E: Good morning and welcome to our online digital platform Discourse: An Archive of Ideas. This series by the Economics Society, SRCC attempts to support and rekindle the growth of ideas and discourse amongst students. Through this platform we aim to invite eminent personalities from various fields to discuss relevant ideas and provide students with a fresh perspective and a better understanding of the world around them.
Today, we are honoured to have with us Mr. Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a veteran journalist and author. He is the author of four non-fiction books written during a career spanning over 30 years, the latest of which came out in April this year. Thank you for joining us, sir.
Sir, developing on your latest book, The RSS: Icons of the Indian Right and with the recent abrogation of Article 370, the legend of Shyama Prakash Mukherjee comes to light, in context of the fact that RSS and its ideology has always focused on the idea of one culture, one nation and one flag.
How do you see the abrogation of Article 370?
NM: You mentioned Shyama Prakash Mukherjee and I must at the onset say that the BJP in the last few years has tried to present him as a single agenda political leader, and they have not talked about anything else other than his Kashmir initiative where he tried to lead a march to violate prohibitory orders, walking into Jammu and Kashmir for which he was detained and kept in Srinagar, ultimately dying because of ill health. His political career shows that he raised a lot of other issues – he had been a very important minister in the first Government of Bengal which was in partnership with the party. He had been an Industry minister in the Nehru Government, one of the pioneers who eventually shaped up Indian industrial policy. So there is much more to Shyama Prakash Mukherjee but the BJP and the Sangh Parivar in the last few years have focused only on Kashmir because at the moment it suits their politics intentions most on Kashmir.
Full and complete integration of Jammu and Kashmir has been on the RSS agenda right from 1950 onwards but surprisingly, again referring to Shyama Prakash Mukherjee, when Article 370 was inserted in the Constitution he was a member of the Constituent Assembly. Thereafter when it became applicable, he did not object to it. All objections to Article 370 was subsequent to his departure from the Nehru government and his decision to partner with the RSS and establish the Bharatiya Jan Sangh in 1951. So there is a certain amount of irony and paradox that you’ll find in history. But, they have consistently argued that Article 370 needs to go. In fact, we have said that the BJP used to have three most contentious issues: the abrogation of Article 370, the introduction of a uniform Civil Code and the construction of a Ram Temple. Now, out of these, BJP has made steady progress not exactly in a uniform civil code because the basic intention is to control, what I call, the Muslim personal life, which is sought to be targetted by the entire discourse of Hindutva and triple talaq that we have seen.
As far as Article 370 goes, I think it’s important for us to understand the timing, the purpose and the process at this particular stage which would lead to several questions that need to be raised and understood.
E: Sir, coming to what you just spoke about, that is Article 370, firstly, is the government’s move legally sound?
NM: What is legal is a matter of huge debate. The Supreme Court, I hope, will take very serious note of various petitions that have been filed, raising fundamental questions. Although whatever little one has seen of the petitions being discussed in the Supreme Court, they have not started on an encouraging note of scrutiny. But, the SC has a history of questioning government decisions on vital issues and overturning and declaring many of the decisions of previous governments as being unconstitutional. So there are a large number of question marks over the manner in which this government has gone about abrogating Article 370 and I hope that it will come up in the course of legal scrutiny. I do not think it is going to happen very soon but eventually I hope that these issues would get resolved. I am not a legal expert, so I do not think it is wise for us to say whether what has happened is wise or not, but we can definitely try to understand what exactly are the issues are at stake.
When we talk about the Constitution, we must not just look only at the letter but also the spirit. This government has repeatedly, right from 2014, tried to present the Constitution of India as a sacred text. I do not look at it as a sacred text, but the way the constitution makers devised the Constitution, they said that they are setting out basically a spirit that is to be followed. So, it is important for every government to uphold the Constitution both in letter and in spirit, not only in letter and not only in spirit – there has to be a right balance.
Whenever there have been violations, the Supreme Court has declared these things like in the Keshavananda Bharati case they said that the basic character of the Constitution cannot be changed. So I am certain that the Supreme Court would examine if abrogating Article 370 in the manner in which it has been done violates Article 370 of the Constitution or not.
E: So while we cannot comment on sub judice matters, we definitely can look over the legislative powers of the parliament. Supporters of the move say that preventive measures taken to ensure that there would be no sudden outbursts in the Valley just like what happened in 1989 and 1990, are justified. And when it comes to parliamentary majority, the government managed the floor well.
NM: I don’t think that the government has been very fair in the way that it has gone about abrogating Article 370. I think that a decision of this momentous nature should not have been taken without any consultation with the people, their representatives and a bit more dialogue and discussion within parliament. It is unheard of that you have a bill of this nature being tabled without any prior announcement in the morning, and within three hours everything is done. I think that in terms of impact and what it changes this is possibly as dramatic as the signing of the proclamation declaring Emergency in 1975. The only difference is that while that was done in Rashtrapati Bhavan and this has been done on the floor of the House. So this is also in a way subversion of the parliamentary process.
E: While stakeholder consultation is a good idea, it might not have been reaped dividends when it came to an issue that has bilateral ramifications and which could have led to international pressure if we would have given more time and thought to the issue.
NM: We are actually assuming that Article 370 should have gone. Of course it was a temporary measure, but should it have gone about this way? How faithful have we been to Article 370 itself? The government has used Article 373 to abrogate that article. Now, we do not have a Constituent Assembly. The special provisions of Article 370 could be scrapped by a presidential order provided it was on the recommendations of the Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir. The Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir ceased to exist about fix-six decades ago. We do not even have a legislative assembly. So how can the executive take a decision on behalf of a democratic government. After all, we take pride in being the largest democracy in the world, but where is the democratic will of the people? How can the Governor act on behalf of the people? I do not think that this is a democratic step at all.
E: What should happen next for the proper integration of the area with the country?
NM: The government has argued that Article 370 has prevented development, and now that Article 30 has been removed development will happen very fast. Now, development is not actually a magicians wand, and you cannot wave it especially in a strife-torn situation. It is not only this particular government which has not encouraged development in Jammu and Kashmir, previous governments have also contributed their bit to Jammu and Kashmir being underdeveloped as compared to other states. If you look at the figures, out of the 23 trillion rupees which have been invested in the country since 1947 by public sector enterprises, only 1.65 billion has been invested in Jammu and Kashmir. There are a total of 1.08 million employees of PSEs and only 21 are there in Jammu and Kashmir. Now obviously this means that it is not just a question of investment not happening, the governments have not been interested. The Prime Minister in his speech said that filmmakers should go and make films. How many films will be made in a year? How much investment will be made? What is it going to do to the lives of the people besides maybe provided jobs of a few porters. Kashmir does not require jobs for porters. Kashmir requires better amounts of investment and development.
You have to have a comprehensive strategy. Anywhere in the world, strife-torn regions do not see much investment because private capital looks at its own risk factor. Who is going to invest? Mukesh Ambani has said that he will set up a task force to examine. That does not mean that he is going to put money. You speak to anyone who is sitting on a bagful of money and ask them if they will invest in Jammu and Kashmir, they will say that they are willing to do it but then the government has to provide us with safeguards. What safeguards can the government provide? Firstly, there should be absolutely no violence in the state, and secondly, if there is violence then the government should provide some kind of a decent insurance package. These are the type of things that they will expect. Nobody in business in on a nationalistic mission. Let’s be very clear. If anybody thinks that all top corporates in this country have suddenly become overnight partners in India’s development and progress, I do not think that they are looking at anything except their bottom line. It’s going to be highly unlikely to see a sudden spurt of private investment in Jammu and Kashmir.
E: I vividly remember in 2016, Prime Minister Modi visited the Valley. He was flanked by the then Chief Minister Mufti Mohm Syed and he announced this fiscal stimulus package of 50,000 crore. That was the first that I can recall that the people of the Valley shouted, praised and chanted “Modi, Modi, Modi.” So, somewhere, parity and the idea that maybe somewhere the angst that a few sections have with respect to the Indian state can be subsidized and turned into favourable sentiment via the means of development and more investment, even if the government needs to provide extra security to such investments.
NM: I think we must try to understand Jammu and Kashmir and the decision of the government to abrogate Article 370 by going back and looking at what has happened since 2014. There were floods in Jammu and Kashmir, the Prime Minister went and announced a huge package, there were elections in 2014 towards the end, and eventually no other combination worked and it was the coalition government of the BJP and the PDP with Mufti Mohm Syed as the Chief Minister. Till the time he was alive, he felt betrayed because the package that was promised for flood relief and rehabilitation never came, as a result of which he lost credibility within his constituency because he did something which was considered absolutely blashphemous which was to go and have a partnership with the BJP. Besides that, nothing really was every delivered.
So if you look at it 2014 onwards, the BJP’s politics in Jammu and Kashmir has not been with the development of Kashmir and the other regions in the state at the centre, but their eyes have been on consolidating its support base outside, in other parts of the country. Between 2014 and 2019, one of the major reasons they won such a massive mandate in 2019, was because a message was conveyed very subtely, that whatever else might have been this government’s failure, at least as far as fixing or altering the Muslim question is concerned, this govenrment has met with great success. Now, it is the turn of the Kashmiris. In the rest of the country, there is a general belief that Kashmiris have been given too much and that they are ungrateful. So people do not want to give them too much and people want them to be more grateful, and if they cannot be more grateful, then they need not have any special rights. So it is actually a very coercive attitude of the rest of the country which the BJP has been trying to harness for electoral gains.
E: There is this fear when it comes to the abrogation, that there’ll be a new generation which will feel betrayed the same way some did when elections were rigged in 1987. How big do you think this issue can turn out to be? When I say next generation, I recount the likes of Mr. Faizal, Mr. Rashid and people of this generation.
NM: I think that the BJP is aware that it is not going to be met very favourably, because even those political leaders like Mr. Lone who had definitely extended an arm of friendship to BJP and were willing to come on board on various matters, even people like those were detained because there is a tremendous amount of pressure on the political leadership on Kashmir from their own people not to endorse what the government has done. If you look at Article 370, in the form in which it was abrogated, there is no big deal about Article 370. Article 370 with the special provisions which it promised had got diluted over decades by successive governments through various presidential orders. What essentially remained at the end of it was a symbolic fig leaf. It provided them with a sense that yes, we are special. You have taken away the feeling of the people of Kashmir that they were special. And let us not ignore the fact that yes, they were special. Out of the 560 odd princely states that had not been integrated into India at the time of partition because they were not a part of British India, they controlled around 41% of Indian territory. Only three kingdoms remained unresolved on the 15th of August – Junagadh, Hyderabad and Jammu and Kashmir. Now, each of these have to be treated as special cases. Hyderabad and Junagadh got resolved by certain ways over which questions have been raised by very prominent historians, especially Hyderabad. Jammu and Kashmir was also a special circumstance and when accession finally happened, people did accept to be a part of the Indian Union on assurance that they would be treated as some sort of special people. And this has continued. In the last three decades, the kind of politics that has happened since the 90s, the kind of terrorism and militancy, I do not think that his was the appropriate moment to take away the symbolic legislation which was there, which gave them some kind of a special status.
E: This is the first time that a state has been made a union territory after proper statehood. Do you think this weakens the strength of other special statuses that have been given to, let’s say, Nagaland or what does this say to the fears of states in the North East or the South that such a move can be taken so drastically and can be rolled out immediately.
NM: Firstly, I think that this entire idea of union territory needs to be seriously examined. What does a union territory do? But for Delhi and Puducherry, the other union territories do not have representatives in the Rajya Sabha. I think that this is actually discriminatory because you are denying the people of one part of India their representative in one very important chamber of Parliament. I think we need to have a very serious discussion on that. Following from this, is it fair to the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh to reduce their status from being a full state to two union territories? In Ladakh, at the moment it looks like the people are very happy to be delinked from Jammu and Kashmir because they felt that adequate development was not coming to them because funds were being garnered by the Kashmir-dominated entrenched political leadership. But thereafter, I think once the initial euphoria is over they’ll realize that they do not have a legislature also, they cannot decide what is good for them on a day-to-day basis. Everything is going to be decided by a big brother sitting in Delhi and their representative in Leh. So I do not think that is good for the health of the democracy to take away representation from the people and put them under the executive. Then we might as well do away with being a democracy and be more executive-driven state.
E: How do you rate the manner in which the government handled diplomatic pressure recently with the UNSC closed door meeting yesterday, which turned out to be a failure and the manner in which states have come out in support or the states that usually used to come out in support of Pakistan have either not said anything or toed the line.
NM: First, I think it is still too early to say that there has been total support for India in the international arena in terms of the internal reorganization of Jammu and Kashmir in the way that the government has been presenting it. I think that there is much more to come, these are very early days. Of course, India has a major lure for the major powers of the world because of the potential of the Indian market. So we are using this as a bait to get support and buy silence from the international community. But, if the kind of lockdown which we have seen in Jammu and Kashmir in the last 10 days, and if the situation does not become normal and if human rights violations do not cease to be there, I see that civil societies in various countries putting pressure on their government not to be so easy-going on India and to breathe down more heavily. At the moment, I think that it is still an unfolding situation, if we were a part of the international community, we would be seeing what the government of India does. From today, they have started very selective easing of restrictions. They say that on Monday schools will open in certain districts. With curfew continuing, I do not know how successful this will be for schools to open because schools must be the last possible thing really to open for families to have the courage to send their children. So there are a lot of worries as to what is going to happen and depending on how the situation evolves, foreign countries can be expected to respond.
E: The unconflicted part of J&K is an internal matter of our country. Keeping this in mind, what is the stake of Pakistan in this? Does it have any right whatsoever to question this move?
NM: For Pakistan, it has been a story of bemoaning a lost territory that was never a part of it. So that has been the Kashmir thing. So various governments in Pakistan have to continue harping on the fact that Kashmir is theirs, even though it was never theirs. So it has to be a part of their narrative and it will continue to be. The manner in which Pakistan has gone about it has possibly strengthened the hands of the Prime Minister in India, because it has not been a very reasoned and smart way that they have gone about it. It has provided opportunities for the BJP to consolidate its political narrative much more quickly than what otherwise would’ve been possible.
E: For a history student, at times the only source of understanding what happened are the travel logs, the accounts by writers who visited the place. At this moment, the journalists who’ve been to-ing and fro-ing from the valley have been vivid accounts as to the interactions they had with the people in the Valley. So how do you see these conflicting perspectives which are coming out of journalistic accounts from the Valley?
NM: I think to understand what is happening in the Valley now and what is likely to happen in the future it is very importatn to understand what was the political basis which led to militancy and terrorism to begin in the first instance in the late 1980s and early 90s. There was a political causative factor. In the last 30 years, has the causation been in any way addressed? If it has not been addressed, then have people completely forgotten? If the have not forgotten, how are they going to react? I do not think that it would be fair for anybody to expect that the moment restrictions are lifted the entire Valley will erupt. I think this is going to be a much more long-drawn process. We should also keep in mind that globally anywhere in the world you do not require the majority of the people to be on the side of the insurgents to create unrest. You just require a handful of people. The government will call them a handful of misguided people or motivated people. The other side would like to look at it that these are the only people who have the courage or are brave enough. Courage and bravery are very individual characteristics. We saw during Emergency also when there was a clampdown on fundamental rights, it was not the entire country had erupted in protest. Protests were happening. There was censorship across the country despite that newspaper were violating it, trying to put in a sentence here, a word here, a loaded report in this instance. So it continued throughout. Some even decided to cease publication. But technology has advanced a lot of things, we have seen how in the last few days despite the clampdown on information, despite that information has come out. We know that people are back once again having pellet injuries. Some people are having major problems with their vision, they have been hit by rubber pellets in their eyes. So all these things are coming out as news travels across the Valley and in the rest of the country, there will be a wide range of reactions. I’m not saying that it is going to erupt in some kind of violence. But I think that there will be a lot of beneath the surface tension and it is not going to be conducive from private investment.
E: Sir you’ve biographed the current PM Modiji and that is one of the very few biographies before the elections in 2014. Mr. Modi from his stint in Gujarat and now in his present role has come out as a man of steel and a man who pursues what he’s determined to whatever be the investment required in that particular pursuance. Given the official line that is conducive to the peace and developmental atmosphere in the Valley and the manner in which he has outlined his vision from the ramparts of the Red Fort and your analysis of his political and political journey, how do you see the role that Mr. Modi promises will play in the way in which the situation pans out in the Valley?
NM: This decision to abrogate Article 370 completely has the stamp of the Prime Minister. In fact if you actually go by the past events and what have we picked up from various sources, if you remember that prior to the Pulwama political attack, there was consensus that the BJP would find it very hard to come back to power. Unless of course they were able to construct a single issue-based narrative which would convert the 2019 election once again into a “Modi or who?” kind of equation. At that point, the BJP had to think of something that would be very dramatic. There was already a case going on on Article 35A, there was a lot of speculation about whether the government would strike down Article 35A. Maybe they were even thinking in terms of exploring the option of abrogating Article 370. If you go back and look at it, it is quite possible to say that this was actually their brilliant electoral strategy, which was not necessary after the 14th of February because they felt that they had already achieved what was needed to win the election. So, Mr. Modi remained ideological completely grounded, even his latest Independence Day Speech in which he brings up the matter of population, which kind of reinforces the RSS demand for population control because of the general belief that there is a kind of demographic alteration which is going on because the Muslims have a higher fertility rate, not looking at what could be the cause behind this, looking at issues lack of awareness and underdevelopment which are one of the major factors of demographic growth.
E: So, moving away from the titular interaction on Article 370, and to your basic study of chauvinist politics, basically the Hindutva politics. All these measures which we try to allude to the advancements of ideology and the fundamentals of the RSS, they also can be seen from the perspective of ensuring a rational societal order in which the demographic dividend can be taken care of, the quality of personal laws and the way society is organized is taken care of and the nation as a whole is structured. Seeing all these issues from that perspective, how well do they fare?
NM: I think that any government or a political party in any decision that it takes, has to take the will of the people along. They must take the will of the people along. You cannot actually ram the decision through the throat of the people in a community. And this is where actually whether we like it or not, the government has been pursuing a very majoritarian politics in the past 5 years since 2014, and that is what we are seeing even now.
By Nakul Gupta and Padmini Prasad
This interview was taken on August 17, 2019.