THE POETRY OF diversity still resonates through the literature of Indian Exceptionalism. Nehru perfected it; his words as evocative as a postcard from the vintage Kashmir Valley. India was one big idea made possible by many little ideas, each with its own cultural identity. He wrote volumes about the unifying symmetry of India that carried within it a
variety of Indianness. It was a beautiful idea to live by
as a nation—and an idea to die for, too.
The idea became the shared national truth, and it continued to beguile us as the lie around us provided the necessary contrast. Totalitarianism
was an idyll, wrote a great East European novelist who lived within it. So was homogeneity, and totalitarian states through the ages preferred it any day to the chaos of demographic diversity. To preserve the idyll, they shifted geography. They imported the desirables and banished the genetically corrupt. It was for this idyll that they built Auschwitz. And every revolution was sustained by the blood of those who dared to shatter the idyll. Terror camouflaged homogeneity.
India was that rare democracy in this part of the world that did not turn liberators into tyrants, a redeeming exception in the familiar ‘Third World’ story. And Nehru’s secular lyricism and humanist internationalism stood out. Freedom’s day after needed poets who built nations with raw material borrowed from socialist empires. And no one could beat Nehru to that; he took it upon himself the mission of building the ideal state out of a million differences. He poured poetry into the applied science of secularism—all for the sake of the ideal state.
Kashmir for him was an ancestral memory—and a political test. Article 370 of the Constitution, which granted special status to the state of J&K, was, in the Nehruvian scheme of things, a necessary contradiction of the ideal state. Its provenance was steeped in national self-doubt. Forget for a moment the dramatis personae and their conflicting claims, it was a perfect case of the partition of the mind after the partition of the land. Nehru’s ideal state was a sham.
What did the Article achieve? It enabled the Indian state to internalise—and even institutionalise—the amorality of Partition. Certain diversities, no matter how much poetry is wasted on them, would remain outside the ideal state. The Article, in its grand deception, assumed that assimilation would deny Indianness moral legitimacy. In the end, it did show that state-sanctioned unfreedom was the essential condition for keeping the Nehruvian model alive.
This Article, in its moral pretence, accepted
separatism as an inevitable state of mind in Kashmir. It rendered the basic tenets of secularism useless in the Valley. It kept India wounded, divided—and in a permanent state of grievance. It kept Kashmir far removed from Delhi.
This distance suited those local parties that ruled and ruined the state, for it’s the not-so-subtle variations of separatism that kept the pretence of Kashmiri consciousness an integral element of their politics. It fattened rival royalties and dynasties that feasted on the special status. It made them provincial potentates tapping into the fears and insecurities of a people who had been condemned to be different.
The Article exposed the tentativeness of an India that was free but with a fractured soul. All the wars that were fought over Kashmir were a vindication of this constitutionally sanctioned tentativeness. No nation would officially declare its second thoughts on the legitimacy of its own territory. India did, because of Article 370.
It contributed greatly to losing the Valley to the global masters of the Caliphate. As masked stone thrower played out a local version of intifada, you could either quote from the resistance poetry of Mahmoud Darwish and keep your liberal conscience still bleeding or, to be in a minority, wake up to the reality of jihad. The Article provided the perfect setting—the
semblance of autonomy—for the radicalisation of the Kashmiri mind. India was losing the Kashmiri youth to the unforgiving Book.
The Army, the massive deployment of which in the Valley still continues to draw opprobrium from
international humanitarian groups and professional
conscience-keepers, can only enforce peace. It can’t regain the lost youth. Every rebellion needs a social ghetto, and courtesy Article 370, it proliferated in the Valley. Even as the spirit of Kashmir became more and more incompatible with the “Indian Government,” it got closer to the fantasy of the Caliphate. No regime dared to admit it.
It was this Article of Unfreedom that Narendra Modi abolished. And to see it as a right-wing act of
sub-humanisation is to confuse a warped sense of justice with the brutalisation of democracy. We can understand the rage and desperation of local dynasties that lost the sheltering shadow of constitutional partisanship. What we can’t comprehend—well, we can actually—is the attempt to turn an audacious act of historical restoration into The Great Hindu Terror. Maybe the alarmism would have been less shrill had the Article-slayer been a non-Modi.
Someone had to do this, someone who would not fall prey to the useful—and divisive—constitutional sentimentalism. Constitutionalism can breed terror and tyranny, as has been argued by Gyan Prakash in his biography of Emergency, and there are any number of
liberals out there to tell us that the Modi era is worse. The irony is that it’s worse because he has dared to dismantle the barricades that separated India from Indians. A new Indian ideal, no longer written in the familiar Nehruvian script, arises from the ruins of Article 370.
‘Freeing yourself was one thing,’ wrote Toni Morrison, who died this week, in her novel Beloved, ‘claiming ownership of that freed self was another.’ In politics, the ownership of freedom should be claimed by those who can make the democratic state an equal one too—culturally as well as constitutionally.