The biggest peg, on which hangs the BJP government’s decision to neutralise Article 370 and scrap Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, is integration. Now that Article 370 is all but gone, Kashmir is “fully integrated” into India, goes the argument of the BJP, its mentor RSS and all their supporters. And not just supporters, even some in the opposition agree with this view.
Kashmir has been with India almost since the country got independence in 1947. That makes it a full 72 years, no less. In all these years, was the state not “fully integrated” with the rest of India?
As a smug supporter said, “From now on, Kashmiris will think of themselves as Indians”. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Thursday, development will now flow into Kashmir as special status has been scrapped.
So, what exactly does “full integration” mean? To get a clue, let’s look at the other “fully integrated” states of India.
Everyone considers themselves Indians first…er…is this assumption true? On the face of it, yes. But the reality seems different.
If people considered themselves Indians first, why would parents who advertise for their children in matrimonial advertisements always ask for a “Gujarati, Tamilian or Kannadiga…etc etc,” and never for an Indian bride or groom?
Why would Kannadigas and Tamilians go at each other’s throats when it comes to the sharing of the Cauvery river water? Are they not Indians first? Why would hard-working, hapless north Indian taxi drivers in Mumbai get attacked by Marathi-speaking locals? Are the taxi drivers any less Indian than the attackers just because they are from other states?
There have been many instances, especially in recent times, when people from the northeast have been targeted in Bengaluru and non-Kannadigas attacked for not speaking the local language. Indians… did someone say?
In 2012, there was a panic-stricken exodus of people hailing from the northeast, who fled Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai in thousands one fine day following a message on social media threatening them and demanding that they leave. Where was “India and Indians” then?
Is this the meaning of “full integration”? Of states that were never governed by Article 370 and where people could “happily” buy property in each other’s state?
The simple fact is that India is not a cardboard nation. A nation where all cultures, languages and history are steam-rolled and moulded into one pulpy two-dimensional mass after India’s independence in 1947.
On the contrary, India is an agglomeration of sub-nations, a land whose uniqueness lies in its diversity and a union of various proudly independent cultures that have a long history of shared existence.
Each state is so different in so many different ways that it may not be enough to study even one in full in a lifetime. Remember, India is a “union of states”, and not a “merger of states”. Rivers merge, people unite – there is an important difference where identity is concerned.
Unfortunately, for the rulers sitting in Delhi’s ivory towers, the degree of shortsightedness is a handicap that prevents them from seeing the country’s diversity for what it is.
People abroad often ask with fascination, questions that we take for granted. For instance, they see a group of Indians speaking English and ask, “How come you don’t speak Indian?” When they are told that in the group no one can speak or understand each other’s languages as they hail from different states of India, it leaves them wide-eyed. And they simply look befuddled when they are told there is nothing called “Indian” language.
So, the next logical question is, “How come you belong to the same nation?” But, this is never openly asked in this way, although one can infer that they have given up on trying to understand. Invariably, someone will then have to explain that India is made up of many different states that co-exist with one another.
In other words, this is integration. So, if we go back to Kashmir and examine whether they were and are fully integrated, the answer is a simple but resounding “yes”. Article 370 was a mere technicality — one that prevented outsiders from buying land, among a few others. A restriction of a kind that exists in other forms in other states, sometimes inconveniencing non-locals, sometimes not.
The other side of the story is that, over the last 70 years, countless Kashmiris have settled in other parts of the country, while thousands from the rest of India have gone as tourists and honeymooners to Kashmir and scores have worked for long years there.
Kashmir has been depicted innumerable times in movies and the art. There was a time when a song sequence without Kashmir in the backdrop was considered infra dig. So many of us drink Kashmiri tea and eat dishes made out of Kashmiri chillies while so much more of Indian cuisine is influenced by Kashmir. Mutton rogan josh and Kashmiri saag, for example. And, yet, we call it not “fully integrated?”
For those who are in this trip of “One nation, one this and that….and the other”, it is probably time to remind them that India is a melting pot of cultures, not a kitschy ideological construct that needs to be straitjacketed into a narrow definition at the cost of plurality and democracy.
That still leaves us with the reason why special status for Kashmir was scrapped. The reason is because the BJP and its forebears in the RSS and the Jan Sangh wanted it that way since India became a republic in 1950. Modi and his aide Home Minister Amit Shah, by doing away with Article 370, merely ticked a box in a yellowing, aged checklist of a long-pending agenda. Worse, scrapping Article 370 may well alienate an already fully integrated Kashmir.