‘Be ready’: Amit Shah’s phone call that began countdown to revoke Article 370
The ground work had been done. The troops had been moved, the Israeli Heron drones were in place and military planes had flown scores of sorties to ramp up Kashmir’s buffer stock for food supplies. Back in Delhi, the triumvirate of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval had gone over their blueprint several times over. On Sunday evening, Home Minister Amit Shah made the phone call to the two intelligence chiefs: Arvind Kumar who heads the domestic spy agency Intelligence Bureau and Samant Goel, the chief of India’s external spy agency, Research and Analysis Wing.
Be ready, Shah told them.
The two officials handpicked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi were clued in to many of the secret discussions that had preceded the decision to end the special status for Jammu and Kashmir. But this was probably the first time that the security establishment figured that PM Modi was going to go ahead with the plan, and now.
In the discussions that followed through Sunday evening in the security establishment, it was decided to restrict movements of the Kashmir valley’s most prominent political leaders and subsequently, impose curfew. Leaders of the two regional political parties were expected to try to mobilize people because they would stand to lose the most. They were also, according to intelligence assessments, the most likely targets of terrorists backed by Pakistan because they were high-profile enough to attract international attention.
Article 370 revoked I Analysis I How Modi, Shah and Doval orchestrated move
Stripping Jammu and Kashmir’s special status under the constitution had been a long-articulated stand of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Right from the time the BJP, then Jana Sangh, would only contest municipal elections. “Because we believed that Article 370 was wrong, not in national interest,” Amit Shah told parliament in one of the many interventions during the debate. “This is not about politics… but the country,” he told the Rajya Sabha.
But it was National Security Adviser Ajit Doval who worked on this approach from a strategic perspective. The argument was that revoking Article 370 and splitting the state into two union territories, would help in complete integration of the state with rest of the union. In terms of diplomacy, it would prove to be a game changer by changing the facts on the ground.
In his report to the government after a quick visit to the Kashmir valley after Article 370 push became public, Ajit Doval told Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the public sentiment on the ground mostly matched their calculations. Home Minister Amit Shah’s assurance in parliament to roll back the statehood issue had gone down well with the public who did realise that the state’s politicians had been taking them for a ride.
In internal discussions, PM Modi’s government had discussed the revocation of Article 35A more than once over the last few years. But it was the meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the Research and Analysis Wing’s new chief Samant Goel that set the balling rolling this time.
Goel indicated that there was a distinct possibility of a deal between the US and the Pakistan-supported Taliban by September 1 following which Washington could choose to reward Islamabad for its role with the resumption of military and economic aid. That could lead to an intensification of Islamabad’s direct and indirect sponsorship of terror groups operating in Kashmir. If India had to make the move on J&K’s special status that was on the government’s agenda, there wasn’t a lot of time to lose.