Can Narendra Modi pull off this gamble? It is a move that is in keeping with the BJP’s muscular nationalism, which has always advocated ‘one country, one law’. Stripping Kashmir of its special status has given an entirely new dimension to the Kashmir issue. It has effectively put a stop to all talk of third-party mediation. Kashmir is now no different from the rest of the Indian states. Modi’s action has been enthusiastically welcomed by most Indians.
But the crackdown on the valley, the communication blockade and the restrictions on the press in Kashmir, do not augur well for the world’s most populous democracy. Posting pictures of National Security Advisor Ajit Doval sharing lunch with people in Kashmir does little to dispel the image of a valley on lockdown. India has always been proud of its noisy chaotic democracy where different opinions were allowed to flow. Now as India celebrates its 73 years of independence, the institution of democracy appears shaky. The crackdown in Kashmir is unprecedented .
Delhi has lost the battle in the hearts and minds of the people. Even those who believe in the Indian Constitution are left high and dry. The National Conference, the People’s Democratic Party now have to re-think their position. Delhi has made them almost irrelevant.
To be fair to the BJP, scrapping article 370 was clearly stated in their electioin manifesto. Right from 1947, the RSS had opposed it. The argument put out by the government is that fighting terror under Delhi’s direct rule would be easier. Development will take place at a faster rate. Yet Kashmir has always showed up better development indices that many of the other Indian states.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is well aware that in a world wrecked by terrorism, the international community no longer has an appetite for freedom struggle. Pakistan naturally is trying its best to take up the Kashmir cause across the world. Pakistan’s foreign minister flew to Beijing and came back with the announcement that China has promised help at the UNSC.
True to its promise, China did just that. The UNSC held a closed-door discussion on Kashmir on Friday. It is a fact that Kashmir was discussed in the UNSC the first time since 1965. Getting Kashmir on to the UNSC agenda is being touted by Pakistan as a major victory. Pakistan’s envoy to the UN Maleeha Lodi told reporters later, “The voice of the Kashmiri people resonated in the chambers of the world’s highest diplomatic forum today.” “The whole world is discussing the occupied state. This is an international dispute.”
China’s ambassador Zhang Jun was critical of India’s move. “The status of Kashmir is undecided... It's obvious that the constitutional amendment has changed the status quo is Kashmir, causing tensions in the region. China is deeply concerned and opposes any unilateral decisions. We call upon the relevant parties to exercise restraint.” India's action has also challenged China sovereign interests and violated the bilateral agreement. However beyond asking both sides to exercise restraint, the UNSC was silent. India’s envoy Sayeed Akbarrudin held a news conference and has become an internet celebrity after his sharp replies to Pakistani reporters. China is the wild card and no one can predict which way China will go. If it will it try to continue to needle India on Kashmir, is not known.
Foreign minister S Jaishankar was in China recently and explained India’s position in detail. China had already expressed concern and has commented on Ladakh being made into a union territory. India is hoping that differences over Kashmir will not cloud the Wuhan spirit. President Xi Jinping is expected to be in India in October for the second informal summit with Modi.
Ironically the NDA government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee was seriously considering finding a solution to Kashmir around the provisions of Article 370. Till date this was the most pragmatic way to deal with Kashmir. Vajpayee was prepared to consider President Pervez Musharraf’s proposal when they met in Agra. But L K Advani was outraged and did everything possible to scuttle the 2001 move.
The proposal Musharraf brought with him was this: Phased withdrawal of troops along the Line of Control. The fine print was not worked out in detail. There would be no redrawing of boundaries with the LoC acting as the boundary. Both India and Pakistan’s claim to the whole of Kashmir would be put to rest. The LoC would be converted to a permanent border. But people from both sides of Kashmir would be able to move freely across the LoC. Musharraf was willing to give up plebiscite recommended by the UNSC in 1948. India granting self governance was no problem as Kashmiir already enjoyed the provisions.
Now all that is history. What does the future hold for Kashmir? Once the blanket of security is lifted, expect violent protests. Al Qaeda and ISIS fighters could make the valley a breeding ground for jihadi ideology. Pakistan under the scanner of the Paris-based Financial Task Force at the moment, will move with caution. But this cannot last indefinitely. And if the US deal with Taliban comes through and a political solution to end the war in Afghanistan is done, expect more trouble in Kashmir.
The writer is a senior journalist with expertise in foreign policy and international affairs.
- Seema Guha