By Amulya Ganguli
The BJP’s “walk back” on Kashmir – to use a polite term for “retreat – must have made it appreciate the difficulty of implementing a religion-based agenda in a democracy.
At the root of the Narendra Modi government’s decision to scrap Articles 370 and 35A of the constitution was not only to deny Kashmir its legally guaranteed special status, but also to convey the message that the RSS and the BJP would now put in place the framework of a Hindu rashtra (nation) which has been their longstanding ideological dream.
In using the BJP’s parliamentary majority to push through a key element of the pro-Hindu agenda with the help of subservient parties outside the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) like the Biju Janata Dal, the YSR Congress and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, the BJP showed how the multi-party system could be manipulated for a sectarian partisan purpose.
Since the BJP suspected that the obliteration of Kashmir’s special status did not have popular approval, its government at the centre stationed half a million troops in the valley, jailed all the important local leaders and cut off the internet. But the party has now taken an about-turn. The number of boots on the ground has been reduced and the incarcerated leaders have been released and invited to meet the prime minister in Delhi.
Why the retreat? Has the government lost its majority in parliament? Have the subservient non-NDA parties displayed a sign of spine? Since none of this has happened, there must be a reason for the government’s volte face. In all probability, the explanation lies in the realization in the corridors of power that, in a democracy, a parliamentary majority is not enough. There ia s larger environment which requires approval from the outside world. In its absence, a government’s move, however legally valid, lacks moral legitimacy.
The government first tried to acquire this legitimacy by taking a number of parliamentarians, mostly of an east European background, on an all-expenses-paid trip to Kashmir. But it didn’t work because of their right-wing Islamophobic views. Then, a larger and more varied group of foreigners was taken on a similar junket.
But these “conducted trips” under strict official supervision were not convincing enough for the international community which continued to believe in Kashmir’s repressive atmosphere. The government was left with no alternative, therefore, but to start taking the first tentative steps towards the only answer to sceptics – releasing the jailed leaders and talking to them apart from promising to hold assembly and parliamentary elections. Democrats have had the last laugh.
True, prior to the elections, a delimitation exercise is being undertaken in Jammu and Kashmir which, the government’s critics suspect, is intended to tweak the constituencies in such a manner that the newly-constituted Union territory’s Muslim-majority status is diluted.
But whatever the objective and the misgivings, the government has recognized the need to go back to the people to secure their stamp of approval, or disapproval, for the peremptory decision to scrap Articles 370 and 35A behind the back of a provincial legislature. What this means is that what is possible in a theocracy or a dictatorship is a no-go in a democracy, where the voice of the people is paramount.
When the RSS started its journey towards a Hindu rashtra nearly a hundred years ago, it must have reposed its faith in the fact that its task will be easy in a Hindu-majority country. The enthusiasm in the 1990s over the Ramjanmabhoomi movement may have been construed by the Hindutva brotherhood as yet another proof of the ease with which the goal of a nation of, by and for Hindus can be accomplished. The BJP’s electoral successes were the third guarantee of a forward movement towards the cherished target.
It is possible that neither the RSS nor the BJP initially took the likelihood of foreign objections to a proactive Hindu agenda seriously. They apparently presumed that such murmurs of discontent could be brushed aside with an adolescent chutzpah of the kind articulated by external affairs minister S. Jaishankar when he pooh-poohed the charge of India’s democracy deficit by several international organizations as the grouses of “self-appointed” custodians of ethical conduct.
But the government’s change of stance on Kashmir is presumably an indication that the allegations of India being “partly free” or an “electoral autocracy” by reputed world bodies have had an impact. Domestically, too, the ravages of the pandemic and the BJP’s defeats in the West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala assembly elections may have told the saffron brotherhood to hit the “pause” button on the road to Hindu rashtra. (IPA Service)