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View: BJP has half-won the Kashmir battle

Opposition to the abolition of Article 370 stems from the same mindset that made Gandhi back Khilafat and Congress oppose Shah Bano and triple talaq reforms. But BJP has to deliver on governance and growth to win the battle.

ET CONTRIBUTORS|
Aug 10, 2019, 11.00 PM IST
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Modi-Shah---BCCL
The success of the Modi-Shah gambit depends on how well or how quickly Kashmiris in the valley accept the new reality of living without Article 370.
By R Jagannathan

In opposing the elimination of Article 370, India’s bleeding-heart liberals and some political parties have once again chosen to be on the wrong side of history. Mahatma Gandhi thought he was sealing the loyalties of Muslims by backing the Khilafat movement. He was wrong. Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi thought they were treading carefully over the sensitivities of Kashmiris by giving them Article 370 even while reducing it to a shell. But they too were wrong. Rajiv Gandhi thought he was buying Muslim loyalties by overturning the Shah Bano judgment. He was wrong. Today’s Congress is at it again, having failed to back triple talaq reform and the abolition of Article 370, reducing the party to redundancy.

In two deft strokes, through Presidential proclamations made on August 5 and 6, and subsequently ratified by overwhelming majorities in the two Houses of Parliament, the Narendra Modi government has cleverly used Article 370 to replace Jammu & Kashmir’s Constitution of 1956 with the Indian Constitution. It then bifurcated and reduced the state into two Union Territories (UTs), one including the Jammu and Kashmir regions, and the other Ladakh. Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah assured Kashmiris that the new UT status was only “temporary”— drawing quiet parallels to the “temporary” nature of Article 370, which took 72 years to be junked.

The twin moves constitute a clear signal that the Modi government is willing to take legal, social, political and geopolitical risks to end an unstable and uneasy stalemate that has lasted ever since the Dogra ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, signed the instrument of accession with the Indian Union in 1947.

While the BJP’s political stock rises among its own supporters and Indian citizens outside the Kashmir Valley, its actions will raise hackles in Pakistan and China, stoking global concerns about potential geopolitical instability in the sub-continent. In Jammu, the BJP will carry the day, and in Ladakh there will be much rejoicing, but in Kashmir Valley there will be a sullen, and possibly angry population, to contend with. The internal security situation could tilt towards short-term deterioration, but may stabilise if the BJP handles the situation with care and sensitivity and starts delivering on governance and economic development — something which the Prime Minister promised in his televised address to the nation on August 8.

The first two challenges will be maintaining law and order in the Kashmir Valley, and seeing off the legal one in the Supreme Court. The key legal issue revolves around the decision to change references to Jammu & Kashmir’s defunct constituent assembly with the state assembly. The legal trick employed here is that since there is no assembly to give its concurrence to the changes imposed through Article 370, Parliament can legislate in its place. Legal opinion is divided but it is moot point whether the Supreme Court can really junk a law to make the Indian Constitution applicable to the whole of India when that is its core duty.

Also, the BJP has the moral authority to speak for large sections of the state, having won 46% of the popular vote in the Lok Sabha elections, and three of the six seats.

The reduction of J&K to a Union Territory flows from the practical need to maintain law and order and to raise administrative and police morale damaged by decades of buying peace with the separatists. It is only after the law and order situation stabilises and the machinery cleaned up that J&K can revert to formal statehood again. If Kashmiri politicians have any sense, they should be helping, since restoration of statehood depends on a faster return to normalcy.

The creation of the two union territories also has implications for India’s relationship with Pakistan and China. It means that India no longer considers Kashmir’s status as negotiable, and anyone who thinks otherwise will essentially be tangling with Indian interests directly. This is why Pakistan has reacted by reducing diplomatic and trade ties with India, and China has demurred about the changed status of Ladakh. Pakistan has already handed over a part of Ladakh that was in its possession to China, and the latter has so far maintained the fiction that once India and Pakistan sort out Kashmir, it can rework that deal. But with the Union of India now formally declaring itself a direct stakeholder in Ladakh, this figleaf is gone. Hence the consternation in China. As for Pakistan, it can be counted upon to arm and despatch more jihadis across the border. But that’s the old challenge anyway.

The US may also be concerned, but cannot do much, as India’s action is partly prompted by the fact that Uncle Sam is fleeing Afghanistan with his tail between his legs, leaving the Taliban and Pakistan free to take over. This has implications for security and terrorism in Kashmir.

The success of the Modi-Shah gambit depends on how well or how quickly Kashmiris in the valley accept the new reality of living without Article 370. The truth is that Article 370 has already been denuded over the decades, whereby 94 out of 97 items in the Union list, 26 out of 47 in the concurrent list, and 260 of the 395 Articles of the Indian Constitution were already applicable to Jammu & Kashmir. Making all these laws 100% applicable at one stroke should actually come as a relief, for it ends all uncertainty. The question is: why is the average Kashmiri — as opposed to the average Jammu or Ladakh denizen — so emotionally attached to Article 370, which has erected a psychological wall between India and the Kashmir Valley?

Throughout the debate in Parliament on the Modi government’s Bills, no one had one thing worthwhile to say about how Article 370 benefited J&K.

In short, it is more than likely that Article 370 was just a lever used by powerful valley politicians to blackmail the Centre and maintain their own hold on power by playing with local emotions. The challenge for India in Kashmir post-August 5, 2019, is to apply political balm and deliver good governance and development so as to give time to the average Kashmiri Sunni Muslim to come to the same conclusion. The rest of J&K and Ladakh needs no convincing. The BJP has won half the battle; the other half remains to be won.

(The writer is Editorial director, Swarajya)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)
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