AS INDIA CELEBRATES her seventy-third year of independence from British rule, ragged children thread their way through traffic in Delhi, selling outsized national flags and souvenirs that say, “Mera Bharat Mahan”—My India is Great. Quite honestly, it’s hard to feel that way right now, because it looks very much as though our government has gone rogue.
On 5 August, it unilaterally breached the fundamental conditions of the Instrument of Accession, by which the former princely State of Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India in 1947. In preparation for this, at midnight on 4 August, it turned all of Kashmir into a giant prison camp. Seven million Kashmiris were barricaded in their homes, internet connections were cut and their phones went dead.
On 5 August, India’s home minister proposed in parliament that Article 370 of the Indian Constitution—the article that outlines the legal obligations that arise from the Instrument of Accession—be overturned. The opposition parties rolled over. By the next evening the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019 had been passed by the upper as well as the lower house.
The act strips the state of Jammu and Kashmir of its special status—which includes its right to have its own constitution and its own flag. It also strips it of statehood and partitions it into two union territories. The first, Jammu and Kashmir, will be administered directly by the central government in New Delhi, although it will continue to have a locally elected legislative assembly but one with drastically reduced powers. The second, Ladakh, will be administered directly from New Delhi and will not have a legislative assembly.
The passing of the act was welcomed in parliament by the very British tradition of desk-thumping. There was a distinct whiff of colonialism in the air. The masters were pleased that a recalcitrant colony had finally, formally, been brought under the crown. For its own good. Of course.