Jammu & Kashmir is inalienably part of India. The
Union government’s abrogation of Article 370 makes that crystal clear, even
though one legal scholar says abrogation means the state reverts to pre-1953
conditions, when its status was unclear. For the NDA, this is mere semantics as
Kashmir belongs to India through the instrument of accession, a self-evident
fact that needs no clarification. Prime Minister Narenda Modi even told the
nation abrogation was holding back development and so it was a service to
people of the soon-to-be Union Territory. Now they can hope to catch up with
the rest of the country. The business community, apparently, is waiting for
things to settle down before entering in a big way, creating jobs and
Whatever the truth of these assertions, the rules of the game have undoubtedly changed. There is no space left for talks with the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front or the Hurriyat, both of whom dream of total independence. The international community has no role to play as there is no ambiguity now about its status. Even Pakistan, which controls the larger part of the original princely state, has no say on what happens in Kashmir. Union home minister Amit Shah said the abrogation applies to all of Kashmir but that is probably a pro forma declaration. He knows the reality all too well. But for the Kashmir valley he has been instrumental in crafting a new reality.
It is not entirely clear if, after the abrogation, the Modi government intends to pursue the matter of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to its logical end but it is clear that the case of Ladakh, the valley and Jammu is closed. It is an internal matter for Indians alone. In hindsight, the Centre’s muscular approach—since at least the Pathankot air base attack (in January 2016)—towards terrorists, cross-border or homegrown, was an early indication of the larger plan. The killing of Burhan Wani (July 2016), cross-border surgical strike (September 2016), Balakot air strike (February 2019) and the hunting down and killing of suspected militants in the last two years shows which way the government was headed.
To be sure, this was preceded by an offer of friendship to Nawaz Sharif, then Prime Minister of Pakistan, in 2014 but the military, the real power, showed little enthusiasm. It won’t go beyond a point as it can’t afford peace or a quiet border. The idea of an unremittingly hostile India is the major rationale for its outsize presence in Pakistani life. That could also be the reason for the hysterical reception to abrogation of Article 370. With cross-border infiltration getting harder in recent years and homegrown militants being gunned down regularly, the room for manoeuvre was shrinking. The abrogation was probably the final straw. But this time the tantrums of Prime Minister Imran Khan got a cold reception, primarily because the strategic environment has changed. None of Pakistan’s old allies rode to the rescue, not even China. So this could be a defining moment for Pakistan, when its decades-long pretence of parity with India is exposed. It may have to find a new narrative for itself.
The real task, however, is yet to begin. We don’t know how people in the Kashmir valley feel about this development. It is a black hole from which no information escapes. Phone and internet connections were cut as soon as the announcement was made and virtually everyone of note, politician or activist, was arrested, including former chief ministers Mehbooba Mufti, Omar Abdullah and his father along with opposition leaders. Residents were under virtual house arrest due to extreme restrictions on movement. The government has given few clues of a plan beyond the Prime Minister’s emollient words. But the decision to eviscerate the state indicates a long road ahead. The one thing abundantly clear is that Delhi’s imprint will be greater than ever.
Though the process has just begun, it is doing lasting damage to already strained civil institutions. Parliament was in session but the bill to abrogate Article 370 was rammed through without debate, reducing it to a rubber stamp for the executive. The state assembly was never in the picture. Cancelling the Amarnath yatra and creating a security panic was an act of deception to distract attention from its real game. How it expects to build public trust while ignoring the public is anybody’s guess. Perhaps it is banking on another blast of rhetorical magic from the Prime Minister to bring the Kashmiris around. Everyone else, after all, is under his spell.