In one stroke, as is its wont, Narendra Modi government did the most unexpected. Riding roughshod on Kashmiri public opinion, it has abolished Article 370. Going a step ahead, it has divided Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories. Thus, in the history of independent India, for the first time, a State has been demoted to the status of a Union Territory, that too after redrawing its territory by curving out another Union Territory of Ladakh. Now the Prime Minister says J&K may get back its Statehood again. Has statehood become a toy to be played around according to one’s whims?
More than the abrogation of Article 370, what agitates the people most is the way it has been executed. The Constitution had, in fact, placed the Article under the heading ‘temporary provision with respect to the State of Jammu and Kashmir’. However, as a safeguard, it had a provision stating that the President of India can abolish it, but only with the ‘concurrence of the Constituent Assembly of the State’, which is effectively the State Assembly. However, the Modi government has given a go by to such constitutional niceties and steamrolled to get rid of the special status to the troubled state. Not stopping at that, it ‘dismembered’ the State without any consultation, dialogue or debate, thereby hitting hard at the federal character of the world’s largest democracy. Hence a vital question remains: Can such sweeping changes be thrust down the throat of people of a State without taking them and their representatives into confidence?
The avowed objective of the hasty and stealthy move is to bring peace in the troubled Valley. But the developments preceding and succeeding the government’s action do not raise rays of hope. The massive security build-up, the lockdown of the entire State with leaders under house arrest, closed markets and deserted roads are all dangerous portents. Peace has to emerge from the ground; from the people. A mere change of political or administrative set up is unlikely to change the ground reality. On the other hand, an unpopular decision could see escalation of violence and terrorist activity. The news emerging from Pakistan sends out signals of its possible increased meddling in the troubled Valley. It would be equally naïve to think that more investment will flow to Kashmir, making it a much-sought after destination of private investors. Few will risk money and manpower if there is no protection to life and limb.
India has consistently held the view that Kashmir issue is an internal matter and it is a subject matter for bilateral discussion with Pakistan. India sees no scope for third party involvement in settling the issues. However, with the new developments, Pakistan got a chance to internationalize the issue and it has reiterated its plan to take the matter to the United Nations. It seems the neighbouring country has got a stick to beat India with. Its move to downgrade ties with India is a well thought out plan to draw international attention and get other countries involved in it. In the midst of all these developments, will Kashmiris get to enjoy the eluding peace?(Published on 12th August 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 33)