By Gurnam Singh | UK | OPINION |
With one stroke of a pen, by revoking Article 370 of the Indian Constitution ensuring autonomy for the Jammu & Kashmir, the Government of India, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has dramatically and radically altered the relationship between the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K)and the Indian Union.
The J&K Reorganisation Act, which comes into effect from 31 October 2019, will result in the dissolving of the present semi autonomy state and the creation of two new union territories, namely J&K and Ladakh. This will mean that neither state will have its own elected assembly and will be governed by the Central Government in Delhi.
Since the move, many parts of the state have been under a military lock down and the message from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Indian Government has been unambiguous, namely that a “historic wrong” has been corrected in Kashmir and that it is only through a integration of J&K into the Indian Union that the future political and economic situation of the region can be secured.
J&K is a very special place, which makes the tragedy that has unfolded over the past 70 years all the more bitter.
On his first visit to the region in the 17th Century, the then Mughal Emperor Jehangir proclaimed “Ghar firdaus baruue zamin ast, hami asto, hamin asto, hamin ast” (If there is heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is).
But after years of conflict, for many residents of J&K, their paradise has become a living hell. Traversing two nuclear powers, India and Pakistan, Kashmir (and its close neighbour Panjab) represent a post partition legacy of division resulting in the most militarised international border in the world.
UNCANNY RESEMBLANCE TO 1984
The present annexing of J&K through an ongoing major military operation has an uncanny resemblance to the Congress attach on Panjab in June 1984.
The Indian PM Mr Modi’s justification, for what is in essence a profound undemocratic action, is wholly predictable. Like Indira Gandhi then, Modi too has been extolling the dangers of extremism, of separatist forces, of external enemies and of the desire to bring peace and economic development to the region.
The problem with such justifications is that there is no way of testing their sincerity, other than by making comparisons to the past and other similar situation; and when one does, an altogether different scenario emerges.
Most objective evaluations of similar military expeditions by powerful nations show that, with very few exceptions, it is not benevolence but the exercise and abuse of power resulting in the enslavement of a whole people that is at work. This is the painful truth of all imperial projects and in this respect Modi is no different to Indira Gandhi and other autocratic leaders of the past and present.
In his novel Sea of Poppies, Amitav Ghosh, makes this precise point through the character of a British sea captain who offers an honest appraisal of British imperialism. “The truth is, sir, that men do what their power permits them to do. We are no different from the Pharaohs or the Mongols: the difference is only that when we kill people we feel compelled to pretend that it is for some higher cause. It is this pretence of virtue, I promise you, that will never be forgiven by history.”
My fear is that far from representing some kind of break from the past, offering a truly democratic and benevolent rule, the only difference between the British Imperialists of the past and the Hindutva nationalists of the present is that the ‘gora walas’(white skinned people) have been replaced by the ‘brown valas’ (brown skinned people). Far from offering ‘India’ the possibility of truly breaking free from the remnants of the historical colonial influences of the Moguls and the British, as Modi and the RSS claim, in reality we are seeing a further entrenchment of this project.
Arguably, the only way to free the peoples of the sub continent from the shackles of past colonialism is to respect their right to self determination, not to take it away! Even the British realised the only way to hold the empire together was through allowing the Princely states a degree of autonomy, but what we appear to be seeing in Modi’s vision is a Soviet Style centrally planned Brahmanical state.
Given Modi’s electoral advantage and the abysmal performance of the opposition parties coupled with the deafening silence of so called Western democracies the only hope is that, as with most imperial adventures, the end game is often self-destruction and ultimately the will of the masses cannot be contained. But even then, despite the huge levels of violence and destruction, history rarely admonishes imperialists and no doubt, unless he comes to his senses, Narendra Modi will end up in the dustbin of history reserved for tyrants.
[Gurnam Singh is an academic activist dedicated to human rights, liberty, equality, social and environmental justice. He is a Visiting Fellow in Race and Education at University of Arts London and a Visiting Professor of Social Work at University of Chester as well as a presenter at UK-based Akaal channel. This views were shared on his Facebook page]
* This is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
Did Kashmir have any “autonomy” prior to the recent amendment of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution? (Asia Samachar, 14 Aug 2019)
Sikhi a ‘new age’ religion? (Asia Samachar, 5 Aug 2019)