This was actually a post I’d been working on that was going to focus on different aspects of rule and law, and maybe delve into different forms of democracies around the world.
But, recent events have pushed me make this a far more specific post than was originally intended.

To state this simply, this post will revolve around Kashmir without getting into the specifics about what transpired over the last week and rather focus on the rhetoric, democracy, fundamental rights and inscrutable wrongs.

This is a topic I’m fairly certain people have already made their minds up on ( yours truly included ) and its very likely that you will not like what I have to say in the next few paragraphs.

I don’t post about politics too often on this blog and when I do, I usually try to skirt around the boundaries, count this as an aberration.

Recently, the Indian government abrogated Article 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution which removed special privileges granted to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and in the process split the state up into 2 Union territories.

Naturally, a move of this magnitude will incite reactions and as mentioned earlier, has polarised people.

I personally am not a big fan of the current Indian government, I think they’ve failed to deliver on their idea of small government for 5 years straight now and I’m tired of hearing them give excuses as to why that is the case, the lack of divestment of PSUs for 5 years straight is proof of this.

I’m also tired of their invasion of privacy with what they’ve done with Aadhaar, along with looking the other way at vigilante mobs enforcing cultural/religious norms and the level of religious involvement regardless of religion within this government ( I do not mean that people should not be religious, but, for a party that claims to be for small government it sure does look the other way when it comes to spending for religious purposes ).

In short, this government has gone for a socially conservative ( some would argue center-right because of them not contesting Section 377 for example, I can’t be bothered to give them the credit for that ), and fiscally liberal, which is the opposite of what they campaigned on.

This is not to say that they haven’t done good, but, they certainly have curtailed federal powers, which needs to happen in India.

Even so, this was one move of theirs that I found myself supporting, because it goes beyond governments, it goes to the idea of the nation state and its integrity.

The idea of the nation state is quite new and is not a natural one, I read a critique of it in the book On Nationalism by Tagore which surprised me given how he is considered to be a freedom fighter.

But, if we assume that the idea of a nation state is paramount to the current political order then, its worth studying the implications of what was done last week through the abrogation of these articles.

In order to abrogate these articles, the Indian government denied the right to freedom of speech to the people living in the (former) state of J&K, they also moved a significant number of troops from the Indian defence into the state.

The rationale for this was that it was a national security measure aimed at ensuring that there were violations of human rights from across the border or from miscreants within the border.

The question now becomes, what’s more important - individual life or free speech? That’s really what’s at stake here, I was conflicted on the answer, or the rationale that I could come up with my answer, or both.

I decided to follow Ferris Buellers advice :

A person should not believe in an ism, he should believe in himself

So, here goes.

The central idea here is best expressed using a discussion on positive and negative rights

The rhetoric from one side has been about the denial of the right to free speech for the people living in the regions of Jammu, Kashmir and, Ladakh.

I do agree that this denial is a horrible thing, I would not wish it on anyone.

The problem however is that, for the past 70 odd years while these rights have not been denied, and several other rights that non-Kashmiri Indians have not been extended to the state, the majority of the incidents, especially over the past 30 years have been violent in nature with deaths on the sides of the common people, members of defence and, elements of the populace that favour secession.

Given this, provision of free speech, could lead to violence, as has in the past, especially given the magnitude of the decision taken.

The second order question now becomes, what’s more important, the right to free speech that could lead to violence, or the denial of free speech in order to prevent violence?

That’s a hard question to take sides on, but, it’s something people surprising easily took sides on more often than not. Me included.

The other rhetoric has been about the denial of the right of the people to a plebiscite ( whether this is a right is questionable ), and a subversion of democracy.

The central problem in this is a misunderstanding of the concepts of a democracy and that of a republic.

We do not live in a system of direct democracy in India, we don’t even elect the leader of our nation, or the leader of our armed forces, or the leader of the judiciary.

They exist independent of each other, and we simply elect the party(ies) from whom the leader of our legislative structure is chosen.

The legislative, executive and, judiciary take decisions on behalf of the people ( something that I hope changes in the future, we do need to move in the direction of a direct democracy - see switzerland )

As a result, when the Article 370 was introduced into the Indian constitution, no member of the Indian public was taken into consultation on the matter of whether this was the right way for a state to be included into the Indian state, was this also a subversion of democracy?

If yes, then, I’m in agreement with you. If no, then, the denial of self-determination is also not a subversion of democracy.

This is not a whataboutism, this is the central issue here.

To sum up, the following statements can all be true :

  • The denial of free speech is wrong
  • The denial of free speech is necessary
  • Democracy was not subverted
  • I am not in general in support of the current government
  • I agree with the abrogation of Article 370

The title of this post is Rhetoric without responsibility, let’s come to that.

The simple question to be asked here is,
If the right to free speech was reinstated immediately upon request, will the people demanding the reinstatement be willing to take responsibility for any violence/damages/loss of life that occurs as a result of it?

I’m not sure, I don’t think I would be.

The other question is,
If the right to free speech continues to be denied, will the people supporting the denial of free speech be willing to take responsibility for any violence/damages/loss of life that occurs as a result of it?

Again, I’m not sure. But, in this case, and I don’t think it will apply in most other cases, I did find myself leaning to this side.

Neither of these are easy positions to take in truth, but, here we are.

The hope is violence reduces and civil liberties are restored.

Do let me know your thoughts below or send me an email.

Thank you for reading

Sainath