From being a pariah in Kashmir to completely running it now, how the Sangh parivar’s journey in the Himalayan valley has unfolded in the last seven decades.
A plane landed at Dum Dum Airport where a large number of people thronged to see the body of a man who died in ‘mysterious circumstances’ in Kashmir.
It was 23 June, 1953. Calcutta was blazing with heat. At the airport was an octogenarian in white saree. She was there to receive the body of her son Syama Prasad Mookerjee who had died miles away from the blazing sun of Calcutta summers. But why in Kashmir and what was he doing there?
Kashmir was annexed by India in 1947 following a diplomatic, political and military battle. 26 October remains the D-day for Indians as Kashmir acceded to India when raiders from newly formed Pakistan were already in Baramulla and Srinagar was within the range. In the coming months, war broke out between the armies of India and Pakistan. Brothers from the unified British Indian Army were now enemies to each other.
UN intervention and ceasefire created a fractured Kashmir. A part formed the state of Jammu and Kashmir under indirect Indian rule while portions of Kashmir including Gilgit, Muzaffarabad and Poonch were captured by Pakistan. As it can be called, Kashmir was a miscarriage of partition and it had to be with either India or Pakistan. It, alone, had no ‘identity of its existence’. India’s then PM Jawaharlal Nehru was a thinking man and his deputy, the home minister, V allabhai Patel, was no less. They had to keep Kashmir and thus in the newly formed Constitution of India (formed in 1950 to form Republic of India) special provisions towards special states were enacted with the defiance of the maker B R Ambedkar. The special status was not only for J&K but for the regions like North East Indian states which still enjoy it.
Article 370 was enacted for Jammu and Kashmir which gave them the special status to enjoy autonomy in governance but the main ministries like defense, foreign, home and finance were kept with the Indian government. The special status allowed J&K to have its own flag, constitution and penal laws called the Ranbir Penal Code. Article 35 (A) was another constitutional provision that barred the outsiders from buying any property in J&K.
While this provision was enacted, a consensus was built among the members of the constituent assembly of which Mookerjee was also a member. Mookerjee, once a Congressman and later a part of the Hindu Mahasabha and founder of Jansangh, was the scion of the second Indian Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University, Sir Ashutosh Mookerjee. Mookerjee was cautious of the fact that the Indian National Congress had all the powers. Although he would eventually quit Congress, Nehru appointed him the industries minister, a crucial post for the new India, in his first cabinet.
When Article 370 was introduced for J&K, Mookerjee was enraged and famously stated that two constitutions and two flags won’t work in one nation. In response, Shiekh Mohammad Abdullah, the Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, said Mookerjee was aware of the law when it was enacted but he didn’t object to it then. Mookerjee went on a hunger strike and entered J&K to protest against what he called the unlawful act of Article 370. He was immediately arrested. As per the law of J&K, Mookerjee would have needed a permit to visit the state (as it still exists for all Indians and foreigners to get the Inner Line Permit to visit sensitive areas of North East India).
In jail in Kashmir’s central prison, Mookerjee died due to heart attack.
Within months of Mookerjee’s death, the Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Shiekh Mohammad Abdullah found himself behind the prison bars. Nehru got him arrested as Intelligence Bureau (IB) chief B N Mullick suspected Abdullah was an agent of Pakistan.
In 1963, Nehru, in his last days, proposed to nullify the posts of Sadr-e-Riyasat and Prime Minister to be replaced by Governor and Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir respectively. Meanwhile, Nehru died leaving a vacuum. Abdullah was released from prison in 1964 and he was to become the CM in 1975 after an Indira-Sheikh accord. But the catch was that when Abdullah was in jail, the constitutional posts which provided the autonomy were abolished by Nehru himself while diluting Article 370 as much as possible. Now anyone voted by the electoral process would become a chief minister, as per the Indian Constitution adult suffrage, while the governor sitting as the presidential appointee would be a favourite of the union government.
What remained was the titular image of 370. Neither did the people of Kashmir protest nor did Pakistan react to the dilution.
In 1987, Abdullah’s son Farooq and Indira’s son Rajiv resorted to gross electoral rigging which led the young Kashmiri men turn against the electoral process and thus began an insurgency against the Indian rule.
The BJP governments wanted to eradicate Article 370 since the right-wing party first came to power in 1998, when Vajpayee-Advani duo was hell bent on getting it removed but the legal process would have taken them to a dead end. BJP in all its election manifestos has mentioned about abrogating Article 370 and 35 (A). But many initially thought it to be a bluff to win elections in the nationalist right wing route and much of the public ignored it.
With the happening of 9/11, the geopolitics of the world changed forever. In the epistemology of the world, ‘militant’ was now replaced with ’terrorist’ and all of a sudden any armed attack with political mission was an act of terrorism. Meanwhile, even before 9/11 happened in the US, attacks by Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed increased in India. There were attacks on the legislative assembly complex in Srinagar, followed by a failed attack on the Indian parliament.
August 5, 2019
Home Minister Amit Shah proclaimed on the floor of the Parliament on August 5, 2019 the unilateral abrogation of Article 370 and 35(A) of the Indian Constitution. The Constituent Assembly in J&K was suspended. Amit Shah gave the argument that the law was temporary and had to go over the course of time. In terms of legality, it needed the nod of the majority of the J&K assembly which was totally overruled.
From the floor of the Indian Parliament, Shah announced the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, dividing the state into two Union Territories. The valley was cut off from the world. No phone, no internet and a crackdown in which around 13,000 people were arrested, as claimed by PUCL.
In the days to come, Shah went on to accuse the Congress party of being responsible for keeping Kashmir out from the rest of the country as the Home Minister pointed fingers towards Nehru – forgetting that Nehru had made the law nearly null and void years ago. On Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35 (A) as culmination of ‘One Nation, One Constitution’.
Fast forward to October 4, 2022. Shah visited the Union Territory of J&K and attended rallies in Rajouri in Jammu and Baramulla in Kashmir valley. In Rajouri, he gave Pahari-speaking people the SC status to consolidate a larger vote bank for BJP in the days to come. Considering there are around 24 lakh Pahari-speaking people (hill people different from Gujjars who are nomads), BJP will now do the groundwork and release dates for the coming assembly polls in J&K.
In Baramulla, Shah stopped his speech as mosque speakers blared out the azaan. This, however, was followed by a blunt message: “Some people say we should talk to Pakistan. Why should we talk to Pakistan? We will not talk. We will talk to the people of Baramulla. We will talk to the people of Kashmir.
Shome Basu is a New Delhi-based senior journalist.