Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2019 > Kashmir and the Future of Indian Federalism

Mainstream, VOL LVII No 35 August 17, 2019

Kashmir and the Future of Indian Federalism

Monday 19 August 2019

by Partha S. Ghosh

One thing is virtually missing in the entire discourse on Narendra Modi’s latest Kashmir blitzkrieg. Commentators are discussing its legal, historical and international aspects but not many are paying enough attention to its implications for India’s federalism. Ever since Modi has assumed power there is a clear trend towards centralisation of the Indian polity which furthers the RSS’ Hindutva strategy without appearing to be so.

What does the RSS want to see India as? It views India as a Hindu Rashtra which should obliterate not only its diversity in terms of different religious affiliations of its people but also the diversities within the Hindu fold in terms of castes (by itself a laudable idea if conceived seriously). All those who believe that indigenous, read Hindu, blood is flowing in their veins are Hindu. That means Muslims and Christians who trace the religious origins extra-territorially are not Hindu unless they explicitly recognise that they are all local converts from Hinduism.

The theory goes totally contrary to what many historians and political scientists have argued. According to them, India is a nation of regions, in constitutional parlance, a Union of States. Their argument is based on India’s historical experience of having different kingdoms or small princedoms despite the overarching empires of the kinds that the Mauryas, Guptas or the Mughals built. Even the British depended upon the local satraps or zamindars to serve as their agents both for revenue collection or social peace-keeping even if that meant oppression of the socially lower-placed. They saw to it, particularly after the revolt of 1857, that they should not fiddle with the religious sensitivities of the people, either the Hindu or the Muslim.

The theory also talks about the linguistic diversity of India which virtually decided the Indian state system following the State Reorganisation Commission’s recommendations in the mid-fifties. There are now 22 scheduled national languages and hundreds of recognised dialects. There are constant demands from many linguistic groups for inclusion in the list and the Indian state is theoretically not averse to the idea.

In contrast to the above, the RSS emphasises on Hindi, Hindu, and Hindustan though they often say different things at different times with nuanced meanings and messages. If one reads Modi’s political strategy between the lines one will see how it is modelled after this three-H principle. First, knowing well that Indian national leaders will have to be conversant in Hindi which is spoken by about 44 per cent of Indians concentrated in the political heartland of India he has mastered the language to communicate with the masses. Undoubtedly he is the best mass communicator today, a challenge his rivals in other parties understand their hard way.

About his emphasis on Hindutva it is an open secret. He passes it on to the masses in two ways. One, through his totally unscientific emphasis on the greatness of Indian science even in the pre-historic times to the extent of arguing that plastic surgery existed then which can be testified by the fact that Lord Ganesh had an elephant’s head. Even the best plastic surgeons of the world today cannot dare to undertake that kind of daring surgery. I refuse to believe Modi sincerely believes in what he says but since he also knows that such claims are honey to the ears of a large number of Hindus who want to bask in the glory of ancient Hinduism, he misses no oppoerunity to push such myths.

Two, he uses a sociology of binary for his Hindutva politics. It is a time-tested model of building one’s greatness at the cost of a perceived challenger by highlighting its perceived weaknesses. It has worked at all times and climes. Historically, what else can be projected as a challenger to Hindu pride than the Muslims? The partition of India has given this contestation a permanent certification. Modi has made it work at the grassroot levels by first creating an atmosphere for it and then by giving lip-service so as to distance himself from the idea because it is ethically untenable. Only a master communicator can navigate this complex course, which he has successfully proved to be.

Now let me contextualise his Kashmir move to the third idea, that is, one Hindustan. His destruction of Article 370 is reflective of his disdain for federalism in spite of the Finance Commission’s rulings in respect of distribution of the Central revenue according to a particular criterion which is weighed in favour of States (at least cosmetically). Watch his policies carefully. His schemes, such as ujjwala that distributes free gas cylinders to village house-holds, direct transfer of financial benefits through Adhaar-linked banking, food rations to BPL people similarly distributed, Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana, etc. are all meant to bypass the state leaderships in effective political terms.

These policies should be read alongside Modi’s Mann ki Baat radio programme which is meant to serve the purpose of reducing the State leaderships to irrelevance. If such distributive mechanisms are to operate through the panchayat systems why a villager should at all look upon his State leader who is now a hostage to these central schemes? Just look at the antecedents of the introduction of the Governor’s (then Presidential) rule in Kashmir in recent months. The complaint was that the Mehbooba Mufti Government was not holding the panchayat elections and as such real assistance could not be reached to the masses.

To put it in perspective, compare Modi’s Mann ki Baat with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s regular letters to the Chief Ministers so as to, first, make them aware about the state of the union, and second, to tell them that they were the veritable links between the centre and the states. Modi’s Kashmir policy is totally in contract to this model and soon the heat will be felt across the Indian States, particularly those which are not ruled by the BJP. That debate will soon be in the offing.

The author is a Senior Fellow, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi. He is a former ICSSR National Fellow, and Professor of South Asian Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Notice: The print edition of Mainstream Weekly is now discontinued & only an online edition is appearing. No subscriptions are being accepted