This year marks the centenary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. So, this year’s Independence Day, today, ought to have been a very special day. Unfortunately, the Kashmir valley is locked down, the political leaders are under arrest, even the landline telephone connections are snapped, patients have to struggle to reach hospital, and any celebration of India’s nationhood in the Valley in this context would only elicit derision. Why just the Valley, we have come to such a pass that we the people have gone blind with hatred: we hate one another over religion, caste, politics and opinion, refusing to look our neighbour in the eye.
The abrogation of Article 370 was the culmination of this politics of hatred. Every time the slogan of azadi reverberated in the streets of Srinagar, what was being expressed was hatred towards the idea of India — the notion that people of all religions can live and prosper together in an India created by our founding fathers, among whom were proud Muslim nationalists like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. The politics of brotherhood was negated and religious hatred became the overriding passion in the Valley. Sure, there are several contributing factors, most importantly, the rigged elections of 1987. But now, amnesiac politicians who belong to the party that rigged the elections compare it to Palestine.
The first eruption of armed militancy occurred when a leader from the Valley was the union home minister and the Central government was run by secularists, pacifists and socialists, supported from the outside by the country’s biggest Left parties. That eruption since has become a festering wound, big enough to infect the soul of the nation. The slogan ‘Hum kya chahte hain: azadi’ is followed by the definition of this secessionist politics — ‘Azadi ka matlab kya: la ilaha illallah.’
The BJP and the Sangh Parivar were minor players when Islamist secessionism struck roots in the Valley, when the Pakistani flag was unfurled and youngsters picked up the gun to fight the Indian State. The irony is that these Pakistan-sponsored secessionists had declared the Indian State a Hindu state, when Muslims were holding many levers of power. Yet, nobody could stop the ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiri Pandits. No politician landed up at the Srinagar airport for a first-hand investigation or to stop the exodus. The secular Indian politician was losing his or her legitimacy. Since then, apart from a handful of politically motivated people, a large chunk of Hindus of J&K has had nothing but hatred for secular politicians who refused to acknowledge their misery.
The idealism and nobility of Gandhi’s martyrdom to keep the communities together was betrayed when Jawaharlal Nehru arrested Sheikh Abdullah in 1953. The offer of a plebiscite, Article 370 and the high moral ground were all lost with that one act. If Abdullah could be arrested and detained for a long time over his opinions, if all powers of Article 370 could be gradually diluted, making it meaningless, and if manipulative politics could be played all this while, why should the Congress find fault with the abrogation of Article 370? How could all Indian parties have endorsed the statelessness of Pakistan-fleeing refugees of Jammu for over 70 years? Why didn’t the Valley’s secessionists protest against the Rohingya being given refuge in Jammu? The answers lie in identity politics and the peaking of the hatred of communities for each other. If the Congress and others played minority identity politics, the BJP became successful by ensuring a reverse consolidation using these very socio-political fault lines.
Like everybody else, the ruling BJP also knows that Article 370 is a dead letter. But the abrogation of a dead letter is like the gibbeting of dead bodies by our colonial masters. It is a symbolic revenge against Islamist secessionism and is the fulfilment of a sectarian agenda to sharpen the hate-filled edges of communal politics aimed at the Hindi heartland.
Sadly, even when we celebrate our Independence, we remain confined to the rusted rat traps of sectarian politics laid by the old colonial government. But for Major WA Brown — a British officer technically under Maharaja Hari Singh’s command — defecting to Pakistan, India would have had a border with Afghanistan. Imagine, India having a border with Afghanistan when the Soviet tanks rolled in or when the US troops withdraw from there. It was India’s larger continental role which the British officer destroyed in 1947, and for which he was decorated by his own government. By raising the Pakistani flag at the old tower in Gilgit Scouts Lines, Brown was offering Pakistan a border with China. As for J&K, the British always wanted the territory to accede to Pakistan, as Narendra Sarila asserted in The Shadow of the Great Game, quoting the then British Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations.
We are thus in a time trap and need to get out of it. If the formal abrogation of Article 370 and the creation of two UTs can break us free from the colonial trap, let it be done. But not by turning the Valley into a huge jail; not by hating the Kashmiris and loving Kashmir. We need to surgically remove hatred from our public consciousness, our politics and our discourse. The BJP should realise that it is no longer the fringe of Indian politics but its core, and hence it can no longer practise the politics of communal hatred. If it does, it will only help tear apart the nation, which it claims to love. On the other extreme, the Left radical intellectuals had long been crying wolf, supporting Islamist secessionists and de-legitimising mainstream politicians. Now their lament for Article 370 rings terribly hollow. From the extreme abyss of political and communal hatred, we need to reach the safe ground of political rivalry of competing ideas. Hatred cannot lead us anywhere because it is blind and deaf.