By Kalyani Shankar
August 5 is a historic day for the country as the Modi government had scrapped Article 370 and Article 35A pertaining to Jammu and Kashmir at one stroke. A complex issue, which many prime ministers had been grappling with unsuccessfully for the past 70 years, Prime Minister Modi has resolved it boldly within the first 100 days in his second term. As a bureaucrat friend remarked with half a page Presidential order and four hours of debate and discussion in the Rajya Saba, Jammu and Kashmir as a state disappeared and in its place emerged two Union territories — Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. The political reason for clubbing Jammu and Kashmir might be to make the state a Hindu majority gradually.
Politically Modi emerges much stronger. Modi 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,” reads the BJP’s ‘Sankalp Patra’ for Lok Sabha elections 2019.Articles 35A and Article 370, among other issues, including national security, nationalism and terrorism had became major election issues. Interestingly, the Congress Party has promised in its manifesto that nothing will be done or allowed to change the constitutional position on Kashmir. Now that the 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 RSS and the VHP for repeal.
Article 370 of the Constitution grants special status to Jammu and Kashmir, while Article 35A empowers the state 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.
Modi-Shah duo took everyone by surprise by planning the whole operation in complete secrecy. The opposition complains that there were no consultations with the stake- holders. In fact while the bill was brought to the house, the two former chief ministers – PDP chief Mehboobha Mufti and the 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 due to the division in the opposition ranks. Many opposition parties like the BJD, TRS, YSRCP, BSP and AAP sided with the government isolating the Congress, Trinamool Congress and a few other parties. However, all regional parties of the state, including the National Conference (NC), Peoples Democratic Party (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. Modi believes that the measure would solve the Kashmir problem and bring peace and prosperity to the state. While there are no immediate signs of violence in Jammu and 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 it might turn out to be another Palestine.
Secondly, the State has been degraded but has the government thought of an economic plan for the development of these two UTs? 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 it never reached the people. The economic plan is a must for the future and the government is yet to disclose it.
Thirdly, 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 Valley is vulnerable to Talibanis and other terror organizations like Al Qaeda and ISIS. There is also the danger of more homegrown terrorism and 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 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, Modi has earned huge political capital by this measure. If the Apex 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 held tomorrow, Modi might even beat Rajiv Gandhi” s record of getting 405 seats in 1984. (IPA Service)