In a 2-part series, Bilal Majid writes about the politics around Article 370, and the Hindutva design of capturing Kashmir. In this part, the author discusses the history of Hindutva vis-a-vis Kashmir as a whole. The first part dealt with the politics around Article 370 and can be read here.
Lies, deception, distortions, and deceit are at the core of Hindutva’s ideology and the route to realising their aspirations. Hindutva built its organisational base through its siege mentality that held that Hindus are under threat. Hindutva propaganda popularised the ahistoric canard that Muslims who had ruled India for long were tormentors and savages, thereby making Muslim rule synonymous with barbarism and cruelty. The same propaganda propagated the notion that Muslims have contaminated the rich Hindu culture and that a Muslim can never be truly patriotic. The othering of Muslims and the persistent antagonizing of Muslims has helped the BJP consolidate the Hindu vote bank. The BJP, which is striving to be the perennial power in India, is vehemently working in this direction by fulfilling the promises of its election manifesto; the removal of Article 370 – originally an RSS resolution – was necessary for their party’s political interests rather than the interest of the nation. Even if the BJP fails to fulfill its promises of material benefits, growth, and development, its ideology delivers psychological gains for it. With the abrogation of special status and statehood of Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP might have secured its 2024 Prime Ministerial berth but such a move will be catastrophic for stability in South Asia.
Lie #1: Economic Development
One of the biggest lies which the BJP government has constructed for their abrogation of Article 370 is the “Economic Development” in Jammu and Kashmir. An impression has been created among the Indian masses that the people and the state of Jammu and Kashmir desperately needs economic development, which is far from the truth. In his speech in Parliament while announcing the abrogation of Article 370 and the statehood of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s Home Minister Amit Shah consistently brought up the paucity of economic development in Kashmir, whose cause was the existence of Article 370. To justify the abrogation of Article 370, he said “while [the] country is developing, people of J&K still live in poverty.” For Amit Shah, Article 370 hampered the economic development in Kashmir and all the resentment which the people of Kashmir have is because of their unfulfilled economic aspirations and not for their unfulfilled political aspiration of right to self-determination.
This is a lie. According to renowned economist Jean Dreze, Article 370 had in fact helped in the economic development of Kashmir. The revolutionary land reforms in Kashmir were possible precisely because of the existence of Article 370. An understanding and study of developmental indices would reveal the truth about the economic development of Kashmir: that it fares far better than the BJP ruled states despite three decades of conflict, hundreds of thousands of deaths, daily curfews, shutdowns, and a crippling cold which otherwise resists the developmental and economic activities for major part of the year.
Lie #2: Gender Bias
Another concocted lie which not only the BJP but other naïve Indian liberals use to argue in favour of the removal of Article 370 is the “gender bias argument”. It is believed and was overwhelmingly disseminated by BJP cadres that a Kashmiri woman can’t marry a non-Kashmiri resident, and if she does so, she would lose her domicile rights in Kashmir. Narendra Modi, the self-proclaimed messiah of Muslim women who just got done with Triple Talaq, along with many BJP leaders routinely invoke the gender justice argument to justify the removal of J&K’s special status which many constitutional experts say is erroneous and misleading. In 2002, a High Court ruling in Kashmir made it clear that Kashmiri women would not lose their domicile under any condition.
Moreover, in the State Domicile Act of 1926 – which was later included in the Indian Constitution as Article 35A – of Hari Singh’s council, there has never been any gender discrimination. Kashmir and Kashmiris yearning for a political solution and their aspiration for the right to self-determination, which was promised to them by the Indian state,, has been muzzled, decimated, and white washed with the lies, deception and distortions by the BJP.
Lie 3: Sardar Patel
Glossing over the truth that Sardar Patel was a member of the defence committee which took all decisions relating to the accession of Kashmir, be it its autonomy or Article 370, it is Jawaharlal Nehru who has been consistently demonised by the Hindutva brigade for creating the Kashmir conflict rather than annexing it once and for all. With no role and association with freedom struggle, the persistent appropriation and the invocation of Sardar Patel by the BJP is an astute measure by Hindutva forces to claim for itself a role and share in Indian national movement which fetched freedom for India from British colonialism.
It is now well documented that the propagators and believers of Hindutva ideology lacked the moral conviction and spine to take on the British rule. Veer Savarkar’s collaboration with the British government and Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s role as a witness against the Congress activists during the Quit India Movement are fine examples of such spineless characters.
Hindutva and its quest of Kashmir: A history
Hindutva’s aversion for Article 370 and Muslim majority character of the state of Jammu and Kashmir is not a recent hankering. Rather, it has been a long-standing dream of Hindutva to remove Article 370 and alter the demography of Kashmir. To understand Hindutva’s quest for Kashmir, one must consult the pages of history and understand the role of the RSS, the Hindu Mahasabha, and the Praja Parishad, the precursor of the BJP in Kashmir.
The RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha lacked moral conviction and courage to fight against British imperialism, and instead turned into collaborators and power-brokers. Hindutva’s disdain for the Indian freedom struggle was a result of its understanding of India as an exclusively Hindu nation. Golwalkar, the second supreme leader of RSS in his affirmation of not supporting Indian freedom struggle once remarked: “Territorial nationalism implies that the Indian nation is formed of all those people who reside in this land… An effort was consistently made to look upon Hindus, Muslims, Christians as ‘nationals’ and forge them into an integrated force against the foreign rule.” It was this unified ‘national identity’ which cloaked Hindus, Muslims, and Christians together under the Indian National Congress that Hindutva forces found repugnant. Both Hedgewar (RSS Chief, 1925–40) and Golwalkar (RSS Chief, 1940–73) were opposed to the freedom movement as its goal was an inclusive India.
Princely States and Hindu Rashtra
However, to keep their aspirations of realising a Hindu Rashtra alive, Hindutva zealots idealized the princely states (with Hindu rulers) in the Hindu nationalist imagination. B. S. Moonje, the Hindu Mahasabha leader, along with K. M. Munshi, played a great role in perpetuating Hindutva ideology in the princely states. It was these Hindu- ruled princely states on which early Hindu nationalism was mapped.
The princely state of Jammu and Kashmir was no less than Eden for them: its ruler was revered and respected while his subjects, mostly Muslims, were loathed and frowned on. Both the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha adhered to the belief that the purity of Hindu cultural lineage was protected, maintained, and retained in these princely states and were projected as the sites of India’s imagined past of purity and further, the foundation on which the future Hindu rashtra must be built. B. G. Khaparde, in his presidential address to the All-India States’ Hindu Mahasabha Conference (April 1944) at Mysore, remarks that “Those who live in the Princely States have the most excellent opportunity to help the Mahasabha… In [the] States, you have the opportunity … your brethren in British India have not.” During the 1930s and 40s when the Civil Disobedience Movement, the Quit India Movement, etc. were initiated and thousands of freedom fighters were being jailed, there was a vigorous relationship blossoming between the princely states and the Hindutva movement.
The Hindu-ruled princely states were dovetailing with the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS to target the Muslim communities within their states. The Dogra rule in Kashmir, for example, was despotic in nature. It was anti-Muslim in essence and soul. The Muslim populace in Kashmir was heavily taxed and were livening in abject poverty. The history of Kashmiri people under the Dogra rule is nothing but the saga of poverty and oppression. Under the Dogras, cow slaughter was banned and if anyone was indulged in cow slaughter, they were lynched by the state authorities. The state police ruled mercilessly. For minor offences, people were thrown in jail, often without trial. Alastair Lamb’s careful account (Kashmir: A Disputed Legacy, 1846–1990) says:
“In every aspect of the State’s life there was discrimination against the Muslim majority and the application of legislation expressly designed to favour Hindus. Until 1934, for example, the slaughter of cows was a capital offence; and it continued to be forbidden under lesser penalty after that date. The administration of the State was dominated at all levels by the Pandits, Kashmiri Brahmins, who were notoriously corrupt and avaricious. Muslims were in practice severely disadvantaged by the education system which began to develop in the State in the first years of the 20th century. Hindus, alone, were allowed licenses to possess firearms in the Vale of Kashmir; and Muslims from the Vale were carefully excluded from service in the State’s Armed Forces. The State did not hesitate to interfere with many aspects of Muslim religious life including the administration of Islamic shrines.”
The Dogra Raj
To put it straight, the Dogra Raj was a concrete realisation of Hindutva rule. Maharaja Hari Singh was highly revered and respected by Hindutva adherents. The ruling Hindu prince was seen as the representations of Hindu Power. When Kashmiri Muslims started their freedom movement against the Dogras, Moonje disregarded them as he believed the Muslim aspirations for freedom and democracy was not grounded in Hindu Rashtra. He warned his disciples of the Muslim people’s doings against the state and culture of Kashmir. The Hindutva ideology garnered the enthusiastic support of landlords in Jammu and Kashmir as they became insecure with the growing aspiration for freedom and land reforms among the Muslim masses of Kashmir. In 1890s there were more than 40 Hindu landlords in Kashmir, while the number of Muslim landlords was only 2. The Hindu Mahasabha in their mouthpiece Hindu Outlook were constantly critical of the legitimate struggle of Kashmiri Muslims against the oppressive Dogra rule, labelling it the “Communist dominated anti-Dogra struggle.”
At the time of partition when two newly dominions of India and Pakistan were created and a choice was unfurled before the Hari Singh and other princely states to choose between the two. The Hindutva landlords persuaded Hari Singh to accede with India. With more than 80% of Muslim population and all trade links with Sialkot and Rawalpindi and long stretching border with the newly formed dominion of Pakistan, J&K should logically have acceded to it. The communal holocaust which had girdled South Asia at the time of partition didn’t make inroads in the Kashmir valley, where the Muslim population was about 96%. The Maharaja Hari Singh however, with the support of the RSS and Mahasabha cadres, presided over an ethnic cleansing targeting the Muslims of Jammu. This gory episode has been extensively documented. Mahatma Gandhi lamented on November 27, 1947: “This has not been fully reported in the newspapers.” (Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Volume 90, page 115). It was, and still is, little known in India. Gandhi said on December 25, 1947: “The Hindus and Sikhs of Jammu and those who had gone there from outside killed Muslims there. The Maharaja of Kashmir is responsible for what is happening there…. Muslim women have been dishonoured.”
On August 10, 1948, The Times (London) published a report by “A Special Correspondent”, an Indian Civil Service official who had served in the State, who wrote: “2,37,000 Muslims were systematically exterminated—unless they escaped to Pakistan along the border—by all the forces of the Dogra State, headed by the Maharaja in person and aided by Hindus and Sikhs. This happened in October 1947, five days before the first Pathan invasion and nine days before the Maharaja’s accession to India.” The Muslim population of Jammu fell from 61 per cent to 38 per cent.
On August 27, 1947 Hari Singh, without the consent of Kashmiri Muslims, acceded to India. The Hindutva brigade was blissful with this move, however the subsequent events: Article 370, autonomy, etc. made them resentful against Nehru and the Kashmiri Muslims. In November 1947, when India and Pakistan were fighting their first war, the RSS was busy establishing a political front in Jammu namely Jammu Praja Parishad. It served as the main opposition party in the Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir. The Praja Parishad was entirely made up of landlords, primarily focusing on resistance to the land reforms, protection of the interests of landlords, and seeking the abolition of Article 370. It maintained close ties with Bharatiya Jana Sangh, and merged with it in 1963. After its merger with the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the precursor to the present-day Bharatiya Janata Party, the party gradually rose in stature and worked for the abrogation Article 370 and finally did abrogate it treacherously without the consent and concurrence of Kashmiri people.
Complete and Irreversible
Now that Article 370 has been reduced to a corpse, Article 35A has been scrapped, and the statehood of Jammu and Kashmir has been abolished, the only choice that is left with the Kashmiri people is to resist it. Knowing the scale of resistance the Kashmiri people will put up against this gross injustice and constitutional coup, the Indian government has disgracefully imposed a communication blockade and imposed curfews. The people of Kashmir are under siege, the whole valley has been turned into a prison. This kind of repression is unprecedented in the history of mankind. Kashmiris have suffered immensely for all these years and are now petrified with this move. ‘as Articles 370 and 35A represented the last sort of protection—flimsy and nominal though it may be, but for Kashmiris it was the protection of their basic identity as Kashmiris. A protection that guaranteed they can hold on to their property and land without feeling insecure about the demographic threat. A sense of betrayal weighs heavily on the minds of people.
Just as these measures will not undo the reality of the Kashmiri conflict, they will not end the eternal aspirations of the Kashmiri people. Given the circumstances, the present regime’s close ties to Israel, its submission to the exclusivist and Islamophobic ideology of Hindutva, it would be unthinkable for Kashmiris to trust India. Moreover, the influence of pan-Indian big bourgeoisie, whose interests are solely in holding onto the Kashmiri market and using its surplus, and also extracting natural resources in the name of “development,” will be disastrous for the people and environment of Kashmir.
To conclude, it must be conceded that with abrogation of Article 370, 35A, and the abolition of statehood, New Delhi’s moral isolation from the Kashmiri people is complete and irreversible. It might be reversible if India were to envisage a qualitatively different relationship with Kashmir, one which meaningfully satisfies Kashmiri aspirations of right to self-determination or the restoration of its autonomy, but nothing short of that.
The author is from Pulwama, Kashmir.
Feature image: BJP workers celebrate the Government’s decision to revoke Article 370, August 5, 2019. Photo: PTI