Modi redraws the line, etches history with Mission Kashmir
Never before since Independence has the India’s Parliament seen such a defining decision that will redraw the nation’s Constitution, map and history – all in a single stroke.
Never before since Independence has the Indian Parliament seen such a defining decision that will redraw the nation’s Constitution, map and history – all in a single stroke.
The revocation of Article 370 – a controversial corollary of Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to India in 1947 that granted it special status in the Union – and bifurcation of the state’s three ethnically and geographically distinct regions into two Union territories is inarguably the most audacious, and potentially contentious marker the Centre has ever etched on the border state with far-reaching consequences.
TECTONIC SHIFT AT CENTRE OF CONFLICT
In a larger context, it also marks a tectonic shift in New Delhi’s geo-strategic game plan in a state that has, for more than six decades, been at the centre of conflict marked by three-and-a-half wars – and, at times, a perilous flashpoint – between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan. It signifies the assertion of India’s sovereign writ on a territory that figures in Pakistan’s narrative, and that of Kashmir-based secessionists, as “a disputed territory”.
By clubbing Jammu and the Valley into a Union Territory (UT) with a legislature, and carving out a predominantly-Buddhist Ladakh region as a separate UT without a legislature, the Centre has clinically divested Jammu and Kashmir of its statehood, while reshaping the political map of the state. In effect, it has done away with one of the country’s 29 states, and added two new UTs to the existing seven. The last time the state’s map was redrawn was in 1947-48 when Pakistan annexed almost one-third of it through an armed invasion of tribals.
Accordingly a UT status to Jammu and Kashmir regions gives the Centre a direct control in the affairs of the tumultuous territory, notably the Valley, which has long been plagued by a bloody insurgency, and spasms of secessionist sentiments. This, as Lt Gen JS Dhillon (retd), a former commander of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps, says will have “a significant bearing on the handling of security challenges in Kashmir”.
Clearly, Narendra Modi 2.0 has invested its political capital, derived from a resounding mandate in the summer elections, into its carefully-crafted Mission Kashmir that will surely define his legacy.
Not only has the Modi-Amit Shah duo – the most powerful fulcrum in the history of modern India – lent a practical shape to their party’s long-standing ideological project on finality of J&K’s integration with India, it also marks the government’s bold assertion on Kashmir on the fast-evolving geo-strategic chessboard.
It is hard not to miss the context of New Delhi’s game-changing gambit: The cosying up of the US with Pakistan, America’s desperation to get out of the Afghanistan quagmire and Donald Trump’s offer on the trot to mediate on Kashmir as a quid pro quo for Islamabad’s help to deliver the Taliban to the negotiating table. The new dynamics, rapidly unfolding in the 21st century version of the Great Game, surely weighed in the Modi government’s strategic calculus pegged to a distinct possibility of pro-Pakistan Taliban gaining ascendancy in Kabul and its impact on Kashmir.
But, for now, Modi’s toughest challenge will be dealing with the internal fallout of his decision which is sure to ignite a firestorm in Kashmir, where Article 370 has historically been rooted in public psyche as an article of Kashmiri identity. The surgical strike on the Article 370 has also nullified Article 35 A, which was inserted into the Constitution through a Presidential Order in 1954 and allowed the state government to define its subjects and their special privilege – as a guarantor against invasion on the state’s religious, ethnic and cultural identity.
The Valley’s political class as well as public has long treated the Article 370 as a “life-and-death issue” despite its steady erosion over the years and “a bridge between Kashmir and India”. Shah described it as “a temporary constitutional provision” and “a barrier” to the state’s integration with India.
A LULL BEFORE STORM IN KASHMIR VALLEY
With such clashing world views, the Valley, now under an unprecedented security clampdown, will be the ground zero on the impact of the Centre’s ground-shifting decision. But reactions of mainstream Kashmiri politicians, who have long sworn by the Constitution, have been fast and furious, suggesting a gathering storm in the Valley. National Conference leader and former chief minister Omar Abdullah termed the Modi government’s decision as “a great betrayal with the people of Jammu and Kashmir”. “A long and tough fight lies ahead,” he said, underscoring that Kashmir will not take the Centre’s decision lying down.
A far more aggressive reaction came from Mehbooba Mufti, the mercurial face of the People’s Democratic Party and former chief minister who began mobilising all parties in Kashmir in anticipation of the Centre’s decision. Calling the scrapping of the Article 370 “as illegal and unconstitutional that will make India an occupation force in J&K”, she said, “It will have catastrophic consequences”. Strikingly, she has even played the “Muslim-majority” card – seen as a bid to stoke the religious frenzy that is also fraught with the danger of stirring the communal cauldron in Jammu region with a mixed population of Hindus and Muslims.
Disquietingly, the Centre’s shake-up seems to have put both mainstream politicians and separatists on the same page. That is evident from the reaction of Syed Ali Geelani, a leading light of the avowedly pro-Pakistan section in the Valley, who called Article 370 a crucial part of Kashmir’s disputed legacy.
Considering the history of volatility of Kashmir, even mainstream politicians fear a resurrection of secessionist sentiment that could be the most daunting challenge in stabilising the truncated state. The muscular approach has its limits. It will be critical to reach out to Kashmiris to widen the stakes in peace. Kashmir’s history is replete with the momentous milestones uncannily leading to the road of tumult.