NEW Delhi said that the abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35A of the Indian constitution through which it abolished Kashmir’s special status and brought it under its direct rule is an ‘internal matter of India’ that Dhaka dittoed. Both the capitals forgot that Islamabad had said very much the same in 1971 that what it was doing inside Bangladesh was Pakistan’s internal matter. Pakistan’s military was at that time involved in taking away from the people of Bangladesh their right of self-determination by brutal and genocidal military action.
New Delhi paid no attention to Islamabad in 1971. Bangladesh by then had started one of the most glorious wars of liberation in modern history to pay any attention to Islamabad. The 75 million people of Bangladesh became a monolith responding to the call of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman for freedom. New Delhi recognised that urge for freedom of the people of Bangladesh wholeheartedly. The Indian armed forces and Bangladesh freedom fighters formed the joint command and fought the Pakistani occupation force and defeated them eventually on December 16, 1971.
It is, therefore, an irony of history that New Delhi has committed in Kashmir and for the moment appears to have succeeded in doing what the Pakistanis attempted and failed in 1971 in Bangladesh. And to make matters worse for New Delhi, Kashmir (and Jammu) was never a part of India, not legally. The principles under which the British divided the 565 princely states in 1947, Kashmir should have legally been a part of Pakistan. However, Kashmir’s Hindu Maharaja Hari Singh acceded to India with New Delhi’s encouragement and that of Lord Mountbatten, India’s first governor general and the viceroy at the time of partition.
The Maharaja’s illegal act led to the first full-scale India-Pakistan War, 1947–1949. And when ceasefire ended the war temporarily, two things happened. First, the Indian army occupied two-thirds of Kashmir (and Jammu) and the Pakistan army the rest, thereafter, called Azad Kashmir by the Pakistanis and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir by the Indians. Second, that occupation went to the UN that passed the UN Security Council Resolution 47 of April 21, 1948 under which it was decided that the fate of Kashmir would be decided through a plebiscite by the Kashmiris themselves after the cessation of hostilities.
The fate of Kashmir has remained undecided for the next 72 years. It became more complex and complicated as time passed by. The plebiscite was never held because India knew that it would lose the state if it was held and its friends at the United Nations helped UNSC Resolution 47 to be put into the cold storage. The Kashmiris did not compromise with the treachery of 1947 nor of the ill intentions of India and its friends at the United Nations. Many of them took up arms. Kashmir (and Jammu) thus became a battleground for the next seven decades ‘fought by an occupation force of 700,000, seven times the maximum number of troops deployed at any time by the Soviet Union or US-NATO in Afghanistan.’
A section of Kashmiris led by Sheikh Abdullah put their faith and trust in New Delhi even after the treachery of 1947 believing that under the Congress-led by Pandit Nehru who had promised that the Kashmiris would decide their fate, the future of the Muslims in Kashmir would be better than opting for Pakistan. In 1957, the state was given ‘special status’ under Article 370 and 35A when the Indian constitution was adopted. Over time, it became obvious to the Kashmiris that their special status was not genuine and more and more Kashmiris showed their eagerness to fight for their freedom. The assistance that came from across the border helped them to fight for their freedom as Jammu and Kashmir became for all intents and purpose a state under seize.
The situation in Kashmir worsened after New Delhi had introduced in 1990, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act that gave the Indian security forces the same powers as an occupation force in history to govern with impunity and without accountability, to quell protests and militancy in the state that were on the rise. More than 50,000 people have been killed in Kashmir since AFSPA was introduced and ‘hundreds of mass graves have been discovered… the International Crisis Group has estimated that the region is home to 30,000 orphans and at least 1,000 “half-widows”, a term used for Kashmiri women whose husbands are among the missing but have not been proved dead.’
A paradigm shift for the worse came into Indian politics in 2014 when the BJP wrested power from the Congress. The BJP under the influence of the blatantly Hindu fundamentalist RSS made Hindutva the official ideology of New Delhi. Thereafter, it was only a matter of time that the focus of the Hindutva activists would fall on the Kashmiri Muslims. That came after the RSS had helped the BJP win a huge mandate in the May 2019 elections. Narendra Modi obliged them by deciding to make an example of Kashmir to show that Hindu India was finally ready to punish the Muslims for their one thousand years’ rule.
New Delhi also obliged the Hindutva activists by finally acknowledging that it would never be able to make Kashmir a part of India with the consent of the Kashmiris. They, however, had an even bigger goal in abrogating the two articles the encouragement for which came from Israel. That Narendra Modi and Benjamin Netanyahu admire each other at a personal level is no secret. The Indian prime minister and the BJP believe that Israel’s nation-state model based on Zionism could become the ideal model for Hindutva-based India and that emulating the Israel model would last as it has in Israel if ‘pursued, and accomplished, in a way compatible with a democratic polity.’
These are all conjectures and could very well be merely wishful thinking on the BJP’s part. There are many fundamental differences between Israel, its history and present and India, its history and its present to make any comparison stand to reason and logic. In fact, if there is any comparison between Israel and India in the context of Kashmir, it is the fact that Israel has been established in land that has been forcibly taken from the Palestinians the same way New Delhi has now established its direct rule in Kashmir by taking the land of the Kashmiris that many including the BJP’s supporters themselves are describing as ‘annexation.’
The abrogation of Article 370 and 35A for all practical purpose would, nevertheless, give New Delhi de jure control over Kashmir that it had de facto for the past 72 years. The United Nations is unlikely to lift a finger for Resolution 47. No other power, not even the Muslim countries, have shown any inclination to come to the assistance of the Kashmiri Muslims. Nevertheless, two crucial questions on Kashmir would still remain unanswered and unresolved. First, would the abrogation end the 72-year-old Kashmir war and, second, would the Kashmiris submit themselves to their forcible subjugation to become a part of India? History should tell us that such forcible subjugation could only be temporary. Therefore, India may have committed a historical error with the decision to ‘annex’ Kashmir. It may have won a battle, but not the war.
P Chidambaram, an intellectually competent Congress politician, stated that New Delhi has committed a historical blunder with the abrogation because it could very well signal the beginning of the breakdown of India. He explained that the ease with which New Delhi trashed the Constitution to bring Kashmir to its knees could be done to any of the states of India that New Delhi would want to punish in future. And those who believe that India has a case to build a sustainable nation-state like Israel based on democracy need to consider that New Delhi trashed the Indian constitution in the most arbitrary way imaginable for which the Israelis should feel insulted not elated.
The developments in India over Kashmir should send chills through the Bangladeshi spine and India’s neighbours. The Hindutva activists are gaga. They are publicly stating that their objectives are not to make Kashmir an internal affair. They want the annexation of Kashmir to be the first step in realising their vision of Akhand Bharat. A Shiv Sena member of parliament said in the Lok Sabha during the debates on the abrogation that the annexation of Baluchistan would follow the annexation of Kashmir till the dream of the Indian Hindus for Akhanda Bharat would be achieved.
Postscript: For the records, on November 2, 1947, Pandit Nehru said that Kashmir’s accession to either India or Pakistan would be decided by Kashmiris. Mahatma Gandhi echoed the same. New Delhi has trashed their legal commitments with the consummate ease of a dictatorial regime.
M Serajul Islam is a former career ambassador.
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