August 5, 2019 was doubtlessly a momentous day in India’s contemporary march ahead. On this day in one swift and decisive move the Narendra Modi government fundamentally re-defined the Centre’s relationship with Jammu and Kashmir, something that seemed so utterly difficult until then.
The special status of Kashmir that was much talked about for all of seven decades vanished into thin air with three clearly articulated steps—the revocation of Article 35A, withdrawal of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and the passing of a Bill to split Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories.
Indeed, Jammu and Kashmir would never be the same again and that, in a sense is a reminder of how alienated from the rest of the country it had become and how it was drifting into unmitigated chaos.
For those who cite the failure of demonetisation as a guide to the future, there are surprises in store. Prime Minister Modi is an inveterate learner and he has learnt his lessons.
The Kashmir changes are well-thought-out and were meticulously planned along with a fiercely-compliant home minister and a fine strategist as the National
Security Adviser. Unlike the ad hocism that characterised knee-jerk responses to the challenges in Kashmir, the current decisive steps hold hope of durable peace and well-being. Yet, the challenges ahead are daunting and there are dangers ahead if there is muddled thinking and implementation.
The first fallout of the new moves would be that unlike in the past when central laws on any issue did not apply to Jammu and Kashmir and Parliament’s say applied only to defence, external affairs and communications, now all central laws would be applicable automatically to J and K as much as to any other state.
Significantly, land ownership and permanent employment which were restricted to permanent residents of J and K state will now be open to all Indian citizens.
This was a crying need for Kashmir’s future since the enforced economic alienation was proving harmful to the territory’s interest while it met the self-interest of a handful of people with entrenched stakes.
The earlier provision had throttled any chances of investment in J and K with the result that the huge amount of money that the Centre pumped in was getting frittered away in unproductive activities and in monumental corruption that the State became synonymous with.
While the psychological alienation of the people of Kashmir from mainstream India may get accentuated in the short run, this may change when new investment starts coming in and a measure of prosperity and well-being ensues.
That the Centre would take all steps to bring in both domestic and foreign investment offers hope. There are indications that an investor summit is being planned for October where the pluses of investing in the ‘paradise on earth’ would be spelt out to generate new excitement, and liberal incentives would be offered.
The key would ofcourse lie in local opportunities for employment being generated and in this the Modi government can ill afford to falter. Propagandists would try to rake up local sentiments of being swamped by outsiders and that needs to be guarded against. Modi had been the architect of the ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ summits which led to investment pouring into Gujarat and he could well leverage that experience.
Modi’s good wavelength with indigenous industrialists may also work well. The international profile of the government created by Modi’s many visits abroad and his advocacy of Indian causes has created the right climate for the changes to be accepted.
While the frustration of Farooq and Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti is understandable, the hint emerging from Congress circles that it could look at UN intervention to reverse the tide to where it stood before August 5 would drive the last nail into the Congress coffin.
The Indian people would indeed not brook any move to restore the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and any party espousing that directly or indirectly would rue the fallout.
It is noteworthy that the BJP was able to influence a whole host of parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti, the YSR Congress, the AIADMK and the Aam Aadmi Party to go with it on the special status issue.
That five Congress MPs have supported the Kashmir measures and many others are not bold enough to speak out but are aligned to the ruling dispensation’s thinking on Kashmir shows the gaping divisions in the Congress.
Congressmen are indeed realising increasingly that with the stand that its senior leaders are taking on many issues, the BJP is walking away with the tag of a nationalist party while the Congress is being looked upon as a party robbed of nationalistic spirit.
If anything, the campaign against terror fuelled from across the border will intensify in coming days and the enhanced military presence will step up efforts to stamp out terrorism from Kashmir. Now that the Valley has become a Union territory the separatists would find it tougher to make their writ run.
It would be foolhardy for the Pakistanis abetted by the Chinese if at all, to think that they can get away with a limited military adventure against India to keep the Kashmir issue alive. India is today dauntingly bold to tinker with.
Kamlendra Kanwar is a political commentator and columnist. He has authored four books.