Opinions

What 5 August spells for India’s Muslims

It would be a gross mistake to see the 5 August happenings — in parliament and scrapping by presidential order of Article 370 — as yet another attack on Kashmiris alone. It is instead the latest assault by the right-wing on Muslims. Indian Muslims have borne the brunt over the past five years with the micro terror of lynchings substituting for ‘riots’ — more appropriately ‘one-sided mass violence’ — of the earlier era. Kashmiris suffered much more, but that has been taken as their self-invited suffering for their sub-national inclinations. It would be an error to believe that they have finally got their comeuppance. They are targets of a demonetization and nuclear breakout levels of arbitrary decision-making the rulers in Delhi.

The happenings of 5 August need reframing. It is part of the Hindutva project, engraved in the manifesto of the political front of the Hindu right. If and since, the Hindutva project is wholly anti-Muslim, its nuances – such as actions against Articles 370 and 35A – are to be seen as part of the wider whole. Any expectation that the Hindutva project is anything but anti-minority is chimera, designed to make its saleable. Its core, heart and soul is unmistakably anti-Muslim. By this yardstick, doing away with special status of a Muslim majority state and reducing the only Muslim majority state to just another Union Territory – albeit one with a legislature – is but another blow to Indian Muslims and Muslim India. It is the religion of Kashmiris – not their ethnicity - that has prompted such constitutional violence against them. The Kashmir question is an Indian Muslim one, as it always was; only earlier we were unable to see it as such and acknowledge it for what it was.

Consequently, this is a battle that Kashmiris should not be left out in the cold to fight isolated and singly. It needs Muslim India to stand up on their side, not for selfish existential reasons – for our turn is next, if not quite ongoing – but for principled and strategic reasons. If the Hindutva juggernaut is out to erase the ties that bind us to this land – the scrapping of Article 370 is little else – then, next is the National Register of Citizens looming large over the rest of us non-Kashmiri Muslims. As being witnessed in Assam today – yet another fight in which Muslim Assamese and Bengalis fight a lonesome battle to figure in their register of citizens – we shall be required to prove our identity as Indians. It should not be that the same wolf pack that consumed Gujarati Muslims, goes at the Kashmiris. If allowed to do so, it would be for India’s Muslims to be decimated piecemeal. This time round, as the first step, the community – or multiple communities that constitute the wider Indian Muslim community – needs to reprise its selfhood.

Needless to say the ensuing struggle – jihad if you will – can only be through peaceful and legitimate means. It would be to play into the hands of the right-wing government to challenge it with any other instrument; especially since it has taken care to strengthen its hands by making changes in anti-terror laws with the intention of using these strengthened laws against Muslims (after all there are no Hindu terrorists). A hark back to the non-cooperation movement might be useful for strategies and tactics to adopt. Gandhian tactics succeeded in gaining us independence and could do the trick to keep us free.

Waiting for a political lead would be naïve. The political opposition does not exist. It has been well said that the 2014 and 2019 elections constitute as much of a setback to the community as did 1857, Partition and Babri Masjid. It devolves on the community to rely on its own resources and bring these to the fight, particularly legal, intellectual and inspirational. In reimagining the community, it takes a leaf out of the right-wing repertoire in which its votaries view themselves unapologetically as a Hindu majority. They have brought resources to the table to engrave their agenda on polity and society. They have also been at it for over half a century. This is where any emulation needs to end, since going beyond would be to emulate the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and thuggery. There is also no call to emulate the opaque and centralized strategizing of the Sangh Parivar that has led to this pass. On the other hand, the freedom movement might have a better model.

There is little doubt that the regional dimension of the decision will kick in over the near term. Pakistan—apprehensive of the Hindutva project and its intrinsic concept of Akhand Bharat – would no doubt take a view. It would be apprehensive that the foot in the door it has in Kashmir would be prised loose by what it would see as India’s unilateral and arbitrary action. The action – to it – would be to trash two bilateral agreements that India has only recently referred to as the base of its interface with Pakistan on the Kashmir question – the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration. India’s haste is no doubt an over-reaction to the reference by the United States’ President Trump’s offer to mediate. India in effect is signaling that there is no dispute to mediate since Kashmir - now subsumed in India through a revised constitutional embrace - is now history. Pakistan cannot be expected to stand idly by. In 1965, when the “sadar-e-riyasat” (head of State) and “wazeer-e-azam” (prime minister) nomenclature was removed by India, Pakistan was stampeded into a war over Kashmir. This time round the constitutional action is much more severe.

Besides strategic reasons for Pakistan action, its army and government would be wary of being outflanked by extremist forces in case of inaction on its part. Therefore, it would likely take action, including military action. Reports have it that the Pakistan army had heightened its actions over the past week, with a few unclaimed bodies of its border action team being illustrative. It would be bidding for crisis intervention, particularly by its new-found friend, Trump. A crisis is not unlikely, one which the government has taken care to cater for by rushing paramilitary into Kashmir. These will likely relieve the troops who will then be available to deter any Pakistani adventurism. Depending on Pakistan reaction, troop movement elsewhere in India can be expected.

Indian Muslims have their obligation cut out in a near term crisis or conflict scenario with Pakistan. It needs no elaboration what that would be. However, there is an internal fight that shall and must follow. We need to keep our powder dry for that. There are two lines of action: one is Kashmir-centric and can only play itself out in the courts. Any human rights transgressions need a nation-wide community action in conjunction with the liberal and activist spectrum. The second is to appraise realistically the country-wide national register of citizens’ bogey that is currently held out as a Damocles Sword over the head of the community. A collective view must be forged, whereupon - if so decided – a non-cooperation movement needs being launched messaging explicitly to the right wing: ‘Thus far and no further.’ Its voter base should be addressed to progressively withdraw the mandate it has unwittingly given the ruling party, by voting it out of power in provincial elections between now and 2024. Surely they too must find that a mandate for governance and development is being misinterpreted by the ruling party as carte blanche for substituting substantive democracy with procedural democracy.

This columnist had five years back on these very pages (‘The pebbles ahead in Mr. Modi’s comfortable ride’, 16-31 Dec 2014; ‘Whither Modi, and, at one remove, India?’ 12 Nov 2015) brought out that it is in the second term of the ruling party that it would unfurl its agenda full throttle. The mistake this columnist made in the analysis was in assuming that rational and secular Hindus would show Modi the door electorally. This was to be the case, but for the allegedly black operation at Pulwama in February turning the tide. (This writer is unafraid to be counted among conspiracy theorists on this score.) Given that there are five years to get to the next hustings, Indian Muslims cannot lie doggo as was the recommendation for Modi 1.0. They require instead to band with their disaffected Hindu counterparts and proactively take the necessary steps to democratically displace Modi from power.

Ali Ahmed (@aliahd66) is visiting professor, Nelson Mandela Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia.

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