Changing the face of Kashmir

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Changing the face of Kashmir

Wednesday, 07 August 2019 | Kalyani Shankar

The Modi-Shah duo has taken a historic step by rendering Article 370 toothless and repealing Article 35(A). But managing the aftermath is a challenge with some comparing the State to another Palestine

August 5, 2019, will remain a historic day for the country. On this day, the Modi Government scrapped Article 370 and Article 35A pertaining to Jammu & Kashmir in one stroke. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has resolved a complex issue, which many Prime Ministers had been grappling with unsuccessfully for the past 70 years, boldly within the first 100 days of his second term.

As a bureaucrat friend remarked, with half a page Presidential order and four hours of debate and discussion in the Rajya Sabha, Jammu & Kashmir as a State disappeared and in its place emerged two Union Territories — Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. The political reason for clubbing Jammu & Kashmir might be to make the State Hindu

majority gradually.

Politically, Modi has emerged much stronger. The Prime Minister and Union Home Minister Amit Shah get kudos for the bloodless coup. “We reiterate our position since the time of the Jan Sangh to the abrogation of Article 370," read the BJP’s ‘Sankalp Patra’ for the Lok Sabha election of 2019. Articles 35A and Article 370, among other issues, including national security, nationalism and terrorism, had became major election issues.

Interestingly, the Congress had promised in its manifesto that nothing will be done or allowed to change the Constitutional position on Kashmir. Now that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is heading the strongest Government at the Centre in 30 years after having secured a massive majority of its own in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, there was pressure from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) to act on its promises. 

Article 370 of the Constitution grants special status to Jammu & Kashmir, while Article 35A empowers the Legislature to define the State’s “permanent residents” and their special rights and privileges. It also bars a Kashmiri woman from getting any property rights if she marries a person outside the State.

The Modi-Shah duo took every one by surprise by planning the whole operation in complete secrecy. The Opposition has complained that no consultations were made with the stakeholders. In fact, while the Bill was introduced in the House, two former Chief Ministers — Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah — were kept under house arrest in Srinagar. Getting the Bill passed in the Rajya Sabha, where the ruling party is in a minority, was indeed a feat for the Treasury Benches. The Congress feels outfoxed.

Modi’s success in the Upper House was also possible due to the division in Opposition ranks. Many parties, including the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), YSR Congress Party (YSRCP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), sided with the Government, thus isolating the Congress, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and a few other parties. However, all regional parties in the State, including NC, PDP, Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement (J&KPM) and others, opposed the measure.

Now that the Parliament has endorsed the proposal, managing the aftermath is the challenge ahead for the Modi Government. The Prime Minister believes that the measure will solve the Kashmir problem and bring peace and prosperity to the State.

While there has been no immediate signs of violence in Jammu & Kashmir as massive forces have been deployed, it is too soon to dismiss any trouble.  The gene is out of the bottle and it is not known whether it will turn uncontrollable. There are some who fear Kashmir might turn out to be another Palestine.

Second, the State has been degraded but has the Government thought of an economic plan for the development of these two Union Territories? As Amit Shah had noted in his speech in Parliament while presenting the Bills, crores of rupees have been sent to the State for development but they never reached the people. The economic plan is a must for the future and the Government is yet to disclose it.

Third, Pakistan, too, must have been taken by surprise by this coup. Enthused by the good reception Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan received in the US recently, with promises of more aid to bail out its economy, the Pakistani establishment is upbeat. Encouraged by all these, it cannot be ruled out that Pakistan might instigate some violence in Kashmir. Also the Valley is the most vulnerable to Talibanis and other terror organisations like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS). There is also the danger of more home-grown terrorism and the emergence of more Burhan Wanis.

Pakistan might also take it to the United Nations as Kashmir can no longer be on the agenda and also seek the US’ intervention. 

Above all, most Kashmiris in the Valley feel betrayed. The State Government and the Centre must do everything to assuage their feeling of alienation and fill up the trust deficit. Bringing normalcy in the Valley should be the top priority.

Overall, while doubts may linger about the response from the Valley, Prime Minister Modi has earned huge political capital by this measure.

If the Supreme Court gives a green signal by November, the BJP is ready to build the Ram temple in Ayodhya, too. There are many, who believe that if elections were to be held tomorrow, Prime Minister Modi might even beat former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s record of getting 405 seats in the 1984 Lok Sabha elections.

(The writer is a senior journalist)

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