It’s not a surgical strike. It’s an open-heart surgery, and there will be bleeding
With one stroke of a pen, the Government of India, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has dramatically and radically altered the relationship between the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir and the Indian Union, the dynamics of the highly contentious politics in that conflict-ridden state, and the contours of India-Pakistan negotiations on the Kashmir question.
While the BJP will politically benefit from this bold move, one will have to wait and see whether it will be able to implement its twin decision to scrap Article 370 and undoing Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood without acrimony, bloodshed and further alienation within the Kashmir Valley.
While there was sufficient indication that the BJP might act on its traditional promise of abrogating Article 370, it’s the manner in which it has gone about it is surprising. In one sense, by bifurcating the state into two segments and making them Union Territories, the BJP has gone way beyond its own past rhetoric of merely abrogating Article 370 and trifurcating the state. It’s not a “surgical strike”, it’s an open-heart surgery, and there will be bleeding.
The message from Monday’s decisions is loud and clear: New Delhi, from now on, won’t be keen on taking the difficult but democratically prudent path of peace-building in Kashmir, nor would it be willing to keep Kashmir on the negotiating table with Pakistan. So, when the BJP leadership says that a “historic wrong” has been corrected in Kashmir, what it perhaps means is that the integration of J&K into the Indian Union is “now’ complete, notwithstanding the country’s official position on the part currently in Pakistan’s possession.
The easy part, of issuing a Presidential Order, and announcing it in the Parliament, while keeping a tight grip on the security situation in the Valley, is over. Now comes the difficult part of justifying the constitutionality of the decision, and this would most definitely lead to a long drawn out legal battle.
So, what explains the timing of this radical decision? From a domestic political perspective, the BJP might have correctly calculated that doing so before the assembly elections in the state would enable it to push the decision through, while President’s Rule is still in force.
More so, the emerging geopolitical dynamics in Afghanistan, and the resultant United States-Pakistan rapprochement, could have potentially led to more heat on the Kashmir situation in the months ahead. The recent Kashmir tweets by President Donald Trump clearly indicated that. By “integrating J&K fully” into the Indian Union, New Delhi now expects to brazen out any such pressure. To that extent, this is also a message to the international community of how it will regard the former’s opinions on Kashmir from now on -- with indifference.
The international community has seemingly decided to wait and watch, not that the New Delhi of today loses sleep over what the opinion makers of the international community has to say about it. The international community, including the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union, is likely to adopt a cautious approach to the decision by New Delhi which, strictly speaking, is a domestic issue. Their concerns might only come to the fore if this leads to more violence.
The bigger challenge, however, is not legal, but political. Clearly, it’s a major political victory for the BJP, especially given how the several fence-sitting regional parties — including the Aam Aadmi Party, which has been an in-principle supporter of full statehood — went on to support the J&K Reorganisation Bill. The separatist parties in the Valley will increase their political fight against New Delhi. Militancy would once again see a rise in the Valley, with or without support from Pakistan. And terror elements in Pakistan would find Kashmir to be most fertile now more than ever to create trouble. As a result, Kashmir’s streets could witness more violence and anarchy in the days ahead once the curfew if lifted, and the Valley is reconnected to the rest of the world.
More significantly, by “un-making” the J&K state, New Delhi has made the entire pro-India political mainstream in the Valley politically irrelevant, administratively powerless, and worthless from a conflict-resolution perspective. Consider a moment, the combined effect of the disillusionment and alienation of the Kashmiri youth and the
irrelevance of the mainstream Kashmiri political class. It is unlikely to be good news. The Indian State might win the day with sheer force, but what of its legitimacy in a state where everyone, including the pro-India parties, would be bitter, angry and desperate?
The BJP seems to think that its radical steps vis-à-vis Kashmir is some sort of a magic bullet for all of Kashmir’s ills, and that’s exactly where it may have faulted in its judgement. For one, there are no magic bullets in conflict resolution, and more importantly, minority rights, in this case those of the Kashmiris, can’t be divorced from the inherent workings of a mature democracy.
Happymon Jacob is associate professor of disarmament studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
The views expressed are personal