Fracturing a People

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Raj Rao

IN August 2019, the Government of India did something unprecedented. It abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution that gave the state of Jammu & Kashmir special status, and it downgraded the state into the union territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. The state’s elected leaders, Farooq and Omar Abdullah, and Mehbooba Mufti among others, were placed under house arrest. Did the Government of India realize then that its brash action would have far-reaching consequences?

Soon after the abrogation of Article 370, the Government of India’s next tactical move was to hurriedly pass the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in both houses of the parliament. The bill unjustly singled out Muslims for the right to citizenship. This outraged not just Muslims but all democratic Indians with a sense of justice. There were student protests against the CAB in college and university campuses across the country. Not just in Jamia Milia, JNU and Aligarh Muslim University but also in my university, the University of Pune, led by student leaders like Satish Gore.

To add insult to injury, the Home Minister, Mr. Amit Shah, spoke of a National Register of Citizens (NRC) as the next step. Once again, there were apprehensions that Muslims would be excluded from the NRC, though on paper, the Government of India vehemently denied this.

Ironically, the Citizenship Amendment Bill turned people, who otherwise may have felt that the scrapping of Article 370 wasn’t such a bad idea after all, against the regime. These were moderate Indians who believed that Balakot was a fitting and much-needed answer to Pulwama. But they now began to see though the government’s treacherous game plan. They were able to join the dots and establish connections between the abrogation of Article 370, and the CAB and NRC.

The agitation against the CAB and proposed NRC culminated in protests by women activists in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh and riots in North East Delhi. But then, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the lockdown it necessitated, put an abrupt end to the campus and Shaheen Bagh agitations.

In Jammu & Kashmir, though, the lockdown triggered by the novel corona virus wasn’t a novelty. The state—now comprising two union territories—was in a state of lockdown since the abrogation of Article 370. Foreign TV channels like Al Jazeera that managed to sneak into Kashmir, portrayed a grim picture of what went on inside. They interviewed Hameeda Nayeem, Head of the Department of English at Kashmir University, who spoke of the learning process of school and college students being retarded; and of barriers having been put on the free flow of learning as a result of political developments.

Yet the Government of India politicized even the pandemic. It viciously held a Muslim sect, known as Tablighi Jamaatis, who attended a religious event at the Nizamuddin Markaz in Delhi, as responsible for the spread of corona in India. That this was false is proved by a recent Delhi High Court ruling which states that there is no evidence that the people who attended the congregation were in any way accountable for India’s growing corona numbers. It is clear that the government made the Tablighi Jamaatis scapegoats only because they were Muslim. No insinuations were made against Hindu shrines that attracted the same crowds of devotees around the same time.

Today, the ramifications of the abrogation of Article 370 resurface in India’s Ladakh standoff with China.

Wang Shida, Deputy Director at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, who specializes in South Asian studies, and Wang Xianfeng, a Chinese diplomat who is press officer at the Chinese embassy in Pakistan, believe that, “India’s actions of unilaterally changing the status quo of Kashmir…have posed a challenge to the sovereignty of China and Pakistan, and made India’s relations with its two neighbours more complex.”

According to Wang Shida, in the wake of the abrogation of Article 370, India opened up new territory on the map, incorporating areas formerly under Xinjiang and Tibet into Ladakh, which was now a separate union territory. This angered China. Its intrusions across the LAC in Ladakh are thus seen as an act of vendetta.

As far as the newly formed union territory of Jammu & Kashmir is concerned, Wang Shida is of the view that India illegally included areas under Pakistan Administered Kashmir within it.

The abrogation of Article 370 and the downgrading of the state of Jammu & Kashmir into two union territories have altered the status quo. Alterations to the status quo open up a Pandora’s Box. They have a snowballing effect. This is proved not only in border disputes that India currently has with China and Pakistan, but also with Nepal, a friendly Hindu country, that has claimed areas in the map that supposedly belong to India.

Needless to say, there will be other implications that the abrogation of Article 370 will have in the months to come. But all we can do is wait and watch.

  • Dr. R. Raj Rao is an internationally known Indian English novelist, poet and critic. He was Professor and Head of the Department of English at the University of Pune in Maharashtra. He has also been a Visiting Professor at universities in Canada and Germany

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