‘Integration’. That is what ending Jammu and Kashmir’s special status was about. ‘Protection’ and ‘safeguarding’ the rights of people in the Northeast. That is what the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is about. Or so says the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
But in Kashmir, far from feeling ‘integrated’, people get the sense that the Central government is actually furious that they enjoyed a version of (progressively diluted) autonomy over the years; that they now have to pay for what was once constitutionally and legally extended to them.
And in the Northeast, and specifically in Assam, the Centre has torpedoed the 1985 Assam Accord, which came about as the result of prolonged negotiations between the Rajiv Gandhi government and the All-Assam Students’ Union (AASU), and which had been preceded by enormous turmoil.
After the horrific massacres of Nellie and Gohpur in 1983, the anger on the streets of Assam, and the general disruption of life for years, the Assam Accord came as a much-needed, if partial, balm that ended the agitation and handed political power to AASU leaders.
The Assam agitation had led to the creation of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) that had once wanted the secession of Assam from India, but eventually crumbled from within when the political accord was reached.
An accord killed
By enacting the CAA, the government has rendered the 1971 ‘cut-off’ date in the Assam Accord redundant. The new cut-off date allows migrants to gain citizenship if they have come into the country until December 31, 2014. In fact, the CAA has effectively killed the Accord.
If Assam was on the boil in the 1980s, it was Kashmir in the 1990s. In both places a measure of peace was achieved after a great deal of unrest and blood-letting. The present government, in dealing with Kashmir and Assam, both sensitive and volatile parts of the country, has shown a singular lack of interest in either consulting political leaders, civil society groups, or reaching out to people.
As this piece is written, three elected Chief Ministers, with whom the BJP was in alliance at one time or another, continue to be under preventive detention.
Instead of dealing with people and issues on the ground, the government simply responds to all criticism by pointing out that ending Kashmir’s special status and bringing in the CAA have been BJP’s political agenda for decades.
In Jammu and Kashmir, BJP’s alliance with Mehbooba Mufti’s party must have convinced it that it could never come to power in the State without a base in the Valley. Clearly, this led to the precipitous move to abrogate Article 370 and to bifurcate the State.
And in Assam, the BJP mistook its growing electoral clout as popular support, and made a mockery of the sentiments of the Assamese people, who now feel betrayed by the party.
The Indian mosaic, however fissured, has been held together by a series of compromises and concessions made by both authorities and agitators in different parts of the country. Today, the path to dialogue, especially in Kashmir, is closed. We don’t know what will happen in Assam, as its future is now tied up by the national CAA. Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC), a messy and painful exercise, led and supervised by an Assamese Chief Justice, has been thrown to the winds by the Modi-Shah government, which now promises a new NRC with a fresh cut-off date. Can there be a more arbitrary exercise of power? Meanwhile, the man who led the NRC, civil servant Prateek Hajela, has been banished to Madhya Pradesh.
A new Delhi is creating a monochromatic nation under a leadership whose overriding vision appears to be one that excludes Muslims altogether. Kashmir and Assam are just the first two test cases for this vision. The entire idea of the nation, as envisaged by our Constitution, is being upended under the guise of protecting persecuted minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Across India, students and ordinary citizens have taken to the streets to protest the CAA. Going by their courage and resolution, this new idea of India might not be so easy to implement.