In the days leading to the partition of British India, two essential elements of collective political life were an integral part of political discourse and practices. These elements were identity and territory. The questions surrounding these critical elements shaped the shattering destiny of the Indian subcontinent in the post-partition era.
Whereas Pakistan adopted a largely monolithic sense of national identity notwithstanding the significant heterogeneous nature of its territory, the case with India was not so linear. At the onset of inception, the Indian Republic did adopt a secular vision of the polity and society, ensuring constitutional protection for all the minorities and lower-castes categories, however, the secular constitutional order also laid the foundation of, and institutionalized, a far more dangerous, monolithic, and darker vision of the Indian Republic.
Clashing with the Indian secularism even in the days of British Raj, the Hindu nationalism – Hindutva vision of the Indian Republic – presented a radically distinct view of the potential polity and society in the newly-independent nation. The clash between Indian secularism and Hindu nationalism shaped, and still shaping, the structural and political currents of the Indian Republic since partition.
One of the core points of significant friction between these two visions of India is the question of Kashmir. The territory, and its people, majority Muslims but also comprise of Hindus and Buddhists, were torn apart by territorial contestation between India and Pakistan in 1948, merely one year after the partition. Ever since the war between both South Asian nations, the question of Kashmir remains unsettled while its territory is bifurcated between both nations.
The Indian republic ensured the territorial connectivity, and in the long run, integration of the region, by enacting Article 370 into the Indian constitution, provisioning that the people in Indian-controlled Kashmir will have their constitution and enjoy the freedom to enact their laws alongside many other freedoms concerning demographics and land.
Since its enactment, the forces of Hindu nationalism were opposed to the particular constitutional arrangement as according to their ideology the special status of Kashmir made India in a perpetual state of fractured territory. Of the many fundamental beliefs in Hindutva Ideology, the question regarding Kashmir accords a very peculiarly important status as the ideologues consider almost all of South Asia including present-day Bangladesh and Pakistan as part of “Akhand Bharat”, (can be loosely translated as Greater India)
Thus, when in early August 2019, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the political force of Hindutva nationalism, abrogated the constitutional provision of 370 and by exercising brute force of military power and law integrate territorially the Indian-controlled Kashmir into the Indian union, it achieved one of the greatest ideological feats in its history. Though abrogation is merely a precursor to a far darker and radical experiment in the Indian polity and international law.
Kashmir, according to the Hindu nationalists, is the staging ground for the realization of their vision of India; their conception of the public, politics, security, law, and territory. With Kashmir, the endgame of Hindutva nationalism is multifaceted. It comprises of demographic change, the othering of locals, perpetual state of violence, and manifestation of brute Hindu power.
It is no secret that Hindutva forces are aiming at the long game by trying to change the facts of the ground. For any future UN-approved plebiscite on the territory of Kashmir, the quantitative strength will matter more than qualitative measures. With the manipulation of demographics through introducing the Hindu population, particularly Kashmiri Pandits, which indeed have a claim to be local population, the long game is by under simple multiplication the balance favors Hindu population over Muslims in any future plebiscite.
Notwithstanding the local roots of Kashmiri Pundits, by abrogating special constitutional provisions of Kashmir, Hindutva forces allowed the purchasing of property by non-local population allowed a naked attempt at altering the demographics of the region. Subsequently, by divorcing local Kashmiris from their territorial identity and dilution of Kashmiris political-religious identity through transmuting their legitimate political struggle into a militant one, BJP-led government is constructing a dichotomy between those who pledge allegiance to the Indian union and those who do not; national and anti-national, effectively creating the ‘other’. With the denial of political space to practice their opposition against Indian forces and administration, the Indian state is intently marginalizing them to the point to no return by compelling scores of local Kashmiris to take up arms against the Indian state, giving the latter a carte blanche to deal with the ‘anti-nationals’ through exercises brutalizing instruments of military power.
However, this state of perpetual yet controlled violence suits the Indian state as it intends to keep inflaming tensions in the region, including geopolitical contestation with Pakistan to keep it under significant stress, until an international mediation results in favorable new status quo to the Indian state.
By altering the dynamics of demography, constructing ‘enemy’, and institutionalization of perpetual violence in Kashmir, the Indian state under Hindu nationalism is also signaling to the secessionist movements in the northeast of the country. If a special region like Kashmir could be transformed into a warzone then the regions which are constitutionally-bound to the Indian union but have insurgencies running for decades, they can also feel the full wrath of the Indian state.
The question of Kashmir is yet to be decisively resolved. By its power play in Kashmir, Hindu nationalist-led India signaled to all internal and external state and non-state actors that now India will take off its velvet gloves and fight with the naked iron fists.