The manner in which Article 370 of the Constitution of India has been abrogated and the forcible annexation of the occupied part of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir by the government of India lays bare several stark realities of the Indian polity.
It is now very clear that the Indian state structure has been created with nothing except threats, coercion and annexation. When the Dominion of India was created in August 1947 the nascent country lured in hundreds of princely states which dotted the Indian subcontinent using an Instrument of Accession. This Instrument provided that except for defence, foreign affairs and communication the Indian Dominion will not interfere in any matter whatsoever of a princely state.
On the face of it, this agreement looked very good. Even though many princely states traced their existence in India to over a thousand year, several were larger than a number of European states, and some were even more developed than adjoining British Indian provinces, in the flurry of nationalist excitement it seemed proper to accede on these three issues to the new country. In fact some argued that limiting the role of the new Centre to three subjects was in fact giving them more autonomy since the British, under the doctrine of paramountcy, asserted far more power and authority in the affairs of the princely states. Therefore, a large number of princes willingly, and some under threats and coercion, signed the dotted line.
But history unravelled in another manner. Scarcely had the ink dried on the Instruments of Accession when India went back on its promises. It was as if the Instruments were just a lure to bring the prey to the poacher and once the prey was within reach the poacher had no qualms about devouring the object. Within three months of signing the lauded agreements the clever Sardar Patel and his right hand man VP Menon forced through a series of mergers, unions and even direct take over of states. The states were helpless as they had signed over their defence to a country which wanted to obliterate their existence. Little did they know that their defender was going to be their destroyer too.
For the states which did not accede to India, there was simply one option: attack, occupation and forcible annexation. The fate of Junagadh, the first state to accede to Pakistan in September 1947, is well known, as is the takeover of Hyderabad—a state which had existed for three hundred years, and had all the hallmarks of a modern state, with its own army, railways, airline and currency. In November 1947, it did not matter that Junagadh had legally acceded to Pakistan and by annexing the state India was annexing a part of Pakistan. Similarly, when Hyderabad wanted to assert its right to remain independent, as international law allowed it to, it was simply attacked, occupied and annexed in September 1948.
While the ‘integration’ of the princely states in the first few years was explained as the formation of the state, the government of India did not change its line. In 1961, the same pattern was adopted with Goa, a Portuguese enclave on the coast, which had been under Portuguese rule since the fifteenth century. Again the fact that Goa had been part of Portugal for a long time and had its own separate existence did not make a difference. The decision of New Delhi to take it over trumped all ethics, morality and concerns about laws and justice.
Despite the stark realities of the coercive attitude of the Indian government, the treatment of the state of Jammu and Kashmir (the Indian occupied part), was hailed as an example of the magnanimity of the Indian government and a symbol of its secular and diverse outlook. Sheikh Abdullah, the famed Kashmiri leader who was for the accession of Kashmir to India and worked towards making it a reality, even noted that Kashmir was the ‘stabilising’ factor in India when it came to Hindu-Muslims relations.
Thus, in a way, the manner in which (occupied) Jammu and Kashmir was treated in the Indian Union was not only a testament to the secular and varied nature of the Indian polity, it played an important role in creating a harmonious bridge between Hindus and Muslims of India. Article 370 which enshrined that the government of India would abide by the Instrument of Accession and limit its interference to the three aforementioned subjects, was the cornerstone of such an understanding. However, on August 5, 2019, this fig leaf was removed and India stood naked as the coercive and occupying force it is.
Listening to the speech of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 8, 2019 was a very surreal experience. In his forty minutes, Modi tried to argue that the annexation and demotion of (occupied) Jammu and Kashmir was in fact good for its people. He rattled off several benefits the people of the state would now receive since they were now directly under the rule of the Centre and how that would bring in development, peace, prosperity to the region.
It was certainly a fantastic speech because even as he spoke of what a great day had dawned, the people of (occupied) Jammu and Kashmir were under a lockdown, with no communication with the outside world. With thousands more troops on the ground, curfew conditions, and severe clampdown on even a whiff of dissent, it was certainly a ‘new dawn’ for Kashmiris with their constitution abrogated with a stroke of the pen, their statehood taken away, their status demoted, and them becoming vassals of an authoritarian central government.
The mention by Modi of how the Kashmiris were subjugated by their own constitution and special rights, and how the direct rule of a benevolent central government will lift them out of their miserable state could only send a chill down the spine to anyone who has read history. Perhaps directly taken from a textbook for colonialism, Modi’s speech was certainly more colonial in its outlook and tenor than even what the most racist and colonial could have uttered.
The ‘Hindu man’s burden’ to refashion the famous poem of Rudyard Kipling, was clear in the speech of Modi who was now ushering in an era of development and progress for the hapless people of the region, who were held back by their own selves. Listening to the speech as a Pakistani it also echoed the speech of every military dictator we have had, from Ayub Khan in 1958 to Musharraf in 1999, who claimed that their only interest was the upliftment of the people of the country and that their coercive tactics were just a small inconvenience in that direction. Seventy years later most Pakistanis are still wondering where that promised land of milk and honey went after direct military rule for over 30 years.
The lesson of the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution is clear: nothing is sacrosanct in India, no agreement, no matter how supreme, is safe, and, most importantly, the ultimate reality is that the Indian state does not stand for the wishes of its people, but for the naked exercise of brutal force in every sphere.
In 1946, the future Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, wrote his seminal work, the Discovery of India, to make the case for the sovereignty of India based on the history and heritage of its people. The India he created in 1947 was perhaps a shadow of that, but now, in 2019, it is certainly a ghost where the people of India have been taken squarely out of the equation and a brutal neo-colonial and dictatorial state is omnipresent.