idea imported from Israel. What my friend and columnist Asad Rahim Khan calls the “West Bank formula”. It is by taking the valley away from the Kashmiri people. With Article 35A gone, Modi is now free to populate Kashmir with Hindu settlers, achieving his goal of changing the demographic identity of the valley from majority Muslim to majority Hindu. The influx of settlers would not only destroy the valley’s identity, but also the valley’s natural beauty.

Recent times have exposed the UN’s inability to enforce human rights where economic powers are concerned. For all the hype surrounding the meeting of the UN Security Council, little is going to come out of it. Pakistan has isolated itself diplomatically from the world, and the world is too invested in India’s economy to take any action. China and the US are busy, engaged in a trade war between them, the Russians have deemed Kashmir India’s “internal issue”, and the Saudis have invested billions in India. Why would anyone take a stance for Pakistan, a country that takes more than it gives to the world?

The fate of Kashmir then lies with the people of Kashmir. Once internet and communications are restored, violence will inevitably break out in the valley. If Pakistan truly wishes to help Kashmir, it will need a strong international ally. With none in the West seeming to step up, Pakistan must sit down and reformulate its foreign policy goals for war-mongering will not help the people of Kashmir, a greater voice in the world will.

As for the people of Kashmir, they must endure. Endure for their identity in the face of tyranny.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2019.

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