The scholar Pratap Bhanu Mehta has warned us of the Kashmirification of India. He means that the hard police state with few individual rights that India runs in Kashmir is being extended to India. If we observe the events of the recent past it appears that he is right. Kashmir regularly has had its internet cut off because the government wants to punish its citizens collectively. Kashmiris had no internet (and therefore no online education or tele-medicine) for all of 2020.
The peak of violence in Kashmir came in 2001 when there was no mobile telephony in the state let alone mobile internet but the Indian government does not operate in Kashmir on the basis of logic. The farmers who were parked at Singhu and Tikri and not allowed to enter Delhi similarly had their internet cut off. Why? We do not know and were not told. The government wanted to punish them collectively and it has acquired the power to do so and after Kashmir feels entitled to do this elsewhere. After 2014 India has earned itself the distinction of being the country with the most internet blockades imposed on its citizens. This is Kashmirification.
Similarly UAPA, a law that was reserved for extremism is now commonly used against dissenters who include academics, poets and journalists. Just like the Indian State’s internal checks and balances like the judiciary failed in Kashmir on this issue they failed in the rest of India. With Kashmirification there is another shift which I propose is happening and that is the Gujaratification of India. How does it express itself? To examine that let us look at how it expressed itself in the past. Of the four leaders of the freedom movement three — Jinnah, Patel and Gandhi — were Gujaratis. Patel, who came from the peasant Patidar community is seen as inflexible and rigid but Jinnah and Gandhi came from mercantile communities and stressed compromise (forget the caricature of Partition that Indians are taught and we can see this to be true). The Pakistani journalist Khaled Ahmed has written about this aspect of Gujaratis and linked their flexibility to their trading roots. Surat was the primary west-facing port for the Mughals and the British and trade usually produces a culture that is not rigid. A trading hub since Greek and Roman times, Gujarat benefited from its engagement with the world. And Gujaratis may be found globally practising their talents. However, Gujarat is also insular and conservative in many ways. The control of capital is limited to a few communities and it is their culture that is imposed on that rest. Gandhi’s non-violence and vegetarianism was Jainic. It made no concession to other communities and their diets and believed itself to be supreme. Today that imposition is on all of us across India because of the power of the prime minister and the home minister who are both culturally closed and insular. In today’s Gujaratified India we revere capital and celebrate wealth. A record number of billionaires was added in the pandemic while 23 crore Indians fell into poverty. The latter fact went almost unnoticed while the new rich are famous and celebrated. Also unnoticed went the fact that this creation of billionaires is deliberate. The economic strokes of India after 2014 have been those designed to further empower and enrich the wealthy. Demonetisation was a massacre of the small traders and sent their share of business to the organised spaces controlled by corporate magnates. The highly complex compliance mechanism of the Goods and Service Tax was intended to put the small manufacturer and trader out of business and it has been successful in doing so. The government proudly calls this process ‘formalisation’. The mass protests and rallies against GST by traders on the streets of Surat and Ahmedabad in 2017 again went unnoticed by the rest of us. Unlike the farmers, the traders did not have the will or strength for a long fight and capitulated.
The farmers protest should be seen in this light as a revolt of the peasants against the merchants. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s farm laws proposed the dismantling of an existing system built for farmers to be replaced by one favouring merchants. This is how the farmers saw it and they stood up to fight. The power of capital tried to suppress them through its control of the State but it was their hardy peasant spirit (which the Gujarati duo is not familiar with and did not anticipate) which saw them through.
Like Gandhi’s rigid vegetarianism, the Gujarati’s intolerance for diversity can be seen in India’s hard nationalism which is showing itself in Kashmir and the northeast. These are not in line with the idea that the Gujarati has of India — which is Hindu and conservative — and therefore must be beaten into submission (it may be observed that when the bigger force does the bullying at the border the Gujarati looks away and chooses pragmatism over honour).
These two trends of Kashmirification and Gujaratification are long term and will be difficult to root out. That is why their effects on our economy, our democracy, our society and even our nationhood itself are so visible in the brief period since 2014.