The dream nurtured by the RSS-Jana Sangh for decades about scrapping Article 370 has finally been sought to be achieved by the BJP. Since dispensing with the Article, which confers a special status to Jammu and Kashmir, will require judicial and parliamentary approval, it is yet to be seen whether the BJP will have the legal arguments or the numbers in parliament to push through the measure. But the point is not so much the passage of the move which has been called a “second” independence day by a BJP spokesman as the bulldozing methods adopted by the BJP to try to enact a controversial provision.
If Kashmir’s “independence” is supposedly the objective of the dramatic step, it is odd that the sun of “freedom” had to rise in the midst of secrecy and subterfuge with the government claiming that the massive deployment of troops, the unprecedented curtailment of the Amarnath yatra and the evacuation of tourists from the valley were due to a terrorist threat. Before the leaders of the People’s Democratic Party, the National Conference and the People’s Conference were put under house arrest, they had been assured that no “precipitous step” would be taken in Kashmir.
Now, at one stroke, the unifying idea of Kashmiriyat, insaniyat, jamhooriyat, which has been the guiding principle of successive governments, including that of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, extolling the distinctiveness of Kashmir along with the principles of humaneness and peace, has been obliterated. In its place, the Hindutva mantra of ek bidhan, ek nishan, ek pradhan (one constitution, one flag, one chief), which has a fascistic ring, has been established.
The stationing of a large number of troops and the incarceration of mainstream parties may enable the Narendra Modi government to tide over any immediate problems that can arise from what Omar Abdullah has called an “aggression” against the people of the state. But the huge contingents of the armed forces cannot remain in Kashmir for long. Nor can the leaders of the established parties be kept in detention indefinitely.
The secrecy which preceded the Union home minister Amit Shah’s announcement recalls the demonetisation move which also hit the public like a bolt from the blue. In a way, this is the BJP’s style of functioning, especially in contentious matters. It is not known what impact this “aggressive” move will have on the Muslim community elsewhere in the country. Until now, the latter had seemingly appeared to be largely indifferent to the events in Kashmir. But they are unlikely to be enthused by the government’s latest initiative. In Kashmir, there was the peace of a graveyard on the day the fateful step was taken to “integrate” Kashmir into India, as the BJP likes to say. This sepulchral quietness was due to the presence of the security forces and the shutting down of the Internet and even land lines, rendering the whole state incommunicado. But what the popular mood is under this funereal silence will only be known after some time.
For all the disquiet expressed by the BJP’s opponents like the Congress, the Trinamool Congress, the Samajwadi Party and a few others, the ruling party will be pleased by the support it has received from the BSP, the Biju Janata Dal, the YSR Congress and some others. These regional parties have virtually been acting as the BJP’s “B” team, as observed during the passage of the legislations on the Right to Information Act or the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Among the BJP’s allies, the Janata Dal (United) is formally opposed to the abrogation of Article 370, but whether it will help the government by walking out at the time of voting is yet to be seen. There is little doubt that the removal of Article 370 will further boost Modi’s image among his supporters by reinforcing his macho, decisive reputation. What is more, the opposition parties will be careful with their responses lest they are labelled anti-nationals yet again. They are also hamstrung by the absence of capable leaders, especially the Congress (which still has no party chief) so that they can take up the cudgels against the “constitutional monstrosity” enacted by the government.
Although the issue of Articles 370 and 35A have been pending for long on the BJP’s agenda, why did it choose the present moment? A possible reason is to divert attention from a critical economic situation. As attention is turned towards the new Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir which may become a victim of both Pakistan-sponsored insurgency and local unrest, the concerns over the economy will take a back seat. But it will take several months before the full effect of what has been done will be known either within the country or at the international level.
The author is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal.
- Amulya ganguli