India’s Berlin Wall moment in Jammu and Kashmir
by Punarvasu Parekh on 16 Aug 2019 3 Comments

August 5, 2019 will be etched in history. The abolition of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir State and its bifurcation into two Union Territories (Jammu and Kashmir with a legislature and Ladakh without one) is India’s Berlin Wall moment. As with the demolition of the Babri structure, India will not be the same again. The centre’s action has generated a tremendous groundswell of support among people across all barriers. 


The paradise on earth was kept apart from the rest of the country for decades. Now two brave hearts have struck at the root of separatism, discrimination, corruption, jihadi terrorism and outright treason by emasculating Article 370 and removing Article 35-A. The formidable Modi-Shah duo moved ahead with the courage of a lion and cunning of a fox, undaunted by legal hurdles, political risk, hostile reactions from neighbours and possible international criticism. This single act has secured them a lasting place in history.


Article 370 and its illegitimate child, 35-A, was controversial from its inception. It faced stiff resistance even from Congress members in the Constituent Assembly and would not have been passed if Sardar Patel had not thrown his weight behind it, despite his better judgment. The special status was defended on the ground that J&K has a unique demography, is coveted by a hostile neighbor, and is partly under foreign occupation. These should have been reasons for giving it less autonomy, not more.


As expected, Article 370 became a cover for separatism, corruption, misrule and discrimination. Thousands of refugees from West Pakistan have been living in the state for decades without any rights; women and weaker sections are denied the rights they enjoy elsewhere in the country. Leaders from the valley blackmailed New Delhi on the one hand and misled the local populace on the other, while plundering the state with both hands and keeping it underdeveloped despite huge central grants. These leaders talk about Kashmiriyat but are mum on the plight of the Kashmiri pundits. They have suppressed the minority voices from Jammu and Ladakh, while projecting Sunni separatists as the sole voice of the people of the state.


This is how the Abdullahs, Muftis et al served the people for generations. Now, they are facing queries from income tax, enforcement directorate and national investigative agency for corruption and money laundering.


This development has exposed parties, leaders and opinion makers. The leftists took out a rally against it. DMK opposed it. Some have warned of a Palestine or Bangladesh in the making. However, small regional parties (BSP, BJD, AIADMK, YSRCP) recognized the popular mood and went with the tide. The Congress publicly split on the issue, even after the Gandhi family had made its opposition known.


The Congress has emerged as a loser on all counts. The Gandhi family, blinded by its hatred for Narendra Modi, took an adversarial position, as it did on the Uri surgical strike and Balakot bombing. It did not realise that its empty posturing isolated it from the popular mood. Many party leaders, however, were uncomfortable and thus, for the first time in decades, there was public voicing of differences of opinion in the party. Where this will lead remains to be seen.


Some well-meaning critics have said that wide-ranging prior consultation with local parties and people before taking such a momentous decision would have been desirable. Such criticism overlooks the fact that the central government has in the past made several attempts to have such a dialogue. The Modi government appointed former IB chief Dineshwar Sharma for the purpose. These efforts sank without a ripple as those who pose as popular leaders of the state are either on Pakistan’s payroll or driven by a dream to rule the state as their own fiefdom. They are too happy with the status quo to alter it. The system did not permit a direct dialogue with the ordinary people over the heads of self-styled leaders. The centre has now broken this impasse.


Despite strong support in Jammu and Ladakh, three types of challenges can be expected. First, Pakistan is visibly upset as India may now refuse to discuss J&K barring PoK. Pakistan has downgraded diplomatic relations with India, suspended trade, discontinued rail links and closed its airspace for India’s civilian flights. These actions hurt it more than India, but are intended to draw world attention. Imran Khan has warned of another Pulwama-like terror strike and India’s likely hawkish response, leading to a high-intensity conventional war.


Pakistan is trying to create the impression of a high-tension confrontation between two nuclear neighbours in a desperate bid to scare Washington and other western capitals to lean on India on Kashmir. The UN has rejected Pakistan’s plea to intervene. The US and other countries are also disinterested in Pakistan’s sabre-rattling.


Secondly, the Modi government has used Article 370 itself to nullify the special status of J&K. But transferring powers of the (long abolished) constituent assembly of J&K first to the state assembly and then to the Governor appears to be a grey area in purely technical terms.  However, the article itself was mala fide. Though explicitly designated as temporary, it was so designed as to make it a permanent fixture of the statute book. Moreover, there are numerous precedents of its being amended through a presidential order. The courts may decline to take a purely legalistic view and weigh the consequences of its ruling on national integration, governance in the state and the spirit of the constitution. 


The toughest challenge will be domestic and political. Local politicians will incite locals in the valley “to fight till the very end to regain their lost dignity and autonomy”. The centre’s challenge will be to isolate trouble makers and reach out to ordinary people yearning for a life of peace, dignity and freedom.


The plan to hold an investors summit in the state is unexceptionable. Besides tourism and hotels, the state offers great scope for food processing, handicrafts, drugs and pharmaceuticals, dairy and renewable energy. However, it lacks infrastructure and skilled workers. It has few natural resources and land acquisition for industry has so far been impossible. Industrialists may like to wait until the security situation stabilizes. The situation calls for tact, firmness and patience to succeed.  


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