As Kashmir Is Erased, Indian Democracy Dies In Silence

Which state will next feel the sharp edge of Amit Shah’s knife? Which town, district, or taluka, will be deemed too troublesome to be allowed to participate in democracy?

05/08/2019 2:14 PM IST | Updated 05/08/2019 4:28 PM IST
ASSOCIATED PRESS

The decision to eliminate the state of Jammu & Kashmir by legislative decree was made in absolute secrecy, and will be executed in absolute darkness. 

Thousands of troops have been deployed on the streets, opposition leaders have been put under house arrest with a midnight knock on their doors, the internet has been blacked out, and phone lines have been severed.

The only inkling of the government’s moves came from a chance photograph, snapped as home minister Amit Shah entered Parliament this morning, August 5 2019.

A neat Excel sheet laid out a checklist for Kashmir’s erasure:

“Inform the President —— Done”, the checklist read, under the sub-head, titled ‘Constitutional’. “Inform the Vice President —— Done.” There was a cabinet meeting, and then the bill was brought before Parliament, where a noisy but largely ineffectual Opposition was given an hour to deliberate the redrawing of India’s political map.

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If all goes as planned, and there is little sign it won’t, the state of Jammu and Kashmir will be replaced by two union territories — one with a legislature subservient to a puppet governor, and one with just a puppet governor.

What of the Kashmiris? Where do they appear in Amit Shah’s checklist? Way down on point number 14 and 15 under “Law and Order”. 

While Point 14 calls for the Home Secretary to make his way down to a state that has been amputated into a colony administered by New Delhi, Point 15 reveals that colonising one’s own territories carries an attendant risk: “Possibility of violent disobedience amongst sections of uniformed personnel.”

Kashmir is the boundary condition of Indian democracy; and as of now, democracy is dead in the darkness.

From the margins to the centre

Independent India has seen the creation of new states from older ones — Chhattisgarh from Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand from parts of Bihar and Bengal, Uttarakhand up in the north. Union territories like Goa have become states, but this is perhaps the first time a state and its residents have simply been imagined out of existence.

So what do the Kashmiris think of all this? At the moment it is impossible to say. News from the state has simply been throttled by shutting down all lines of communication, deploying thousands of troops, and forbidding any public assembly. 

As Delhi lays out Kashmir’s abbreviated future, the Kashmiris have been silenced; and in this silence we see the demise of Indian democracy. 

Over the long years of insurgency and counter-insurgency, we have learnt that the atrocities committed at the nation’s margins have a way of finding their way to the centre. 

Military doctrines honed in Kashmir are readily adopted in Jharkhand. A quirk of military rationing and troop provisioning brings the Border Security Force and Indo Tibet Border Patrol to camps in southern Bastar.

As Delhi lays out Kashmir’s abbreviated future, the Kashmiris have been silenced; and in this silence we see the demise of Indian democracy.

The detention camps for so-called foreigners in Assam don’t appear very different from the mass incarceration camps prototyped in Srikakulam in the 1960s and 1970s and deployed decades later in Bastar, to suppress local populations. Draconian laws enacted to police troubled areas soon bleed out into the rest of the country, right up to the point that Parliament passes a law to denote individuals as terrorists. 

Fatal urgency

“There is no emergency, only urgency,” Venkaiah Naidu, India’s Vice President, the Rajya Sabha’s Chair and formerly a minister in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s previous tenure, said this morning, as he shouted down the opposition. 

But what is an emergency but a fatal urgency to override democracy’s slow-moving methods?

What more turbulence will this urgency bring? Which state will next feel the sharp edge of Amit Shah’s knife?

A nation of 1.2 billion citizens requires deliberation, conversation, and consensus. Take that away and all we have left is the empty spectacle of a parliament of mostly ageing, balding, bloody-thirsty men, eager to throttle any possibility of a peaceful future for the opportunity to live out their impotent fantasies of imposing their will on a besieged populace.

What more turbulence will this urgency bring? Which state will next feel the sharp edge of Amit Shah’s knife? The populace of which town, district, taluka, mountain-side, river valley, sugar-cane field will be deemed too troublesome to be allowed to participate in democracy? 

Will a troublesome province in West Bengal suddenly find it has been turned into a union territory headed by an ageing pracharak reinvented as a Governor? Or will the state of Tamil Nadu, whose entire politics has been based on a refutation of Delhi-based autocracy, suddenly find it has been urgently demoted down democracy’s ladders?

It isn’t hard to predict how the erasure of Kashmir will play out over the next few weeks. The government’s gaggle of friendly news anchors have already begun dancing to their master’s tunes. At some point, someone will hail this as a political masterstroke. Someone will find a way to blame the opposition. 

But a rubicon has been crossed, a boundary has been breached, a state has been erased and a populace has been blanked out of the national conversation. 

For us citizens, there is urgency, yes. But there is also a state of emergency.

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