On the night of 22 October, 1947, when Sairab Khan’s station wagon rolled over a bridge on the Jhelum to enter Muzzafarabad, he envisioned himself having breakfast in Maharaja Hari Singh’s palace in Srinagar, a mere 135 miles away, at the crack of dawn.
Khan was leading the advance party of tribals sent by Pakistan to invade Kashmir. In front of him lay an unprotected, pucca stretch of road to Srinagar. Singh, a Dogra ruler had absolutely no knowledge of the impending attack.
But, Khan and his army of marauders never made it to Srinagar. For reasons less strategic and more atavistic, the Pathans got stuck on the way and were later driven back deep behind Gilgit by the Indian army. Their dream of having their next breakfast in the royal palace of Srinagar remained just that.
This anecdote required a re-telling because of the current euphoria among Indians in the aftermath of the Centre’s decision to withdraw the special status to Jammu and Kashmir by removing relevant sections of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Swept by their emotions, many are dreaming of buying up a corner plot on Srinagar’s Gupkar Road and having their autumn breakfast on the banks of Lidder in Pahalgam.
For them, here is a caveat: like Khan, don’t sniff your kahwa before it is brewed. The government may have taken away Kashmir’s autonomy, changed laws related to purchasing of land and government jobs, but the battle has just begun.
Hanuz Kashmir door ast!
The first challenge will, of course, be legal. Special powers were bestowed upon Jammu and Kashmir because of the conditions that defined its accession to India. Though these provisions were temporary, Article 370(3) clearly says that the President can abolish the operation of Article 370 but not without the recommendation of the Constituent Assembly of that state.
The Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir dissolved itself in January 1957 without giving its opinion on Article 370. So, the Centre’s decision to revoke the special status unilaterally, without the consent of the state’s Constituent Assembly, which doesn’t exist, will certainly be challenged in court.
The government has argued that since the state was under governor’s rule when the decision to rescind its special status was taken, the assent of Parliament would be equivalent to the recommendation of the now-defunct Constituent Assembly. But, the question is likely to be furiously debated in India’s Supreme Court.
The other challenge would, of course, come from the people and politicians of Kashmir. At the moment, the Valley has been shut down through administrative diktats, restrictions on internet and phones and through deployment of security forces. It can be safely presumed that Kashmir will remain shut for a long time so that protests and strikes are nipped in the bud.
The Centre will be prepared for a long haul. It will be ready to brazen it out. It would be interesting to see if Kashmiris have the patience and the appetite for a long fight, or if they will accept the new decision as their destiny.
Kashmir’s history, however, suggests its people will not give up without a fight. Over the past few decades, Kashmiris have fought long battles with the Indian state. A few years ago, when Burhan Wani was killed by security forces, Kashmir remained under curfew for 53 days. In the protests that followed, around 100 people were killed and thousands, including security forces, were injured.
Before that, in 2010, the killing of three alleged infiltrators started a cycle of protests, violence and bloodshed that lasted for nearly six months. Official figures reveal that around 110 people died in the clashes, and nearly 4,000 security forces were injured.
India will, of course, have to answer some tough questions on the unilateral abrogation of provisions of Article 370 that were inserted into the Constitution to honour the instrument of accession signed with Hari Singh. Pakistan has already vowed to exercise "all possible options to counter India’s illegal steps in Kashmir". Its foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi warned that India has “once again revived and internationalised the Kashmir issue. This will not solve the problem, rather it will escalate it".
For years, Pakistan has war-gamed a particular scenario. It has imagined a long, violent war between Kashmiris and the Indian state that would draw the attention of the international community, especially its ally China. This scenario, it has always believed, will force the international community to bring India to the negotiation table, honour its commitment to ratify the accession through a plebiscite.
India Prime Minister Narendra Modi, one knows from his history, has a gambler’s instincts. He likes to make big, audacious moves and then count on his skills and luck to emerge as a winner. It is obvious that he has considered all possible scenarios before divvying up Jammu and Kashmir and withdrawing its special status.
He must have bet on Pakistan’s inability to wage a war, the international community’s reluctance to meddle in what is primarily India’s internal matter and the inability of Kashmiris to survive a long, hard winter of attrition.
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Updated Date: Aug 06, 2019 00:05:53 IST