By Gamini Weerakoon
Narendra Modi is a shining example of the harm that ‘good strongmen’ can do — those who are elected to rescue a country from the doldrums it has fallen into, but instead take it deeper into the hell-fires
Modi, the humble tea boy, who climbed from the very bottom rungs of the ultranationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and then moved over to the Baharatiya Janatha Party (BJP), a clone of the RSS, to become the Chief Minister of Gujrat and then twice the Prime Minister of India, appears to be turning the cultured and tolerant India of Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru into an aggressive autocratic state where the people are becoming puppets and Modi is the puppet master.
Modi after his — adventure or misadventure — should be considered a grave warning by smaller countries in the region and elsewhere now in severe political and economic crises in search of ‘strongmen’ and ‘men of action’ to be their saviours.
On sweeping the Indian General Election for the second time by deploying Hindutva — the fundamentalist Hindu ideology — Modi and the BJP on August 5 in one fell swoop revoked the Jammu and Kashmir Special States Act and divided the state into two union territories — Lakdah high up in the mountains and Jammu and Kashmir — without consulting the elected representatives of the state and instead locked them up incommunicado without any form of communication other than through satellite TV. An estimated 12.55 million Kashmiris (2011 Census) with their leaders remain locked up in their homes and elsewhere to date making the former Indian state perhaps the world’s largest prison.
Cosmetic changes are announced daily by the Indian government, but there appears to be no significant changes brought about in this state — or rather two union territories — now occupied by hundreds of thousands of Indian security personnel swarming the streets.
Advocate Sunneth Parthasarthy writing in The Hindu says: Article 370, which pledged relative autonomy in governance of Jammu and Kashmir, was premised on the idea that the ultimate sovereignty rested on the people. He contends that Article 370 has been stripped of all its meaning and this the government has achieved not through debate but by constitutional obfuscation.
“Article 370’s raison d’etere is contained in the Instrument of Accession signed by Hari Singh on October 6, 1947. The premise constitutionalising the terms of the Accord, stipulated that Parliament could legislate for Jammu and Kashmir only over matters concerning external affairs, defence and communications. Where Parliament is to legislate over additional areas otherwise provided for in terms of accession, it could do so by consulting the state government. But where it proposed to enact laws beyond the agreed subjects it required not only the state government’s concurrence but also ratification of Jammu and Kashmir’s Constituent Assembly,” Parthasarthy says.
Having brought the state of Jammu and Kashmir under direct rule of the federal government, the decision was then submitted to Parliament where Modi’s BJP coalition has a whopping 353 seats won at the March election which rubber-stamped the legislation.
Instead of consultations with the leaders of Jammu and Kashmir as required by the Instrument of Accession which called for, when changes of the nature the BJP government has brought about, an estimated 173 mainstream politicians and activists have been arrested and kept incommunicado. The leaders include highly respected National Congress leader Omar Abdullah and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mehbooba Mufti. Pakistani President Imran Khan has taken the issue before the UN Security Council — Kashmir being on the agenda of the Security Council for decades.
Pakistan has also called for the release of political prisoners, removal of the curfew and the lifting of the lockdown that is keeping the Kashmiris under house arrest — unable to move out of their homes except for periods granted by the Indian military authorities. Shortages of food including baby milk foods and medicines have been reported but the clampdown is imposed with rigour, reports from Pakistan say, Kashmiris being unable to communicate: No TV, internet or landlines or mobile phones. Whether there has been any such calamity in recent times where so large a population has been held virtual prisoners (nearing 26 days at the time of writing these comments), we are unaware.
India has dismissed foreign criticism of this current issue as being interference in ‘internal affairs’ of India. Indeed since the establishment of the Indian republic, India has asserted that Kashmir is an integral part of the India and matters concerning it are a domestic issue of India.
While this argument may have held water as being ‘technically correct’ would it be so after the revocation of Article 370 in the brash Modi style? It will be recalled that the racist Apartheid regime of South Africa, too, claimed that protests made against it by the Black majority in the country and other countries were irrelevant as it was an internal affair for the South African republic.
Many leading Western nations subscribed to that view until internal and external pressures that built up rendered the racist regime to relent.
Modi by his moves on Kashmir has demonstrated that a military coup, political or diplomatic conspiracy is not needed to act in a dictatorial manner. A sweeping parliamentary majority is sufficient to distort basic constitutional provisions, ignore the sovereign people and rubber- stamp any law however obnoxious it may be to a vast segment of the people while it is a delight to a jubilant majority. That is populist politics.
Conferment of unrestricted powers on strongmen convinced that ‘might is right’ and their way is the only way, could be disastrous.
Modi has shown the harm what good strongmen with dictatorial powers can do.