Article 370 revoked: Modi, Shah bust India's biggest political myth, deal death blow to conflict profiteers
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah's calculation was that if the influence of the power brokers in Kashmir was restricted and enough contingency measures were taken to ensure the maintenance of law and order, then Article 370, one of India’s greatest political myths can be successfully busted
This power-sharing arrangement between Kashmir’s elite dynasties and Congress kept the politics of the stat centred on the Valley giving it disproportionate influence
The power brokers made Article 370 and 35A into a bogey so that any permanent solution to the Kashmir problem remains forever out of reach
For the Modi government, the Panchayat polls was an indicator that while ordinary residents of J&K aspire for a better life and alignment with the India story
Whereas, at the same time, the state’s politics is being held hostage by the two parties and the separatist elements
The Narendra Modi government’s move to scrap Article 370 and Article 35A that conferred special status to Jammu and Kashmir has likely put an end to 'conflict entrepreneurship' in the Valley — one of the most lucrative political ventures that for decades served the cause of a few elite political dynasties in the Valley and New Delhi.
‘Conflict entrepreneurship’, as some commentators have put it, refers to the neat way of bagging political and other lucrative dividends by putting up the bogey of Kashmir’s ‘special status’ as some sort of a Rubicon that cannot be crossed without hitting the ‘self-destruct’ button. For these political dynasties, who took turns to corner power in the state, backed by a Machiavellian government at the Centre, which had an unwritten pact of compliance, Article 370 was not an instrument of accession but an instrument of blackmail that could be used at will to maintain status quo in the Valley.
This power-sharing arrangement between Kashmir’s elite dynasties and Congress kept the politics of Kashmir centred on the Valley giving disproportionate influence to the restive area that occupied just 32 percent of the state’s land and gave little or no political representation to the Dogras, the nomadic Bakarwals or the Gujjars and the Pahadis. The Valley’s hegemony may finally end with the delimitation of Assembly and Parliamentary constituencies as envisaged in the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill 2019 passed by the Rajya Sabha on Monday and the Lok Sabha on Tuesday.
An article in Daily Pioneer traces the roots of Valley’s hegemonic control of the state. "Both Jammu and Ladakh have opposed the Kashmiri hegemony ever since the early 1950s when the Constituent Assembly was formed and thereafter, the Sheikh Abdullah-led government began to rule the State. The Kashmir-centric leadership, with the blessings of Congress-led (Jawaharlal) Nehru government at the Centre, began systematic degradation of Jammu region in order to express their annoyance against the Maharaja and Dogras. Ladakh was also taken for granted and neglected for being a Buddhist majority area.”
Article 370, which was enforced in 1949 and exempts the state of Jammu and Kashmir from the Constitution of India and administration from the Indian government except in areas of finance, defence, foreign policy and communications, and Article 35A, which was introduced through a surreptitious Presidential notification bypassing the Parliament in 1954, eventually became tools of extortion for these elite political dynasties who subverted democracy, avoided proportional representation for Jammu and Kashmir’s other ethnic residents and failed to stop the exodus of Kashmiri Pandit minorities who had to flee their native land in 1990 faced with targeted killings, rape and arson from Pakistan-backed militants.
Article 370 is also a testament of the betrayal of Kashmiris that took place in years following Independence. BK Nehru, Jawaharlal’s cousin and a former governor of the state (1992-94), had famously written in his book, Nice Guys Finish Second (pages 614-15) that “from 1953 to 1975 chief ministers of that state had been nominees of Delhi. Their appointment to that post was legitimised by holding of farcical and totally rigged elections in which the Congress Party led by Delhi’s nominee was elected by huge majorities”.
According to an article in Frontline, “In 1975, the Sheikh was reinstated as chief minister after he accepted the Centre’s terms.”
This betrayal of the Kashmiris carried on in the 1980s too. Under the fig leaf of ‘special status’ conferred by Article 370, these elite dynasties (including the Gandhis) broke Kashmir’s trust through a blatantly rigged election in 1987 that was so brazen that some commentators see it as a watershed moment that gave Pakistan room to exploit and begin their proxy war against the Indian state.
An article in Times of India accuses the alliance between Congress and Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (JKNC) of rigging the polls in 1987 and creating a situation when “Opposition Muslim United Front activists were imprisoned and tortured". He adds: “Many of them spearheaded the armed insurgency as Yusuf Shah (Syed Salahuddin), who had contested the elections, founded the Hizbul Mujahideen. The rigging was the spark that triggered the insurgency along with the overbearing presence and manipulative nature of the deep state.”
The point to understand, therefore, is that Article 370 became the licence for the power brokers in Kashmir to deny the state political rights, fair representation and maintain status quo. While Kashmir steadily descended into a vortex of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, radicalism, Islamist identity politics and hatred against the Indian state among the youth, the power brokers continued to benefit from the status quo and were a party to decades of failed Kashmir policy from successive Union governments. This arrangement benefitted both sides.
While the power brokers in the Valley remained relevant by alternating between soft separatism and toeing the nationalist line (depending on whether they were in power or opposition in the state), in Delhi the Central Governments remained in an illusion that pumping in money into the hands of the administration would solve all issues. This travesty continued under the fig leaf of “autonomy” guaranteed by Article 370.
It is easy to understand why the power brokers made Article 370 and 35A into a bogey so that any permanent solution to the Kashmir problem — that depended on abrogation of the discriminatory provisions and national integration of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh’s citizens — remains forever out of reach.
Both JKNC of the Abdullahs and People's Democratic Party (PDP) of the Muftis kept up issuing incendiary statements on the contentious provisions that fueled separatism in Kashmir and Congress willingly played along because their conflict entrepreneurship depended on the existence of the discriminatory clauses.
If Article 370 and Article 35A are temporary, so is Jammu and Kashmir's accession to India, thundered former chief minister and National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah in April. At a rally in Srinagar, he had warned Modi that if he dares to remove Article 370 and Article 35A and “usurp our rights”, “we will fight against it, and if you remove 370 it will end our accession with India and we will get freedom".
A month later Farooq reiterated: “Let him (Modi) be as powerful as he likes, he cannot remove Article 370 and Article 35A (from the state of Jammu and Kashmir).”
His son Omar Abdullah had told The Print in an interview that “any tinkering with 370 or 35A will be disastrous for the state".
JKNC’s local rival, PDP, also repeatedly toed the same line. Mehbooba Mufti, president of PDP who had joined hands with BJP before the saffron unit walked out of the alliance in June 2018, issued warning that people in Jammu and Kashmir might not pick up the Tricolour if Article 35A is tampered with. She called Article 370 the “only bridge” between India and Kashmir.
Part of this rhetoric, as I have noted already, was to prevent a lasting solution of the Kashmir issue and keep the state in permanent limbo — that brought them benefits — and part of it was to maintain their (ever fading) legitimacy in Kashmir’s local politics.
It is here that the successful holding of the panchayat polls in Kashmir despite boycott by the two mainstream parties and threat from terrorists was interpreted correctly by the Modi government as an indicator that while ordinary residents of Jammu and Kashmir aspire for a better life and alignment with the India story, the state’s politics is being held hostage by the two parties and the separatist elements.
In a series of calibrated moves that began during NDA 1 and continued into NDA 2, the Modi government systematically targeted the terror financiers, banned separatist groups (see here and here) and launched high-profile investigation into the nexus between Kashmir’s top politicians and bankers. (See here and here).
These were not unconnected steps but crucial rungs aimed at creating a conducive atmosphere for the scrapping of Article 370 and its derivative, Article 35A. When the endgame came in Kashmir, nobody except only a handful of top leaders in the Modi government and intelligence chiefs knew about the game plan.
The Modi government knew that the abrogation of the two constitutional provisions or even a step in that direction may result in civil unrest and security challenges in the Valley. Their calculation was that if the influence of the power brokers was restricted and enough contingency measures were taken to ensure the maintenance of law and order, then one of India’s greatest political myths can be successfully busted.
Accordingly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah took the final steps leading to the announcement. Massive amount of troops were deployed, Amarnath Yatris and other pilgrims were asked to return (to ensure that they are not used as hostages by terrorists), tourists were asked to leave, Section 144 was imposed in Srinagar district, prominent political leaders including Omar and Mehbooba were put under house arrest, internet services snapped. The Valley was put under lockdown and all forms of rallies and public gatherings were banned.
These measures, which would be phased out gradually, ensured that the historic decision evoked not even a whimper. This is not to say that the issues plaguing Kashmir have been solved by one Presidential notification that bifurcated the state, turned it into a Union Territory, diluted Article 370 and scrapped Article 35A, but it is a much-needed rebooting of Kashmir policy that allows the Indian state to launch fresh efforts towards integration of Kashmir residents into India’s body politic.
The NDA’s move has invited a thousand criticisms and will most likely be challenged in court as well. But not one of the politicians, commentators or talking heads who are finding loopholes in the plan or indulging in incendiary rhetoric have come forward with even one workable and alternative solution.
Rest assured that winning the hearts and minds of Kashmiris and the enraged millennial youth who identify India as the main enemy and show allegiance to Pakistan won’t be easy. It is also conceivable that Pakistan will throw everything at India and try its best to foment trouble in the Valley. But the import of the bold Kashmir policy should never be underestimated.
It is also to be understood that for every disgruntled, angry youth who look upon India as an “enemy”, there are youths who seek the opportunities that India has to offer. This will ultimately boil down to a battle of narratives where the Indian state may now possess better cards than ever before.
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