India was cut into two, rather three, by a bizarre logic that its Hindus and Muslims were two different nations who could not live in the same polity. At the insistence of the Muslim League, which styled itself, with tenable justification, as the sole spokesman of the Muslims, the Muslim majority areas were hived off. This so called solution, like every coercive solution, engendered myriad problems.
The foremost of which was that the minorities in both the countries were left at the mercy of respective sullen majorities. Since the nationhood was premised on religion, not territory, the communal argument, too clever by half as it was, didn’t envision the fate to befall the religious minorities in the countries ruled by their respective religious majorities. What would be the nation of the minorities post-Partition? Would they belong to the nation constituted by their religion or to where they lived?
How the two, and later three, countries treated their religious minorities bore the imprint of the ideologies which had gone into shaping their political discourses. The Indian National Congress, true to its professed creed, kept India secular where the minorities were accorded equal citizenship. Pakistan, inevitably, had to become a theocratic state where the minorities would, ipso facto, be relegated to second class and subordinate status.
Since the Muslim majority areas of the British India became Pakistan, the same was expected of a Muslim majority princely state as well, but the complication came with the lapse of the Paramountcy of the British Crown, and the restoration of the sovereignty of the ruling prince who was given the right to join either of the two dominions or none. A Hindu Maharaja in a Muslim majority state was a real twist in the tale, a tale which was doomed to remain twisted for seemingly ever.
Pakistan expected Kashmir to become its part as a natural corollary of the logic of Partition, but the Maharaja, having absolute right to join either, or none, would keep his own interest paramount. Moreover, there had been a mass movement in Kashmir against the systemic wrongs, exploitation and discrimination which the Maharaja’s feudal monarchy represented. The movement’s charismatic leader felt a natural affinity with the progressive ideals of the Congress led India rather than the dystopian fortress of fanaticism Pakistan was bound to become. Above all, he wanted to abolish feudal relations and institute land reforms in order to drag his people out of the abject poverty which had been their lot. It was not possible in Pakistan, a country made by the zamindars and for the zamindars.
Pakistan became impatient, and sent troops. The Maharaja sought India’s help which was given only after he agreed to accede his state to India. A war happened. Ceasefire followed. Pakistan kept a slice of Kashmir. UN mediation was sought. The plebiscite couldn’t be held as Pakistan didn’t give up what it occupied. The story became stale.
To cut a long story short, Pakistan considered Kashmir’s accession to India a freakish anomaly which undermined its ideological foundation that if Muslims were in majority in any part of India, they should become a separate nation and carve out a separate country and merge the same with it.
It was a great challenge for India too. Whether it was going to make Kashmir an organic part of its body politic, or accommodate it as a foreign element which would need special provisions and safeguards. The Nehru-led India — liberal, accommodating and indulgent —Fabian not only in economy but in socio-political policies for minorities too — chose the latter.
It looked beautiful. India at its secular best insofar as secularism meant letting the minorities preserve and celebrate their religious distinction. But, since religion and politics had been reincarnated as Siamese twins in how the nation was often imagined and conceptualised in India, it effectively meant that they could continue working with the same old premise which legitimised separatism, i.e. a Muslim majority state was different from others.
So, in essence, special provisions for Kashmir were mainly because its majority was Muslim. This implied a tacit acceptance on part of India that there would be valid reasons if the state were to go for secession, and merge with Pakistan. And, therefore, the special provisions were the sops to keep it from going over the other side. Article 370 had essentially been the continuation of the two nation theory.
Anyway, things didn’t go well. An unending series mistrusts and betrayals from both sides never let democracy take roots in Kashmir. Elections never had much credibility, and the rulers they threw up couldn’t claim for themselves any representative status. Pakistan was on the look out to avenge 1971, and raring to inflict a thousand cuts to bleed India to death.
The Afghan War, the Saudi Wahabi petro dollars and the Western support for Islamic radicalism had changed the ideological landscape of the area. Thus, the grievances which in most other parts of India would have led to agitations, led to insurgency in Kashmir. An insurgency which, both by design and default, became Pakistan’s war on India. Many Kashmiris fought it, and lots of them supported it. Kashmir bled. India bled. The Muslim minority in India became anaemic.
Growing up in the 1980s, we never felt like lesser beings. The wounds of Partition had healed, a new generation had grown up, and 1971 had majorly assuaged the hurt of 1947. We disdained and derided the diffidence and and circumspection of our elders. We were equals. Fully. The word terrorism was linked to Sikhs, not Muslims. But, as the Kashmir insurgency intensified, and bombs went off in temples, markets, streets and parliament — for Kashmir, by Pakistan, in the name of Islam — terrorist became the byword for Muslim.
The Muslim minority — the flotsam and jetsam, the discarded and the dispensable collaterals of the Partition, became guilty by association once again & they lost their standing in the national discourse as the nationalist narrative insinuated suspicion, stoked hatred and incited aggression against them.
The war on India has to stop. The sense of separation has to go. 370, eviscerated as it was, had to go. However, Kashmir is not going anywhere, and Kashmiris are there to stay. And so, the loss of statehood is an abasement as hurtful as thrusting puerility on an adult. That every progress attained, every stage reached, everything taken as a natural state of being can be reversed in a trice, is a distressing devaluation of every ideal and every value held sacred.
Making a plaything of sanctities disturbs the equilibrium of the nature. It leads to a crisis of legitimacy. If Kashmir can be reduced from a state to a union territory, so can be every other state. Everything can cease to be what it has been. Article 370 might have gone, but Article 1 is alive, and it says, “India, that is Bharat, is a union of states.” It means that an India minus a state is that much less.
There is another diminution, that of decency and morality. The extremely sexualised, obscene and offensive triumphalism of religious fanaticism masked as jingoistic hubris masked as patriotic pride is an unwitting admission of illegitimacy.
Lastly, a nation is an imagination which is made a reality when a sea of humanity dreams the same dream at the same time. If some of those dreams turn into a nightmare, the sleep gets disturbed and the spell is broken.