CONFINEMENT IN SRINAGAR AIRPORT
ON August 9, I along with CPI general secretary, D Raja proceeded to Srinagar after the central government had, on August 5, dismantled the state of Jammu and Kashmir and divided it into two centrally administered union territories. This was done through a virtual military takeover and arresting mainstream political leaders.
On the previous day, August 8, I had written a letter to the governor of Jammu and Kashmir informing him of my forthcoming visit to meet CPI(M) Central Committee member and four time MLA, Mohd Yusuf Tarigami. Yusuf was arrested and as he was not keeping good health, I had informed the governor of the reasons why I wanted to meet him and other comrades. (see box)
While at the airport at Delhi to board the flight, many Kashmiri youth who were returning to be with their families for the Eid on the 12th were curious as to why we were visiting Srinagar under the present circumstances. I told them that apart from trying to meet our leaders and enquire their welfare, this visit is also an expression of our solidarity and our commitment to safeguard the values of democracy, secularism and federalism. Many were highly skeptical about our being allowed to leave Srinagar airport by the security forces. These discussions continued during the flight as well with people expressing their anger and resentment.
As the plane prepared to land at Srinagar airport there was an announcement that all shutters of the windows must be lowered. Normally at the time of landing, passengers are urged to keep the shutters open. This only added to the tension inside the plane. The secrecy to prevent the passengers from seeing what is happening outside on the ground was itself ominous. It was clear that the authorities did not want to let the passengers see the ground realities.
As the flight landed and the doors opened there was a posse of policemen waiting at the doorstep to escort us to a private room. When asked why, we were told that a senior officer will come and inform us. There was a DSP of the J&K police waiting in the room who informed us that he has orders not to allow us to proceed outside the airport. Upon asking why, he replied that orders were orders. When I demanded to see the orders he said that that is the duty of the judicial authorities and they are on their way. Little later an executive magistrate (first class) Nusrat, a middle aged Kashmiri lady, arrived with orders. It was clear that she was implementing her orders, but met us with characteristic Kashmiri politeness and hospitality. An order was shown which said that I, by name, am not permitted to leave the airport premises and must return to Delhi by the earliest available flight. The reasons enumerated were that there are prohibiting orders in force and when I contested that two people do not constitute the violation of Section 144, she showed the second reason. Even if I were to go with police escort, it will trigger provocative public reaction and that can create law and order problems and hence my stepping out of the airport is prohibited. When asked under whose custody I was, police or judicial, the answer given was both.
This is an outright denial of my elementary democratic rights. As the general secretary of a national party, I had the right to meet my Party members anywhere in the country. I was physically prevented by the armed policemen from exercising my fundamental right. I have written to the president of India to this effect upon returning to Delhi on August 10. (see box)
Since we had already booked return tickets to Delhi in the evening flight, we refused to go by their arrangement. We told the authorities that we are on a protest sit-in.
Under these circumstances, I had written a letter to Yusuf (see box) which the SP of the district promised to have it delivered. I do not know whether this promise has been kept.
There is a complete denial of any information as to where the mainstream political party leaders are. Are they arrested? Are they in jails or elsewhere? The silence itself showed the degree of secrecy surrounding the military takeover of the state. Indefinite curfew has been imposed. Cell phones and internet networks totally banned. People are completely isolated and insulated not only from the outside world but also from each other. Kashmiri passengers after landing at airport show their boarding passes as their curfew pass to move to their place of shelter and after that they cannot move out, unless they procure a curfew pass which is a near impossibility.
That all this was happening on the eve of Eid only aggravated the agony. The planes are full of Kashmiris returning to be with their families on the day of Eid.
What is happening is largely seen by the few people who we could speak to, including officials, as the stripping of the identity of Kashmir-Kashmiriyat in one cruel stroke.
From being one of the 29 states of India, J&K has been reduced as two separate union territories. This ‘demotion’ many see as a further insult.
People are virtually besieged by this military takeover. The anger and confusion are only waiting to erupt, it appears. While the official position is that everything is peaceful in Kashmir, some foreign and domestic media report the contrary.
Subsequently, it is reported that J&K governor has offered to send a plane to fetch Rahul Gandhi to see the peace and tranquility in the state. If that is the case honorable governor, why was I stopped from entering Srinagar despite giving prior information about my visit?
A SAGA OF BETRAYAL
Circumstances in which J&K acceded to the Indian Union have been written in these columns on many occasions. The Maharaja of the Dogra Kingdom of J&K did not sign the instrument of accession when India became independent on August 15, 1947. It was only when the Pakistani raiders attacked and reached the outskirts of Srinagar that the Maharaja was forced to sign the accession agreement. The people of Kashmir fought these Pakistani raiders along with the Indian army that was put into operations once J&K acceded to the Indian Union. Article 370 was incorporated in the Indian Constitution that was being drafted by the Constituent Assembly under these circumstances to give J&K a special status. J&K is not the only state which is protected by the Indian Constitution with special status. Article 371 provides for Maharashtra and Gujarat, Nagaland-371 A, Assam-371 B, Manipur 371 C, AP 371 D&E (now AP and Telangana), Sikkim- 371 F, Mizoram-371 G, Arunachal Pradesh-371 H and Goa 371-I.
The Delhi agreement, which was signed in 1952 and ratified by both the Indian Parliament and J&K Constituent Assembly was never implemented to begin with. The arrest of Sheikh Abdullah in 1953 and the subsequent political turbulence sowed the seeds of contempt and alienation amongst the people. At the same time, the Praja Parishad, an earlier avtar of the BJP, sowed the seeds of communal polarisation by agitating against Article 370 and the Delhi agreement. This roused passions leading to sharp communal polarisation. Subsequent developments continued to deepen communal polarisation by the activities of the RSS and BJP.
Simultaneously, Pakistan sponsored terrorist attacks heightened the menace of terrorism. All these developments contributed to the current situation. The CPI(M) Central Committee in November 2010 adopted a resolution on the J&K issues which details the betrayal of promises made at the time of J&K accession. Before J&K state was dismantled, Article 370 stood diluted to such an extent that 94 of the 97 subjects listed under the central list for legislation were applicable to J&K.
Former BJP PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee had promised a solution to the J&K problem by adhering to Kashmiriyat (Kashmir’s unique culture and customs), insaniayat (humanism), and Jhamoriyat (democracy). This was never realised. Cross border terrorism ensured the disruption of India-Pak dialogues. Some efforts were made under the UPA-I government but nothing substantial was achieved. Repeated breakdown of law and order, confrontation between the people and the security forces and the menace of terrorism continued to build up.
The approach of the Modi-I government was to tackle the unrest as merely a law and order problem. The reinforcement of security forces, however, did not succeed in restoring normalcy or peace and harmony.
In 2016, large scale disturbances leading to the killing of over hundred protesters occurred. After much debate in the parliament and after much delay, an all Party MPs delegation to J&K was decided. This was led by the then union home minister. This delegation, of which I was a member, visited Kashmir in September 2016. Upon return, this delegation proposed the tackling of the situation through immediate confidence building measures and the initiation of a political process through a dialogue with all stake-holders. The confidence building measures included: (a) stopping the use of pellet guns (b) adequate compensation for those families who lost lives and those blinded or injured. (c) identify those guilty of excesses against civilians and on the basis of a judicial enquiry, take action against them and (d) the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from civilian areas.
Upon its return to Delhi, this all party delegation issued a public statement which said: “the members appeal to the people of the state to shun the path of violence and resolve all the issues through dialogue and discussion. The members requested the central and state government to take steps for a dialogue with all stake-holders. The members asked the central and state government to take steps to ensure that educational institutions, government offices and commercial establishments start functioning normally at the earliest. They requested the government to take effective steps to ensure security for all citizens and provide medical treatment to citizens and security personnel injured in the agitation.”
However, the Modi-I government did not follow up on these suggestions. None of these measures were ever implemented. On the contrary, the strength of the security forces was significantly increased.
2019 GENERAL ELECTIONS
The election manifesto released by the BJP in the recent elections included its resolve to withdraw Article 370 and 35 A of the Indian Constitution. This has now been implemented in a manner which constitutes a grave assault on democracy, secularism and federalism.
The manner in which this has been done has very grave implications. Clearly, the BJP has been preparing the ground for some time. It withdrew from the coalition government with the PDP leading to the fall of the state government. When the possibilities of an alternative government through a Congress-National Conference alliance appeared, the central government promptly dissolved the assembly to preempt any such possibilities. The state was placed under central rule with the governor as the main authority.
The central government bypassed the constitutional provisions that any change in the boundaries of any state should have the concurrence of the elected state assembly (Article 3). By seeking the governor’s approval as a substitute, because the state assembly did not exist, this Modi government got parliament’s approval. It is now clear that the election to the state assembly were not held along with parliamentary elections only to ensure the office of the governor functions as a proxy for state assembly.
The method adopted sets a very dangerous precedent for the future. Any non-BJP state government can be dismissed misusing Article 365 and put under central rule. Then that state can be dismantled in this manner and divided into union territories administered by the union home ministry. This is a severe assault on our constitution and federalism.
The apprehensions of many with whom we spoke to are that this Modi government is adopting the Israeli model of oppressing the Palestinians, encroaching their properties, and confining them into military surrounded areas. Will the Kashmir valley be India’s Gaza Strip? Palestinians in Gaza protest militantly against Israeli occupation on a daily basis. The ‘Intifada’ has become the symbol of Palestinian resistance. Will this be the future of Kashmir? These are indeed ominous apprehensions.
OTHER OMINOUS DEVELOPMENTS
This dismantling of J&K is an ominous development for India’s existence as a secular democratic republic. The Supreme Court has begun a day to day hearing on the Ayodhya dispute. The BJP’s promises to build the Ram temple at the disputed site is an issue over which it roused communal passions to the extent leading to demolishing the Babri Masjid that led to a string of communal conflagrations, across the country.
BJP manifesto also promised the establishment of a National Register of Citizens (NRC), like it is currently happening in Assam, in all bordering states with Bangladesh to begin with. The president of India has said this in his first address to the joint session of the parliament, post 2019 elections. Simultaneously, this Modi government is pushing for the Citizenship Amendment Bill. This, if passed, will be anti-constitutional as it defines citizenship on the basis of religious affiliation of a person. This is aimed at debarring the grant of citizenship to Muslim refugees who have been living in India for decades while granting citizenship to non-Muslims, ie, Hindus etc.
This entire agenda is aimed at undermining the secular democratic republic. This is designed to advance the fascistic agenda of the RSS for converting our secular democratic republic into a rabidly intolerant fascistic ‘Hindu(tva) Rashtra’. The future of our republic is at stake. If allowed to succeed, then the India that all of us know today will not remain. It is the duty of all secular democratic patriots to stand up and rebuff these ominous assaults.