Few people would have read the whole Constitution of India, and for good reason. It is one of the longest such documents in the world, with all of 395 Articles, 12 schedules and some 103 amendments. But overall, there’s one thing that stands out: the government’s powers are enormous, and where one right is given to the citizen, there are three other clauses to take it away on specific grounds should the Centre so decide. The present government did just that on Monday.
Article 370 and its ensuing Article 35A seemed sacrosanct. The Centre simply took advantage of Article 370 itself, which had a clause to empower the president to apply other Articles to Jammu and Kashmir. The president’s order, on the scrapping of the Article, said, “In exercise of the powers conferred by clause (1) of Article 370 of the Constitution, the president, with the concurrence of the government of state of Jammu and Kashmir, is pleased to make the following order....” In other words, in the absence of a Kashmir Constituent Assembly, the governor is seen as the authority, and in the presence of an overwhelming majority in Parliament, the subsequent passage through that body is given; all done and accounted for.
The sheer audacity of move was amazing. The slow build up, the knowledge that something was coming, and the rumour mill — that is the Valley — abuzz with speculation and fear. The question which arises is, of course, the inevitable “what next?”.
Pakistan was taken completely by surprise, assuming all the while that Delhi had predatory designs on its own slice of Kashmir. The neighbouring country is already summoning up its legal and constitutional experts, and is mulling to take the issue to the United Nations. It says, with some truth, that an ‘international’ dispute cannot be solved unilaterally. But for India, it is a done deal, and once passed in Parliament, the matter will be deemed closed.
However, there still are some questions that arise from the situation.
Does it mean that the Line of Control will now be considered as the International Border? Probably not. That line was renamed as such from a ‘ceasefire line’ by the Simla Agreement in the aftermath of the 1971 war. What could have been solved at one stroke after a decisive war, was kept on for future generations to dispute over. It subsequently allowed Pakistan to start its terrorism strategy in 1989 and carry on the bloodshed for two decades. But the LoC remains an agreed line between India and Pakistan, even though it was provisional. What its status now is unclear.
How will the regional politicians react? Resentment and outrage are likely to be stoked by the politicians left out from the future governments, given that the NDA government is planning to bifurcate the state into two Union Territories — Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. It is the supporters of these politicians, and mobs who will need to be dealt with. Much of the terrorism-affected districts show signs of tiredness, and people will probably wait to see how this issue turns out. Home Minister Amit Shah needs to quickly provide clarity on the benefits that will follow.
Ironically, the effects of the developments will be felt most in Ladakh — a relatively peaceful place. The district has a population of 3 per square kilometre, which makes it highly vulnerable. As the Central government moves ahead on its plan of action, one of the first things it needs to do is to safeguard both Kargil and Ladakh from the real estate ‘colonisers’ of Delhi and elsewhere. Such fears were apparent when this author visited the district a few months ago. Here also, reassurance has to come quickly from the Centre, before fears are stoked by another power close-by.
Will Pakistan end terrorism in the Valley? The simple answer to that is: no. Terrorists have never respected borders, and never will. Trouble will continue, but a page in Kashmir has been turned forever. Whether the next will show a new landscape — bright with possibilities — or a grim one riven with blood, is not yet clear. Furious media debates can be expected within India. Many countries will quietly support India, though some neutral public statements can be expected. In truth, everyone is tired of the Kashmir issue, raised interminably by Pakistan. Meanwhile, the Twitterati will certainly have a field day, with the war fought out from respective arm chairs on both sides of the border.
Updated Date: Aug 05, 2019 23:27:38 IST